Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Firefly Music Festival
A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South
A geographical region far larger than the coasts, the South stretches from Texas to Virginia and includes myriad subgenres. Home to Outkast, Big Freedia, Ludacris and many others, the Third Coast has something to say in its own language.
For decades, hip-hop was regulated to New York, even though its musical stylings traveled to neighboring cities such as Boston and Philadelphia. In those cities, hip-hop was a cultural production of the city’s individual sound and history, rather than that of an entire region.
The power of L.A.'s emergent style of gangsta rap was the first attempt by an outsider to change hip-hop. As L.A. rappers began to give those from NYC rappers a challenge, the surrounding cities were solidified under the East Coast banner.
Often lost in the retelling of hip-hop’s birth are cities, regions and states in between the coasts. This absence may be due to the concentration of record labels and media corporations on the East and West Coast, or ill-informed beliefs that classify sections of the nation as backwards.
But expressions of hip-hop are expansive, and its culture is well represented in the South. A geographical region far larger than the coasts, the South stretches from Texas to Virginia. Along state lines, hip-hop finds itself at the intersection of Southernness and Blackness, leading to the creation of myriad subgenres.
Hip-hop sound traveled to New Orleans, where bounce was born in the city’s housing projects, and to Memphis where it became buck and crunk. In Atlanta, snap and trap music reign supreme, while electronic bass booms along the beaches of Miami. In every state, hip-hop took on a new voice, new moniker, and new identity.
With each innovation, the sound was able to expand beyond state lines to a diverse, wide ranging language along the region. Instead of accommodating the voices of the East or the West, the South a.k.a. the Third Coast entered into hip-hop with something to say in its own language.
A Brief History Of Dirty South Hip-Hop
The birth of Southern hip-hop begins at the 1995 Source Awards, where Atlanta based hip-hop duo OutKast won Best New Artist and Best New Rap of the Year for their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. As André 3000 and Big Boi walked on stage, they were put with a chorus of boos. Although the ceremony was held at the height of East vs. West Coast rivalry, the coasts agreed on a singular purpose: The South had no claim to hip-hop.
There’s one thing the coasts don’t know about Southerns, especially Black Southerners. When your people and community have been culturally, socially, and politically oppressed, a few boos don’t feel like much. This resistance was evident in André 3000’s impassioned delivery of an acceptance speech, that served not only as a rebuke of bicoastal elites but a reverent call to arms for every rapper in the Southern United States.
"It’s like this though. I’m tired of folks. You know what I’m saying? Close minded folks. You know what I’m saying? It’s like we got a demo tape and nobody wants to hear it. But it’s like this. The South got something to say. That’s all I got to say."
Those words, uttered by a young André 3000, echoed through the South. Although the Atlanta group was the first Southern group to achieve mainstream recognition for their work, the first Southern hip-hop group to reach commercial success was the Geto Boys from Houston. Texas — a state, which is often referred to as its country, an amalgamation of different regional dialects and sounds — laid the foundation for André’s charge.
After the duo left The Source Awards stage, they swore to Goodie Mob, another Atlanta based group in attendance, "One day they’re gonna have to f— with us." Months after the 1995 Source Awards, Goodie Mob released their own critically acclaimed debut, Soul Food. The album propelled Southern hip-hop to the masses, and featured a track entitled "Dirty South." The term, first used by Atlanta rapper Cool Breeze, gave a name to the burgeoning hip-hop movement south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Instead of rejecting the coastal elitism of hip-hop, the Dirty South embraced it — in fact they sold it. Rappers from the Dirty South did not emulate New York or L.A style; they reinterpreted and investigated cultural perceptions and stereotypes about being country, backwards, forgotten to the time and the nation. Southern rappers also interrogated America’s past, present and future. For Black Southerners — whose cultural hallmarks and cornerstones are distinctly entwined with remnants of the Confederacy, the Klan, and the Civil Rights movement — hip-hop gave the ability to document a region and people lost to the American consciousness.
The aesthetics of Southern hip-hop were rooted in the power and reclamation of things once thought to be country: Gold dental crowns evolved into grills; the four pack of oversized white tees from the dollar store became a nightlife staple; André 3000, Pastor Troy, Lil Jon and Ludacris reinterpreted the Confederate flag. The attire of strippers from across the South became the blueprint for women’s fashion. Cash Money introduced "Bling Bling" into the American consciousness.
While East Coast rap was heavily influenced by musical stylings of immigrants from the Caribbean with notes of funk and soul, rap in the Dirty South took inspiration from blues and gospel — genres birthed from hymns and psalms sung in the fields and plantations. The Dirty South brought their ancestors with them. Their rap style and delivery had an inherent country twang, an accent reminiscent of a period lost to time yet modern; its incorporation of rock 'n' roll, jazz, and funk embodied a contemporary Southern spirit.
If the introduction of West Coast rap struck fear in the East Coast, the South was a laughing stock, until the South started to sell in the early to mid 2000s. Some critics attribute the ascension of Southern hip-hop to the fatigue of the East vs. West Coast rivalry. Others say hip-hop was in need of a new start after the early passings of the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Whether both claims are true or false, the Dirty South was the future.
Notable Southern Hip-Hop Artists & Labels
Atlanta: The epicenter of the Dirty South. In the early 1980s, Atlanta' hip-hop started to get its foothold with airplay on local radio stations, artists being signed to Miami-based record labels, and early success on the music charts and the GRAMMYs. Rapper Mo-Jo, club DJ King Edward J, and Peter "MC Shy D" Jones were among the first in the city’s hip-hop community. At the time Jones was signed to Luke Records, a Miami based record label started by Luke Campbell of the 2 Live Crew. The hyper localized scene benefited from the contributions of club DJs Kizzy Rock and DJ Smurf, who shifted Atlanta’s sound from a Miami bass derivative into a distinctive sound.
From the mid 1980s, a number of local record labels emerged: Ichiban Records and Wrap Records. However when Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds moved to Atlanta in 1989, the local hip-hop scene changed. In the 1990s, their LaFace Records signed Goodie Mob, Outkast, producers Organized Noize, TLC, Usher, Xscape and others. Meanwhile, Jermaine Dupri founded So So Def record label. Under the direction of Lil Jon, the label’s A&R, the label signed Xscape, Da Brat, Jagged Edge, and more acts aligned with the R&B/hip-hop sound. As the signees of LaFace and So So Def Records triumphed, Def Jam Records hired Scarface of the Geto Boys to lead their Southern division, Def Jam South, which signed Ludacris.
As a solo artist Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz released "We Still Crunk Up!,""Put Yo Hood Up,""Kings of Crunk," and "Crunk Juice," a series of albums credited with bringing crunk into the mainstream. The popularity of crunk and dance music was heralded by Crime Mob, D4L, Dem Franchise Boyz, Soulja Boy and more who gave Atlanta hip-hop prominence not only in music but Internet culture.
New Orleans: In the aftermath of bounce music’s expansion in the early 1990s, Parkway Pumpkin’ Records was the holding place of New Orleans’ talent. Mystikal, known then as Mystikal Mike, was one of the label’s early signees. Along with Magnolia Slim, an architect of the New Orleans hip-hop sound. At the time, Parkway Pumpkin were free to record with other labels like Big Boy Records. When Master P moved back home from the Bay Area, his No Limit Records existed alongside local independent record labels like Cash Money, Take Fo’, Tombstone and Untouchable.
In a strategic business move, No Limit Records took Mystikal, Soulja Slim (formerly known as Magnolia Slim), and producer KLC from Parkway Pumpkin. As well as the signing of his family members C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker, Master P signed Mia X, the first lady of No Limit Records to the label. KLC, known as Craig S. Lawson, formed Beats by the Pound, the production behind No Limit Records. One of his first productions, Down South Hustlers, a compilation tape that featured New Orleans' first rap group New York Incorporated, signified No Limit Records attempt to exemplify Dirty South culture. Although No Limit Records secured a major label investment in 1996, Cash Money Records emerged in 1998 as a challenger with their new signees of Juvenile, Big Tymers, Hot Boys, and Lil Wayne with production by Mannie Fresh.
Memphis: At Club No Name, the first club in Memphis to play hip-hop, DJ Spanish Fly originated as one of the first creators to bring Memphis rap into shape. Although the patrons’ preference skewed towards electro, DJ Fly would incorporate his own preferences into mixes at Club No Name, Club Expo, and the Crystal Palace Skating Rink. His mixes maintained an ominous groove that included notes of electro but made room for moody rap. Though DJ Spanish Fly was among the first to evolve Memphis rap, DJ Squeeky defined the city’s sound with the insertion of a SP-1200 and Roland keyboard.
His influence can be heard in early mixtapes from DJ Paul and Juicy J. DJ Paul and Lord Infamous, his half brother formed the Serial Killaz. When the duo met with Juicy J, the three formed The Backyard Posse. Over time, the group added Koopsta Knicca, Crunchy Black, and Gangsta Boo. The six person group was renamed Three 6 Mafia and released their first album, Mystic Stylez under Prophet Records. Mystic Stylez also featured the female rapper La Chat and Project Pat, the brother of Juicy J. Shortly after their deal, the group parted ways with Prophet and formed their own label Hypnotize Minds. La Chat also released "Murder She Spoke," her debut album on the record label.
Under the direction of DJ Paul and Juicy J, the rappers under the Hypnotize Minds label achieved commercial and critical success, as well as an Academy Award for It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" for Hustle & Flow, a drama set in Memphis that follows DJay (played by Terrence Howard), a pimp and drug dealer with aspirations of becoming a rapper.
Miami: Before hip-hop migrated down from New York, Miami already had a DJ style. In Miami, the DJs would be "regulating": or "mic checkin','' where the DJ brought down the record for a short period of time and insert their own lyrics to remix the song in a similar fashion to reggae and dancehall DJs. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, DJs would travel with their generators, turntables, speakers, and equipment to perform in public and private spaces across the city.
As local DJs put their spin on hip-hop, the city’s rappers energetic sound which came to be known as Miami bass, a diasporic influenced heavy bass sound that contained elements of electro and synthesizers were heard in the music of the Gucci Crew, Clay D, MC A.D.E., and the 2 Live Crew. The 2 Live Crewwas the first to bring the Miami bass sound to the mainstream. The group released their albums under then Skyywalker Records (now Luke Records), member Luther Campbell’s record label. Their success came at a cost. The sexually explicit nature of their lyrics resulted in a federal court obscenity trial, which established the precedent for censorship in music.
In the mid to late 1990s, Slip-n-Slide Records, a label founded by Ted Lucas, signed Trick Daddy, a Liberty City resident who thematically used the language of gangsta rap to speak about the struggles and challenges of living in a disenfranchised area. However, it was Trina who joined Trick Daddy on "Nann N—a," who put the city, its women, and women across the Dirty South with her as refuted Trick Daddy on his own track. "Da Baddest Bitch," her debut album released on Slip N Slide label put her in conversation with Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown as a contender for the Queen of hip-hop title.
Subgenres Of Southern Hip-Hop
For the past two decades, the Dirty South has been responsible for hip-hop’s expansion and evolution. The region has conducted a variety of sonic experiments and melodic sounds to produce an expansive lexicon that represents the conflict, tension, and joy about being Black in the South.
Southern hip-hop does not shy away from the underground, but rather embraces it. The music in itself is a contradiction: A track used for shaking ass at the strip clubs, while patrons eat chicken wings, can originate from a gospel beat. Because to be Black in the South, where your ancestors were once enslaved, is disorienting.
Bounce music: New Orleans has a vast musical history and structure: The chanting of the Mardi Gras Indians, the brass of the second line bands, and the expressiveness of parade culture cultivated a music of lively and celebration. When hip-hop arrived, it incorporated notes of the existing styles into a call-and-response formula over a series of rhythmic beats which invoked attendees into dance. Originating in the city's housing projects, this new style of bounce music took a new life in the city’s nightlife. Folks felt called to participate in the chanting, the hyper-localized lyrics, and high energy drum patterns familiar to second line culture. Although Big Freedia, is known as the Queen of Bounce Music, and rightfully so. The musician got their start working with Katey Red, "the first trans woman bounce artist."
Buck music: Within Memphis’ skating rinks and club cultures a dance music that ricocheted through the body, was born. Local DJs reinterpreted samples of soul and funk music, keyboard melodies of the Black church, with distinctive time signatures and cadences, on top of electronic-focused bass to give rise to a lexicon of dance styles including jookin’ and stomping. The heavy bass music stylings of Memphis also gave birth to trap and crunk, two styles most associated with Atlanta.
Crunk music: What would crunk music be without its patron saint Lil Jon? Although the rapper-producer cannot lay claim to the origins of the musical style, in the early 2000s, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz brought crunk to popular culture. Known for its party-centered lyrics and uptempo rhythms, crunk music became synonymous with Atlanta’s club and strip culture. The shouting, the energetic call and response, the chanting; crunk became the loud, bold, vocal expression of the city’s youth and music culture. To be crunk was to be excited.
Snap music: Snap music, an Atlanta-based form of hip-hop, was ushered in by the rise of handheld technology and social media sites like YouTube in the early 2000s. In lieu of a snare or clap, a snap was inserted as a replacement, often complemented by a whistle. The songs, which shared components of crunk, were exemplified by an accompanying dance and uploaded to social media sites (in much the same way Gen Z does on TikTok).
Miami bass: Miami, the city of two Souths. One foot in the Southern United States, the other in the geographical South. The demographic, geographic, and cultural mix of Cuban and Haitian, as well as Southern Blackness, produced an eccentric style of hip-hop. Elongated bass built on layered rhythmic production, and short, repetitive phrases ushered in a shout and response style became hallmarks of Miami bass. Played around 125 beats per minute, the style flourished in Miami’s car scene as well as party and adult entertainment culture.
Trap music: If crunk and snap music were symbols of the jovial Atlanta, then trap emerged as a symbol of the city and Black America’s underground. In a nation where Black communities experienced the onslaught of War on Drugs policies and excessive policing, the only way towards economic freedom was to hustle, and the hymn of the hustle and struggle was trap. Embedded with the dark lyrical content, multilayered kick drums, hi hats and synthesized drums was the moodiness of the duffle bag boy trying to survive. Over time, a holy trinity of the Roland TR-808, snare rolls, and first hand experience gave birth to a style where dope boys could be referred to as kings.
Definitive Southern Hip-Hop Songs
Three 6 Mafia - "Tear Da Club Up '97" (1997): The conveying of electric bodies in movement can result in one of two ways. The first, a baby. The second, an ass whooping. The club is also a multifaceted place where you can meet the love of your life or the person (or people) who have been "talkin' that s—," as Three 6 Mafia say. This is the environment where "Tear Da Club Up" resides.
The song serves as a call to action. On a good night, the song is a declaration of celebration. On a bad night, an ominous premonition of what’s to come. "Tear Da Club Up" was banned in 17 states, but established the precedent for crunk anthems like "Knuck If You Buck," and the movement of club-esque songs that served a dual purpose for fighting.
"Tear Da Club Up" remains a reminder of what a night out looks like with Three 6 Mafia.
Gangsta Boo -"Where Dem Dollas At" (1998): In an industry, where the contributions of Black women are used to build the empires of men in hip-hop, Gangsta Boo refused to be silenced. She knew that the voices of young Black women and girls from the South, belonged at that table.
While Juicy J and DJ Paul used Three 6 Mafia to construct their own kingdom in the Third Coast, Gangsta Boo did not sit idly by. Her appearances on Three 6 Mafia's "Mystic Stylez" and "Enquiring Minds" were small glimpses of her power, but her christening was "Where Dem Dollas At." The Queen of Memphis had arrived.
Her presence made the appearance of Juicy J and DJ Paul irrelevant. Her lines became a chant, a psalm, a swift rebuke for every woman who had been taken advantage of by a man and needed a fierce reminder of their power. It made men in Memphis and hip-hop understand exactly what it meant to be a lady from the Third Coast: to endure, to preserve, and to hustle when the odds are against you. To this day if you hear a woman recite "Where Dem Dollas At," know she has conjured the spirit of Gangsta Boo and it would be best to return the money owed by you.
Trick Daddy feat. Trina - "Nann N—" (1998): Hip-hop has always encouraged the back and forth among emcees — the exchanging of verses, the pointed attention to detail, the eventual crescendo to eviscerate an opponent. There is a reason why battle rap is tethered to its name. Although the spirit of competition has always been omnipresent, the battles were always centered around men. Whenever a woman enters the battle and annihilates an opponent — as Roxanne Shanté did at the Battle for World Supremacy — the man still emerges as the victor. It was as if femininity was the deciding factor of who could win a battle or not. Until Trina came around.
That is not to say Trina was the first to win a one-on-one battle with a male MC. But, she is the first to utilize femininity in a pointed way to take down an opponent. The first half of "Nann N—" is an elongated list of the ways masculinity has empowered Trick Daddy. In the second half, Trina details the ways her femininity grants her access to things Trick Daddy could not even dream of. The deployment of her sly, viperous lines and sweet, Southern wit took apart Trick Daddy’s line bit by bit. Until she was left as the last person standing.
The positive reception and response to "Nann N—" placed Trina in conversation with the women rappers of that era, and laid the framework for the next generation of women rappers from the South.
Juvenile feat. Mannie Fresh & Lil Wayne - "Back That Azz Up" (1999): The opening notes of "Back That Azz Up" are all it takes for people to throw their booties in a series of fashions. Whether circular or up down, the song does not shake about the positionality of where you throw ass, as long as you are shaking it.
The holy trinity of Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and Lil Wayne not only introduced New Orleans bounce music into the mainstream, but jump started Cash Money Records' takeover of the 2000s. There is no greater party song, revered by people of all generations, genders, races, and creeds than "Back That Azz Up."
Crime Mob feat. Lil Scrappy - "Knuck If You Buck" (2004): For Black youth in the South, there are few outlets to express rage. Crunk music is emo music for Black people, and provides the language to release and move through the torments of being Black in America. For a group of teenagers from outside of Atlanta, Crime Mob were the originators of this type of youth-specific music.
The group, composed of M.I.G., Cyco Black, Princess, Lil' Jay, Diamond, and Killa C. were the voices of young Black Atlanta.
Recorded in a closet at producer Lil Jay’s house with a knockout track by his little sister, Princess, "Knuck If You Buck" became a rallying cry for Southern teens. With a beat inspired by a brawl at Lil Jay’s house and the stylings of DJ Paul and Juicy J, the song quickly became the group’s biggest hit.
"Yeah, we knuckin and buckin and ready to fight. I betcha I'ma throw them things, so haters best to think twice," became the go-to chant for a country-ass brawl. With the addition of Diamond’s delivery of "Bitch you irrelevant, step to my residence. Best to back up 'fore I fill you with lead," in the fourth line; the song solidified the pair (Diamond and Princess) as the breakout stars on the collective track.
Their presence welcomed women to the crunk fight. Where their verbal expressions of anger and violence were warmly received for over 15 years, generations of Black youth have sought solace in this song and whooped ass to it as well.
Southern Hip-Hop Artists On the Rise
If the Dirty South is the future, the future of Southern hip-hop is female. Jucee Froot, GloRilla, Doechii, Kaliii, KenTheMan, Monaleo, TiaCorine and Baby Tate are among the latest rappers to carry the Dirty South sound and aesthetic. Meanwhile, Saucy Santana and Lil Nas X are changing the South's presentation in terms of gender identity and expression.
Cultural and societal perceptions of the South have changed greatly, in due part to a new generation of entertainers who champion the South on a continual basis: Houston has found another champion in Megan Thee Stallion; Miami’s new voice is found in the City Girls; in Memphis, GloRilla is carrying on the legion of Gangsta Boo who died in January of this year; and Atlanta has a diverse array of women rappers that prove the city does not have one singular sound.
By the early 2000s, the classifier "Dirty South" became less of a communal touchstone and more of a marketing term by record labels in Atlanta. But it was less of a marked loss and more of a massive cultural shift.
By the mid 2000s, Southern rappers became the dominant voices in hip-hop, and largely took over pop culture. Evidenced by trap music migrating out of Atlanta to pop and genres across the world, the cultural exports of Southern hip-hop can also be found in streetwear and luxury fashion.Within the industry, Dirty South legends like Lil Wayne were honored at the Black Music Collective’s Recording Academy Honors during the 2023 GRAMMY Awards.
Photo: Russell Einhorn/Liaison
GRAMMY Rewind: Coolio Calls For A United "Hip-Hop Nation" After "Gangsta's Paradise" Wins In 1996
The East Coast rapper took home the GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance for his No. 1 hit "Gangsta's Paradise."
Coolio was living in the "Gangsta's Paradise" of his own creation when the 1996 GRAMMY Awards rolled around. The year before, the ode to hip-hop culture had not only become a global No. 1 hit for the rapper, but also the best-selling song of 1995 in the U.S. And that February night in Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, the track won Coolio his first GRAMMY, for Best Rap Solo Performance.
Receiving the trophy from Salt-N-Pepa and Mary J. Blige (clad in head-to-toe leopard print), the rapper emerged from backstage with his overjoyed entourage in tow, and started out his acceptance speech by claiming his GRAMMY "for the whole hip-hop nation."
"West Coast, East Coast, worldwide — united we stand, divided we fall. Recognize," he continued before going on to thank God, his then-fiancée Josefa Salinas and his kids, as well as Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, his collaborator L.V., Michelle Pfeiffer (who starred in the song's music video) and others.
Coolio then ended his remarks on a serious note, acknowledging, "We've had a lil' problem lately in high schools and I only got one ting to say to all my Black and Latino brothers out there fightin': Ain't no gangsters living in paradise."
During the telecast, Coolio also took to the stage to perform "Gangsta's Paradise," which had earned a second nomination for Record of the Year. (That major award ultimately went to Seal's "Kiss From a Rose," along with Song of the Year.)
Sadly, the gangsta rap pioneer died in September 2022 at age 59 after suffering an accidental overdose laced with fentanyl. Press play on the video above to revisit Coolio's GRAMMYs win and check GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
Photo: Courtesy of Armani White
Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Armani White Gives Lil Wayne's "A Milli" A Fresh, Personal Twist
Philly-born newcomer Armani White personalizes Lil Wayne's GRAMMY-winning 2008 smash "A Milli" by shouting out his hometown in the lyrics.
Lil Wayne had already hit a new high point when he released "A Milli" in the winter of 2008. "Lollipop," the single that directly preceded "A Milli," had scored the rap legend his first hat trick by hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts.
With "A Milli," the rapper born Dwayne Carter Jr. continued his chart-topping success by capturing yet another No. 1 on the latter two tallies and winning him the GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 2009 ceremony. The modern classic also heralded Wayne's blockbuster album Tha Carter III, which became the final album of the decade to sell more than a million copies in its opening week.
In this new episode of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, rising rap star Armani White tackles Wayne's noughties smash, with the Philadelphia-born newcomer building his flow over the same stuttering sample of A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" as the original.
"A millionaire/ I'm a West Philly millionaire, tougher than Nigerian hair/ My criteria compared to your career just isn't fair," White raps, personalizing the lyrics with a shout-out to his hometown while still echoing Weezy's trademark cadence.
Press play on the video above to watch White rip through "A Milli," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Hip-Hop Re:Defined.
Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
10 Reasons Why Outkast's 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' Is One Of Rap's Most Influential Double Albums
As Outkast's seminal album, 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' turns 20, take a deep dive into how the duo's musical odyssey took the double album concept to new creative heights.
Essentially two solo albums for the price of one, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below saw Atlanta's premier hip-hop duo take the creative reins for one disc each, resulting in a whopping 135 minutes and 40 tracks of genre-hopping genius.
Favorably compared with classic double albums such as Prince's Sign O' The Times, Pink Floyd's The Wall and the Beatles' The White Album, the follow-up to 2000's Stankonia enjoyed similarly super-sized success, too. It topped the Billboard 200 for seven weeks on its way to worldwide sales of 11.4 million, spawned two No. 1 hits and picked up six nominations at the 2004 GRAMMY Awards — which resulted in three wins, including the coveted Album Of The Year.
And a full 20 years on from its Sept. 23, 2003 release, Outkast's fifth studio effort still stands up as a fearless, funkadelic and forward-thinking body of work. Below, take a look at 10 reasons why Speakerboxxx/The Love Below still has the power to get us all shaking it like a Polaroid picture.
It Helped Outkast Join An Exclusive Chart Club
Only 14 acts in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 have knocked themselves off the top spot. And Outkast joined that illustrious group — which also now includes the likes of Drake and Taylor Swift — in 2004 thanks to two of the era's most addictive hits.
The Little Richard-goes-power pop of "Hey Ya!" was the first to reach the summit, spending nine weeks there between December 2003 and the following February. And then it was finally dislodged by the brassy Southern hip-hop of Sleepy Brown collaboration "The Way You Move," which enjoyed just seven days in pole position before Twista's "Slow Jamz" put an end to the Outkast stranglehold.
It Doubled Outkast's GRAMMY Count
By 2004, Outkast were no stranger to the GRAMMY Awards. They'd picked up Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for "Ms. Jackson" and Best Rap Album for Stankonia in 2002, and then emerged victorious in the former category again a year later for "The Whole World." But it was the 2004 ceremony where they truly reigned supreme.
The duo stole the show with two memorable performances. First, Big Boi performed "The Way You Move" in a star-studded Funk Music Tribute, which also included legends George Clinton, Earth Wind and Fire and Robert Randolph. Later, André 3000 closed out the show with a celebratory rendition of Best Urban/Alternative Performance winner "Hey Ya!"
The "Hey Ya!" performance was a fitting end to the night indeed, as the pair took home the final — and most prestigious — award: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was crowned Album of the Year. (It also won Best Rap Album earlier that evening.)
It Spawned Several Classic Videos
Outkast had always been a visual hip-hop outfit, but their videography undeniably peaked with the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below campaign. "Hey Ya!" deservedly picked up four MTV Video Music Awards thanks to its inspired tribute to the Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" — and André 3000's portrayal of all eight of the fabulously named musicians in the video, including guitarist Johnny Vulture and drummer Dookie Blossom Gain III.
Also directed by Bryan Barber, the "The Way You Move" video saw Big Boi showcase his lyrical flow in everything from a rim shop and old-school music hall to dojo and safari retreat. "Roses," meanwhile, finally allowed both members to share the screen as warring members of rival high school crews in a tongue-in-cheek homage to West Side Story.
It Boasts An Impressively Diverse Guest List
Big Boi roped in several usual suspects on Speakerboxxx, including Big Gipp on "Tomb of the Boom," Killer Mike on "Bust" and Cee-Lo Green on "Reset," while also securing the talents of heavy hitters like Jay-Z, Ludacris and Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz. While an undeniably impressive guest list, André 3000's choice of collaborators was even more intriguing.
Shortly before teaming up with the rapper on her own track "Millionaire," Kelis lent her signature husky tones to the appropriately creepy funk of "Dracula's Wedding." Hot on the heels of Come Away with Me, Norah Jones provided the necessary sultriness on the acoustic "Take Off Your Cool." And perhaps most unexpected of all, Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson proved her diva credentials on the metallic funk of "She Lives In My Lap." The Love Below's roll call was yet another sign that Outkast weren't interested in playing by hip-hop's rules.
It Samples Wisely
Considering Speakerboxxx/The Love Below consists of 40 different tracks and clocks in at nearly 135 minutes, it's surprising that Big Boi and André 3000 only relied on a handful of samples. And like their choice of collaborators, they're far from obvious, either.
Who knew that The Sound of Music showtune "My Favorite Things" would work as a drum and bass instrumental? Or that Timmy Thomas' one-hit wonder "Why Can't We Live Together" and the sensual New Jack Swing of Aaliyah's "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" would fit perfectly as on "Pink and Blue"?
Elsewhere, the propulsive electronic hip-hop of opener "Ghetto Musick" borrows from Patti LaBelle's '80s soul jam "Love, Need and Want You," while "She Lives in My Lap" lifts from both Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" and Volume 10's "Pistolgrip-Pump."
It Paved The Way For Genre-Hopping
While genre boundaries have been well and truly broken down in today's streaming era, back in 2003, most major artists stayed in their lane — but not Outkast.
The Love Below certainly has little regard for pigeonholing, veering from big band crooning ("Love Hater") to celestial neo soul ("Prototype") to twitchy electro ("Vibrate") with both confidence and panache. The more-focused Speakerboxxx also keeps listeners on their toes, whether it's with the squelchy P-funk of "Last Call," punchy rap-rock of "Bust" or the mariachi-tinged hip-hop of "The Rooster."
Despite its mammoth running time, the album impressively never repeats itself, providing more flashes of invention than most of the duo's peers manage in an entire career.
Even The Interludes Are Inspired
Of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below's 40 tracks, 11 could be classed as interludes — a number that would normally draw groans, especially considering how much they're often the bane of a hip-hop album. But while the blink-and-you'll-miss-it contribution from comedian Henry Welch ("D-Boi") and the brief helium-voiced reprise of "Bowtie" are rather pointless, the majority of the breathers do add something to the record.
"Interlude" is a hypnotic spoken word piece which offers a crash course in Outkast history ("Believe in the dirty Southernplayalisticadillac-funky-ATLiens/ Together, makes Aquemini"). "The Love Below (Intro)" is a sumptuous orchestral number in which André 3000 throws things back to the Rat Pack. And "God (Interlude)" finds the latter living up to his horndog reputation in a cheeky prayer recited over some sun-dappled guitars.
It's About Both Love And War
As titles such as "Happy Valentine's Day," "Behold a Lady" and, of course, The Love Below would suggest, André 3000's half of the album is largely focused on the affairs of the heart — no doubt informed by his break up from Erykah Badu and subsequent quest to find 'the one.'
But to counterbalance all the love talk, Speakerboxxx is a more socially-conscious record in which Big Boi tackles themes of spirituality, philosophy and politics, none more so than on "War," a fervent protest song which no doubt left George W. Bush's ears burning ("Basically America, you got f—ed/ The media shucked and jived, now we stuck, damn.")
The Pair Deliver Career-Best Vocals
Free from having to battle for space on the same track — they only appear together on "Ghetto Musick," "Knowing" and "Roses" — Big Boi and André 3000 have arguably never sounded better than on their respective discs.
The former is in particularly ebullient form on his alter ego Sir Lucious Left Foot's origin story "Unhappy," and also spars well with hip-hop giants Jay-Z and Ludacris on "Flip Flop Rock" and "Tomb of the Boom," respectively. His regular partner in crime, meanwhile, appears to relish channeling his inner Prince on the falsetto-led "Spread" and final single "Prototype."
It Helped Revive The Hip-Hop Double Album
The mid-'90s had been a boom period for the hip-hop double album, with Tupac Shakur's All Eyez on Me, Notorious B.I.G's Life After Death and Wu Tang Clan's Wu Tang Forever regarded as the holy trinity. But the concept had fallen out of favor until Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below shifted nearly six million copies in the United States alone.
Following its triumph, Nas (2004's Street's Disciple), UGK Underground Kingz (2007's Outkast-featuring Underground Kingz) and Tech N9ne (2008's Killer) all got in on the act. More recently, Vince Staples (2015's Summertime '06), Drake (2018's Scorpion) and Kendrick Lamar (2022's Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers) have also tried to bottle lightning twice. But while they all have their high points, none quite match up to the sheer brilliance of Outkast's crowning glory.
Photos: JTBC PLUS/ImaZinS Editorial; RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella; JTBC PLUS/ImaZinS Editorial
K-Pop's Hip-Hop Roots: A History Of Cultural Connection On The Dancefloor
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. In honor of hip-hop's golden anniversary and K-pop's ever-growing popularity, GRAMMY.com explores the links between the sounds.
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. Their link can be traced to a single nightclub in Korea: Moon Night.
Located in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood, Moon Night wasn't particularly remarkable among the many other bars catering to tourists and American servicemen at the nearby military base. However, in the late '80s and early '90s, the club was ground zero for the genesis of the nation’s first K-pop group and the founding of the country’s "Big 3" music entertainment labels.
Moon Night is so crucial to the development of K-pop as we know it today because the club played music beloved by its target clientele: Americans. And in the midst of hip-hop's golden age, hip Korean audiences got hooked.
Over decades, that connection to hip-hop has developed and evolved to create the juggernaut that is contemporary K-pop. Today, the influence of hip-hop can be seen in K-pop dance, dress and even instrumentation.
Pioneering K-Pop On The Dancefloor
Where nightlife in Korea was long separated by nationality — Korean citizens had their own establishments, as did U.S. military personnel — a new kind of integrated club scene blossomed in the 1990s. For the first time, Koreans could legally patronize the same bars as American G.I.s.
Around 1 a.m., clubs like Moon Night would transition from a "normal Korean club" to a foreigner haven, recalls Dr. Michael Hurt, an Assistant Professor at the University of Suwon's International College.
That Moon Night became the Ur of K-pop as we know it was chiefly because Black American soldiers patronized the club, which played hip-hop. As Koreans and Black soldiers socialized, a new culture of hip-hop dance, or "rap dance," and music grew. Dr. Hurt experienced the eagerness with which young Koreans learned hip-hop moves while visiting Moon Night in the '90s.
Dr. Hurt — who is Black and Korean and has been living in country for various periods since the mid-'90s — recalls clubgoers asking to dance with him. They would follow along with every step. While hip-hop music was important to the progenitors of K-pop, Koreans at the time were most fascinated by dance moves, and the emphasis on dance remains an important aspect of K-pop today.
By the early '90s, hip-hop had begun to egress its original audience and evolve into a new form. The cross-cultural connection happening at Moon Night was replicated across Seoul; Dr. Hurt notes that Koreans and Black Americans also found common musical interest at Blue Monkey in Sincheon and Golden Helmet in Hongdae.
Future K-pop heavy hitters like Yang Hyun-suk of YG Entertainment, Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment, and Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment were rumored to have patronized Moon Night. However, Dr. Hurt theorizes that if they were in the club scene they also visited other places too.
K-Pop's First Generation Of Stars: Born At Moon Night, Shared Online
While hip-hop was largely inaccessible to Koreans in the 1990s, there were always dedicated Korean listeners. This young, niche community consisted of members like Seo Taiji, who brought rap dance to the public and became K-pop's first stars.
Seo Taiji and Boys reportedly learned how to dance from Black American soldiers at Moon Night. (Yang Hyun-suk, who later on became the founder of YGE, and Lee Juno were the "and Boys" component of the trio.) Their example laid the groundwork for the second generation of K-pop stars.
"[Seo Taiji and Boys] were like gods on earth," recalls Dr. Hurt.
The members became the undisputed purveyors of hip-hop in Korea, utilizing American hip-hop, metal and punk to create a unique musical fusion. The practice of mixing and melding genres is the standard in K-pop to this day.
Seo Taiji and Boys' 1992 performance of "난 알아요 (I Know)" on a competitive TV show struck a chord with the nation's youth, effectively introducing hip-hop to the general public. The performance also filled a capacious hole left in the Korean music industry after the roll back of Emergency Measure No. 9 (which only allowed patriotic or "healthy" songs to be broadcast), which banned hundreds of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton. Therein, Seo and company brought a new sound to the previously restricted airwaves.
Still, a lesser-known idol predates Seo Taiji and Boys' rise by a couple of years. Once again, Moon Night remains in the backdrop.
If Seo Taiji and Boys is K-pop’s first idol group then Hyun Jin-Young is K-pop’s first solo artist. Though his career was brief, Hyun Jin-Young "is generally credited with bringing hip-hop to the mainstream in Korea," says Dr. Crystal Anderson, Associate Director of Engaged Learning and African and African American Studies at George Mason University. On hits like, "슬픈 마네킹 (Sad Mannequin)," Jin-young sang, rapped, and performed dance moves, such as the Roger Rabbit, over a hip-hop beat. "Without him, you wouldn't have [K-pop] idols, but at the same time, Seo Taiji showed that it could be lucrative and popular."
Artists like Hyun Jin-Young, Seo Taiji, and, later, H.O.T were at the forefront of Korea's "rap dance" scene in the mid-to-late '90s. At the turn of the century, hip-hop culture began to circulate even further via the internet.
"The young hip-hop community [in Korea] has always been pretty hardcore because they had to be to even get enough information to maintain community," Dr. Hurt notes. "[Things] like what are the new fashions, you had to be deep into it."
Youth were largely responsible for disseminating the burgeoning sound of K-pop. "Music is not becoming popular at church. It starts from some kid pirating a CD," says Kirsten Keels, a 2021 Fulbright Korea scholar.
Online, Koreans could explore hip-hop even further. In BTS’ book, Beyond The Story, RM recounted learning about hip-hop through interviews and documentaries about rappers posted on YouTube as a teen. His interest in hip-hop would later cause a ripple effect that would lead him to his current position in BTS.
"Legitimizing" Hip-Hop In K-Pop's Second Generation
By the second generation of K-pop, which roughly begins in 2003, the days of "rap dance" had fizzled out in favor of a distinct K-pop sound. However, hip-hop’s presence in the genre remains in the form of creating a designated rapper in each idol group.
Korean Americans also played a significant role in the "legitimization" of hip-hop and K-pop. "In the early days of K-pop, particularly with the idol groups, you would have one or more members who were Korean American. The idea was they were closer to the source material and therefore it was more authentic," says Dr. Anderson.
This rings true for K-pop groups like H.O.T — Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment's first massively successful group — and 1TYM, which had Korean American members. Both groups have been cited as inspiration for groups like BTS and 2PM. H.O.T's successful formula became the blueprint for many K-pop groups. They industrialized the K-pop system, much as Motown developed its artists and hit-making processes.
Hip-Hop Artists And K-Pop Idols: Past And Present
Decades after its inception, K-pop and hip-hop acts continue to work together. In 2004, Snoop Dogg and Warren G hopped on Jinusean’s track, "2 All My People." The song's infectiously funky beat made the two rappers' appearance feel seamless.
In 2010, Kanye West was featured on JYJ’s "Ayy Girl" (West also appeared in the music video). And two years later, Psy, who has been a lifelong fan of M.C. Hammer, performed the rapper’s signature dance move next to him at the 2012 American Music Awards.
K-pop and hip-hop royalty came together in 2013 when BIGBANG’s G-Dragon and Missy Elliott gave a mesmerizing performance of "Niliria" on "M-countdown", a weekly music program broadcasted by M-net. It was a legendary moment in K-pop history because it brought together two highly respected rappers from different countries.
One group in particular has a slew of hip-hop collaborations – BTS. It doesn’t come with much surprise, since the septet’s CEO has openly stated "Black music is the base" of their musical identity. BTS and its members have collaborated with the likes of Nicki Minaj, J.Cole, Wale, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, and Lil Nas X (with whom they performed at the 2020 GRAMMYs). Recently, Jungkook, the youngest member of the group, made his solo debut with the song "Seven" featuring Southern rapper, Latto. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2017, Jay-Z signed former 2PM leader Jay Park (who takes his name from the multi-GRAMMY winner) to Roc Nation. The following year, Park was seen at Roc Nation’s annual brunch where he snapped pictures with the likes of Beyoncé and Big Sean. His debut EP, Ask Bout Me, featured rappers such as 2 Chainz, Rich The Kid, and Vic Mensa.
Hip-hop’s influence on K-pop runs through the genre’s past, present and future. K-pop and hip-hop artists have always had moments of mutual respect. Even at the most unsuspecting times, the two genres have always found ways to collaborate.
However, the earnestness with which K-pop takes inspiration from hip-hop has understandably been questioned. The topic of cultural appropriation continues to be divisive, and unanimous consensus a rarity. "One person's appropriation isn't necessarily another person's appropriation," says Dr. Anderson.
Lately, the conversation around cultural appropriation in K-pop is commonly in relation to visual signifiers. Instances where K-pop idols have been in the hot seat include but are not limited to: ATEEZ’s Hongjoong wearing cornrows in promo images, BLACKPINK’s Lisa sporting box braids on multiple occasions, and MAMAMOO’s Hwasa donning a durag. While there's often swift backlash from fans, response from record labels is typically delayed — if they acknowledge the uproars at all.
In 2019 and 2020, respectively, former CLC member Sorn posted a picture of someone dressed in a mask that resembled a racist caricature, while Stray Kids' Hyunjin imitated a Korean cartoon character that was reportedly based on Black racial stereotypes. The latter eventually issued an official apology, while Sorn continued to get into hot water — most recently for a photoshoot where she flaunted an afro.
These recent cases are just repeat offenses of longstanding practices. In the '90s, JYPE Founder Park Jin-young put backup dancers in blackface and afros. The Bubble Sisters infamously wore blackface for their debut cover art and corresponding promo pictures in 2003.
BTS' J-Hope raised eyebrows with his remake of Webstar and Young B’s 2006 track "Chicken Noodle Soup." The 2019 track featured Becky G, while J-Hope appeared with a gelled hairstyle that resembled dreadlocks. While the look bordered on appropriation, Young B praised the song in an interview with Billboard.
"People of all cultures know the song," Young B said."[J-Hope and Becky G] made it even bigger for this day and age. I’m very open-minded and I feel like [the remake] is good for the culture. It was created in Harlem, and now it’s a worldwide thing."
"There’s a legit reason for people to be angry because aspects of African American culture have been and continue to be appropriated… the problem with Black popular culture is [it’s] so damn successful," Dr. Hurt says."[It’s] so hyper-successful that in a way you can't make restraining claims on it. I don't think it's at all realistic anymore."
Cases of appropriation can get harder to identify when there seems to be no clear signs of foul
play. RAIN and J.Y. Park’s 2020 duet, "Switch To Me," is redolent of Bobby Brown’s 1988 tune, "Every Little Step." The beat, clothing, and dance moves show that Park Jin-young was inspired by Brown.
"My baseline for a negative appropriation and misappropriation is a racial performance that mocks or demeans," Dr. Anderson adds. "We need to recognize that there's another perspective, not necessarily to excuse some of the more egregious cases of negative appropriation,. We can't use our American racial lens and just put it over this thing and have it make sense because there are other factors at play."
Sometimes the boundaries are pushed too far and are met with legal contention. In 2004, first-generation K-pop group Baby V.O.X released "Xcstasy," utilizing a freestyle Tupac made while incarcerated. The group’s label founder, Yoon Deung Ryong, vehemently denied the rumors that they illegally used the late rapper’s voice and likeness. However, reports from that time failed to corroborate their label’s defenses. In 2020, "Cupid Shuffle" singer Bryson Bernard accused and threatened to sue K-pop group Seventeen for their song "Left & Right" which sounded comparable to his 2007 hit.
Over the past three decades, hip-hop has become part of Korea’s public consciousness resulting in the K-pop we see and hear today. The spark that Black American GIs, Seo Taiji, and hip-hop-loving Korean youth lit has exploded into a billion dollar industry. Although it can come at the cost of misappropriation and well-meaning appreciation, it ultimately shows the influence of hip-hop and Black popular music around the world.