The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap (2000-2004) Our list of the best songs, albums and mixtapes by Southern rappers is a celebration that recenters the South as a creative center of hip-hop and honors the region for all that it has given to us.
NPR logo The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap (2000-2004)

The South Got Something To Say: A Celebration Of Southern Rap (2000-2004)

Joelle Avelino for NPR
The South Got Something To Say
Joelle Avelino for NPR

At the 1995 Source Awards, André 3000 issued a proclamation, or a prophecy: "The South got something to say." Inspired by his words, this list represents some of the most impactful songs, albums and mixtapes by Southern rappers. It was assembled by a team, led by Briana Younger, of Southern critics, scholars and writers representing the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Virginia.

We offer this list not as an authoritative canon but as an enthusiastic celebration that recenters the South's role as a creative center of hip-hop and presents the region for all that it has been and given to us.


2000
Florida

Trina, Da Baddest B****

Da Baddest B****
Slip-N-Slide Records

Trina dropped her debut album, Da Baddest B****, in March 2000 on the historic Slip-N-Slide Records, marking her official foray into the male-dominated hip-hop industry. Capitalizing on her appearance on Trick Daddy's "Nann N****," Trina offered up a showcase of slick and explicit lyrics that put her in dialogue with New York's Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown. But Trina injected a distinct Southern flavor into her rhymes; tracks like the album's title single had an aggressive edge, and she didn't shy away from rapping about her sexual appetite and the grand life she lived in Miami. On "Pull Over," she proved capable of continuing her own momentum with catchy, unforgettable bars just like the chorus. Da Baddest B****, equally as brash as it is sexy, would go on to be the blueprint for female rappers for years to come — at present, acts like the City Girls and Megan Thee Stallion are extensions of her legacy, reminiscent of Trina's unflinchingly shameless style. Raw and assertive, Da Baddest B**** is a rallying cry for women to embrace their sexual selves. —Robyn Mowatt


Georgia

Ying Yang Twins, "Whistle While You Twurk"

YouTube

At the time of its release, the most popular version of this song used the melody from Disney's 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to recognize twerking as labor and inspire a positive attitude in the dancers of Atlanta's strip clubs. While Disney's litigiousness is likely to blame for this version's absence from the official record, it is delightfully discordant to hear the Ying Yang Twins' lyrics about farting pussies over the wholesome if exploitative ones of a snow-white princess who has broken into a house and entreated the animals and birds present to whistle as she orders them around and they do most of the labor. In some ways, the Ying Yang Twins offer a more progressive gender and labor vision than their fairytale inspiration, narrating some of the resistance practices of the club's various dancers — women who are skilled, don't play and demand top dollar.

"Whistle While You Twurk" is an ethnography of the Atlanta strip club scene, its people, practices and places, that prefigures the stylized and obligatory slow-motion shots of the space that would come to characterize at least one scene in many mainstream rap videos in the 2000s. It is the essential link from Florida to Texas, 2 Live Crew to Megan Thee Stallion, coming right on the heels of the transformative stop in between the two: Louisiana's Juvenile. On the South's twerk anthems, like this one and Ying Yang Twins' catalog's worth of others constructed in its image, we find the engines of pleasure, fantasy, capital and crossover. And if we listen on the lower frequencies, we will hear the familiar whistles of the complex intersections of race, sex and labor exploitation that have always operated in the region. —Zandria F. Robinson


Tennessee

Three 6 Mafia, When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1

When The Smoke Clears
Loud

Released in June 2000, Three 6 Mafia's fourth studio album, When The Smoke Clears, featured the collective at its creative and physical peak. With this being the group's first offering since its 1997 breakout effort Chapter 2: World Domination, the album was the result of three years of tooling up and polishing its sound via Hypnotized Minds/Prophet Posse compilations (especially January 2000's Hypnotize Camp Posse that featured the hit "Who Run It?") and solo albums from group members and affiliates. Living up to its title, When the Smoke Clears simultaneously introduced underground "Triple 6" to a wider national audience and further established the group's standing with longtime fans, all while the perfect storm of a Southern hip-hop takeover was brewing, making listeners, DJs, radio stations and anyone else with two ears realize that they were key architects in the movement.

While Lil Jon was marketing and packaging crunk with party records, Three 6 showed that not only were they making it before it became popular, but that it could be made with varying levels, lyrics and concepts besides call-and-response and big hooks. Love it or hate it, the album also unapologetically introduced a new drug culture to mainstream rap with tracks like "I'm So Hi" and "Sippin on Some Syrup" featuring UGK openly showcasing cocaine, pill and lean use at a time when weed was considered the drug of rapper choice. When the Smoke Clears would also be the last time that Three 6 Mafia operated at full strength. After the album's release, Koopsta Knicca had to leave the group due to legal issues while Gangsta Boo left to focus on a solo career. Lord Infamous' presence became scattered due to stints in jail and Crunchy Black later left over contract disputes. —Maurice Garland


Georgia

Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz, "Bia Bia"

YouTube

When Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz unleashed the single "Bia Bia" as the first single from the group's second LP, We Still Crunk!!, it became an instant hit in clubs throughout the nation. At 160 beats per minute with a thunderous, chest-pounding bassline and an aggressive hook that could easily be chanted, "Bia Bia" became the go-to for any DJ wanting to jump-start a party with a bang. The record solidified Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz as the undisputed Kings of Crunk and made producer and songwriter Lil Jon one of its chief proponents. To this day, "Bia Bia" remains a staple and precursor to various strains of EDM and trap music. —Charlie R. Braxton


2001
Tennessee

Project Pat, Mista Don't Play: Everythangs Workin

Mista Don't Play
Loud/Hypnotize Minds

Arguably more than any other Southern rap titan, Project Pat's genius and influence often feels overlooked in the broader hip-hop canon not only because of the region from which he hails, but also because of the unorthodox nature of his craft. The Memphis legend, who is the older brother of Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J, admittedly learned to rap from the rhythm of nursery rhymes. That simple, melody-driven delivery shows up in much of his hooks and verses but rather than proving a lack of complexity, it shows that Pat understood the importance of incorporating fun into his music — and accessibility. The best Project Pat songs feature his signature style of accentuating words with extra syllables to make them fit into a bar with more ease, some sort of chant as backing vocals and storytelling so vivid that you can see verses materialize as you listen.

The apex of his repertoire came with 2001's Mista Don't Play: Everythangs Workin, his second studio album. From beginning to end, Pat walks you through his Memphis experience in cinematic fashion, as the day-in-the-life porch banter he trades with friends seamlessly transitions into songs related to those exchanges; on "We Can Get Gangsta," he recalls a botched set-up job in such pinpoint detail that it could be the basis of a crime film. At other moments on the album, Pat leaves space to muse over his love for weed and strippers as well. Mista Don't Play is not just Project Pat's most complete body of work, but hindsight has proven that it was ahead of its time — a foundation for hits nearly 20 years later. —Lawrence Burney


Tennessee

Project Pat, "Chickenhead"

YouTube

In general, men in rap speak about women in their music but very rarely speak to them, and certainly not in the literal sense. Their one-sided musings have built a world where women are more idea than material, but the interplay between Project Pat and La Chat on "Chickenhead" undoes that just for a second and is thus one of the most recognizable (and quotable) in all of hip-hop. The song — which is built around a DJ Jimi sample and the onomatopoeia of the hook, accented by "boy please whatever" — opens with Pat in monologue, as he outlines all that is wrong with whatever unnamed "bald-head scallywag," his semi-punctuated flow primed for memorization. On the second verse, though, La Chat comes through to avenge all women for those men who dare criticize while their shortcomings remain unchecked.

The auxiliary effect of this dialogue-on-wax is it places La Chat on equal footing as Pat in a lighthearted battle of the sexes that also highlights a very real pressure point of courtship — man as suitor with little to offer but looking the part, woman as unimpressed pursuree. "You ride clean, but your gas tank is on E / Be steppin' out ain't got no decent shoes on your feet," she pokes in her signature Memphis-cool dialect. "That's just the meter broke, you don't know what you talkin' 'bout / Anyway them new Jordans finna come out," Pat responds in kind. It makes for a comically candid dynamic that is rarely heard but nevertheless real and, more than anything, provides sheer entertainment. —Briana Younger


Georgia

Pastor Troy, "Vica Versa"

YouTube

In the midst of Atlanta's crunk era, Pastor Troy offered one of Southern hip-hop's strongest spiritual offerings. By the time his voice has become a yell on "Vica Versa," it's hard to tell up from down. The song, which imagines heaven and hell have swapped, is an impassioned look at life (and what comes afterwards) that will rattle even the most optimistic listener. In the midst of it all, an adaptable Pastor Troy remains undaunted. "I have no fear / I done witnessed too much hell right here," he raps.

In the early 2000s, Pastor Troy was best known as the "Down South Georgia Rebel" on "a whole 'nother f****** level," releasing diss-tracks-turned-local-anthems such as the explosive "No Mo Play in G.A.," aimed at No Limit Records. More recently, though, he has evoked similar militaristic and religious themes from his earlier work to make homophobic comments about fellow Atlanta artist Lil Nas X (statements he doubled down on with an album titled I Said What I Said). The recent incident served as an example of how an obstinate rapper such as Troy, whose musical themes often hinge on hypermasculinity, can easily turn from inspirational to harmful. —Jewel Wicker


Petey Pablo, "Raise Up"

North Carolina hide caption

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YouTube

The running joke in North Carolina is that when you are born, the hospitals play Petey Pablo's "Raise Up" so you know all of the words before your first birthday. The 2001 record from the fresh Jive records signee Petey Pablo reflected the new boisterous sound of Southern hip-hop that was on the way. Pablo became the first rapper to make it out of the state, with Little Brother, Rhapsody, J. Cole and DaBaby following down the line. An anthem of hometown pride, "Raise Up" lists almost 22 different regions and towns in North Carolina, none of them large or even well-known cities.

Timbaland's production, which gets its triumphant energy from UNC's marching band, arrived at a time when the synergy between HBCU band culture and hip-hop was reaching its apex, and Battle of The Bands was at its peak with schools like Morris Brown, NCA&T, Jackson State and Southern University all becoming major influences in the sound of pop culture (see: Trick Daddy's "Shut Up," Yung Wun's "Tear It Up," Rich Boy's "Boy Looka Here," Ying Yang Twins' "Halftime," OutKast's "Morris Brown" or Destiny's Child's "Lose My Breath"). Pablo slid his way into band repertoire, cemented by a role in Drumline which also included his follow up single, "I Told Y'all." The amplitude of his Southern growl helped shift the industry away from smoother rhythms, making way for a grimier underbelly to rise and for North Carolina to as well. —Clarissa Brooks


Texas

Lil' Flip, "I Can Do Dat"

YouTube

In 1999, Lil' Flip emerged as one of the final stars of the Screwed Up Click, a wunderkind who in two years time would release a landmark mixtape (2000's The Leprechaun), sign a major label deal and stake his claim as one of Texas' — if not the South's — greats. "I Can Do Dat," the boisterous lead single from The Leprechaun, is Flip not in his element of loose freestyling but rather stacking lines on top of one another. To him (and anybody who repeats it), "I Can Do Dat" is about taking control of the world in front of you; if he could, he'd buy his old high school, flood the streets with new music and remain the hottest rapper in the city. At 20, being a neighborhood superstar who dominated Screw tapes was Flip's calling, and "I Can Do Dat" would only be the first leap from Cloverland to the world. —Brandon Caldwell


Tennessee

La Chat, Murder She Spoke

Murder She Wrote
Hypnotize Minds

Thanks to Hypnotize Minds' habit of internally recirculating beats and soundbytes, La Chat spends much of Murder She Spoke in conversation with the clique's other members. "Don't Sang It" shares the beat from Project Pat's "If You Ain't From My Hood"; separate Juicy J and Crunchy Black lines from other Three 6 songs loop on the hook for "Luv 2 Get Hi." But the most direct reply might be "Slob on My Cat," a counter to Three 6's schoolyard-favorite "Slob on my Knob." Gangsta Boo, Three 6 Mafia's first lady, had her own retort, "Suck a Little Dick," on her debut Enquiring Minds, but Juicy J steals the last word. On La Chat's version, her ribaldry is allowed to speak for itself. She makes ample use of the freedom, rapping: "Little do he know / What I'm all about / Call up my girls / His face on the house," in her muddy drawl.

Chat's time with the Hypnotize Minds clique wasn't long; she left after Murder She Spoke, alleging that she never saw any royalties from her album or from her star turn on "Chickenhead" with Project Pat. But in the time before she left she established an alternative archetype for Southern rap womanhood (one potent enough that Princess of Crime Mob told the Village Voice her brother, Lil Jay, made her listen to La Chat as homework after she told him she wanted to rap). The whole project is an exercise in returning energy: on "You Ain't Mad Iz Ya," Chat queries: "You need to come on down man, you think that I am so lame / I worked out with them fifteens and I'm ridin' on them chrome thangs / So what the f***'s that tellin' you?" and answers: "I'm a ballerhollic too." —Melvin Backman


Florida

Khia, "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"

YouTube

When we think of the songs that have been canonized as part of long-standing tradition of hyper-sexualized Southern rap, Khia's snare-happy ode to the art of cunnilingus and annilingus immediately come to mind. As the lead single of her debut album, Thug Misses, the song's audaciously sexual lyrics center female pleasure in a way that flouted the conventions of the time. Within the framework of the album, which is a rollicking 16-track ode to talking your s***, the song anchors the project in a cultural moment when women were again claiming their sexual autonomy and their right to be as boastful as their male counterparts. Skits like "Hater" — which is rather appropriately followed by "F*** Dem Other Hoes" (which samples C-Murder's "Down For My N*****") — are juxtaposed against the likes of "You My Girl", a heartfelt dedication to the rapper's (now-deceased) mother, framing Khia's womanhood with valuable multidimensionality, but "My Neck, My Back" is the rapper at her most unfiltered. In some ways, the song follows in the lyrical tradition of Lil' Kim's "Not Tonight" or Foxy Brown's "Candy," which both explicitly reference cunnilingus and pre-date the Florida-based rapper's own seminal bop, but "My Neck, My Back" carved out a towering space of its own. The uniquely Southern production may have perhaps seemed just left of generic to denizens of the region, but with the "Dirty South" sound catching on nationwide, for many, it was a revelation that broke ranks from the oral sex tales of its predecessors. —Stephanie Smith-Strickland


Georgia

Ludacris, Word Of Mouf

Word Of Mouf
Disturbing tha Peace/Def Jam South

Illinois-to-Atlanta transplant Chris Bridges declared himself the new mouth of the South through booming vocals and clever wordplay on 1999's Incognegro, proving he was an ideal anchor act for legacy label Def Jam's new Southern presence, which was then spearheaded by Scarface who signed Ludacris and his DTP imprint. Luda didn't have the same journey as some of his peers and predecessors — his introduction to the industry came via an internship at Atlanta radio station Hot 107.9 (then 97.5) — nor was his music full of tales from the trap. Charming, affable and funny, Luda carved a lane that didn't intersect with a T.I. or an André 3000 or a Big Boi, and 2001's Word of Mouf positioned him to become one of the first Southern superstars of the early-'00s pop rap era.

The album was a musical buffet — Southern rap accessible for those outside of the South, with something for every auditory appetite: Southern bounce and crunk offerings with "Roll Out" and "Move B****"; party energy with "Saturday (Oooh! Ooooh!)" and "Area Codes"; the soulful coming of age tale "Growing Pains"; body roll opportunities with "Keep it on the Hush" and "Freaky Thangs"; and grittier fare with "Get the F*** Back" and "Block Lockdown." Word of Mouf featured a superstar line-up of producers including Timbaland, Swizz Beats, Organized Noize, Jazze Pha and Bangladesh a couple of years before his peak. In addition to the heavyweight talent behind the boards, features were stacked with the likes of Three 6 Mafia, Nate Dogg, Twista, Mystikal, Sleepy Brown, Jagged Edge and Luda's own DTP crew. Ludacris covered every sonic base, flipping his lyricism and flows without sounding gimmicky or contrived — even on songs that were, by definition, a bit gimmicky. A song full of "hoe" puns punctuated with the enthusiastic declaration "I've - got - HOES! In different area codes" wouldn't be received as warmly today. Still, the album was met with a mostly positive critical reception at the time of its release in spite of the parts that, in hindsight, didn't age well.

Luda's biggest talent, perhaps because of his time in radio broadcast or because he's just that adept, is that he can adjust his cadence, intensity and the heaviness of his accent at will. He's an actor even on wax, and when he paired his colorful lyrics with creative visual concepts, multi-platinum sales, chart hits and Grammy nods were all but guaranteed. His personality drove Word Of Mouf to commercial success and propelled the rapper to big screen opportunities, and that still holds up. —Naima Cochrane


Louisiana

Da Entourage, "Bunny Hop"

YouTube

I was doing the "Bunny Hop, a dance not unlike the "Cupid Shuffle," long before I realized how crass the track really was. Chalk it up to my Louisiana roots. Though Da Entourage has fallen into relative obscurity, "Bunny Hop" has remained a staple at pre-COVID-19 gatherings in the Deep South. Composed of soft kicks and turns, the dance adds a youthfulness to the cut, and the clean version makes grandmas think it's appropriate for family reunions, though the song is all about the club scene and potential infidelities. The rappers know they have someone at home waiting for them, but they're completely unfazed, insteading opting to chase the flavor of the night. From the way they make this belle sound, can you blame them? —Brooklyn White


2002
Texas

Devin the Dude, Just Tryin' Ta Live

Just Tryin Ta Live
Rap-A-Lot

The general sentiment about Houston rappers is that they are either no-nonsense, blunt and unflinching about the matters of the world (see Scarface, Willie D, Z-Ro), flamboyant, flashy hardheads (see Lil' Flip) or individuals who found themselves somewhere in the middle (Fat Pat, Pimp C). Devin The Dude is an outlier, a child of the Odd Squad of the mid-'90s who featured on Dr. Dre's 2001. Devin's sophomore album, Just Tryin' Ta Live, is a day-in-the-life transition between your car being an extension to the rest of the universe ("Lacville '79"), playing mediator to a domestic incident ("WXYZ") and how a red light internal conversation becomes paramount for life ("Doobie Ashtray"). Devin's only trying to get home to smoke and have sex, but the world and his mind press him to dig deeper into existentialism at every turn.

Just Tryin' Ta Live is a blockbuster Houston rap album complete with big-name producers and featured guests that doesn't actually hold the distinction of blockbuster sales. Dr. Dre's menacing pianos lurch around for "It's A Shame"; DJ Premier merges his muddy blues with Devin's for "Doobie Ashtra"; Xzibit and Nas join forces for "Some of 'Em" and Raphael Saadiq brings even more gravity to Devin's everyman approach on "Just A Man." The album is a watershed moment for Devin, whom by emphasizing his own idiosyncrasies, created his own goofy yet sublime lament about trying to exist within the giant sprawl that is Houston, Texas. —Brandon Caldwell


Nappy Roots, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz

Kentucky
Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz
Atlantic

In 2002, rap music was largely centered on solo stars. Eminem owned the charts with The Eminem Show; Nelly brought listeners to Nellyville; Ja Rule, who was beefing with Eminem, solidified his transition to R&B-rapper status with Pain is Love; Nas, who was beefing with Jay-Z, released Stillmatic, Missy Elliot was remaking rap on Under Construction. Big names were making even bigger headlines.

Enter Nappy Roots: a rap posse approaching Wu-Tang numbers composed of college friends — Skinny DeVille, Big V Scales, B. Stille, R. Prophet and Ron Clutch — who met at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky. Their debut album, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, like Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and Soul Food before it, was a celebration and exploration of Southern culture, charm and the feeling of being blessed to call the terrains below the Mason-Dixon Line home. That pride in your Southern upbringing was evident in the album's Jazze Pha-produced first single, "Awnaw," when Scales raps, "Nappy smokin' blacks out on the back porch / I'm thinkin' I got everything a country boy could ask for." Classics like "Po' Folks" and "Ballin On A Budget" felt eons away from the Cash Money Records reign happening a few clicks further down the map. Though different in their individual personalities and deliveries, collectively the group prided itself on being the rappers you'd want to sip beer and shoot the s*** with.

One could make the argument that Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz is the best country rap album of all time. Not country in the honky-tonk, pick-up truck, red solo cup sense, but in the idea of embracing the connotations of the word as it pertains to growing up in Black in the South, and being proud of that — warts and all. —Gavin Godfrey


Louisiana

Big Tymers, "Still Fly"

YouTube

I just learned the name of the song "Still Fly" is "Still Fly." We called it "The Gilligan Island Song" because it wasn't — and didn't try to be — lyrically heavy, and we hated to admit we loved running to it. If there was a "Songs to Run To" mixtape, this would be the first or last track. It was equal parts aspirational anthem and homage to struggle bars.

Ain't got no job, but I stay sharp
Can't pay my rent, 'cause all my money's spent


Got a quarter tank of gas in my new E class
But that's alright, cause I'm gon' ride

Honestly, as a runner, the song made me feel like an automobile, which is weird because I never played this song in my truck. And trucks and cars were where all the flyness of the song was located. It's also where all the visible flyness in our lives at that point was located. Like Smokey, we had car alarms on hoopties. We barely had any careers. We had no homes. We had no accomplishments. But whatever car or truck we had, or had access to, the outside was always clean, the system was always booming, and we knew how to lean at a "Still Fly" angle in the passenger or driver's seat. So in the rules of our lives, passed on from the rules of our uncles' lives — and Mannie Fresh and Baby came on the scene looking like uncles — if we had more style than disposable income, and if we spent that disposable income on car accoutrement, we were "Still Fly." It's still one of the best celebratory no-money to new-money songs in the world. And whether intentional or not, I can hear a warning in the song today that I never heard when it was released in 2002. —Kiese Makeba Laymon


Georgia

Cee-Lo Green, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections

Cee-Lo Green
Arista

If you're reading this in 2020, you're probably looking at this album's appearance on this list and asking yourself the same questions you did when you first heard it in 2002. Is this hip-hop? Well, because Cee-Lo is Black, from Atlanta and was exclusively in a rap group and crew right up until this album's release, it was going to get labeled "hip-hop" no matter what he did on it — similar to how future genre-melding efforts from André 3000 (The Love Below), Lil Wayne (Rebirth) and their countless spawn (Future, Drake, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, etc.) would meet the same fate. What is Cee-Lo doing here? Well, if you want to be literal, he's "Gettin' Grown," as one of the album's highlights says. But if you want to be honest, he's pushing boundaries and still rapping circles around every other rapper at the time, which is what an artist is supposed to do in hip-hop, right? While he only technically "raps" on a handful of songs, those skillful displays more than make up for any rap withdrawal you may have experienced listening to this album.

On "Big Ole Words (Damn)" he opens telling concerned listeners (i.e. rap snobs and Goodie Mob fans) that he has not lost his passion for the pen, but does find the idea of being just a rapper uninspiring. He then closes the song with an amazing act of A-plus alliteration where his "pure and powerful poetry, permanently" shuts up anyone who ever questioned if Southern MCs could rhyme before asking, "Now can I do my s***?" On "One For the Road," he further sets himself apart from rappers wearing "cornrows and a bandana" by noting that he earns a "hundred and fifty-thousand dollar check every three months off Santana." In the 18 years since this album's release, Cee-Lo's rap verses have continued to come few and far between. But so have rappers who can touch his skillset. —Maurice Garland


Virginia

Clipse, "Grindin'"

YouTube

How Lord Willin' or Hell Hath No Fury didn't make the final album cut for this list is an entry point into a larger conversation — one I've been battling pretty much since I moved into James Hall my freshman year at Hampton University. Geographically and historically, Virginia is the South. Musically, however, is where it gets dicey. "Grindin'," like Supa Dupa Fly five years before it, is a landmark record in the state's musical history. Every facet of the song represented the 10th state to the core, from The Neptunes and Clipse both being natives of "The 757 aka Seven Cities" (the southeastern coastal portion of the state) all the way to Pusha T's Julius "Dr. J" Erving Virginia Squires throwback jersey. When the record dropped in the summer of 2002, No Malice (then known as Malice) and Pusha's street pharmaceutical tales atop Chad Hugo and Pharrell's production sounded like nothing else in music. In reality, that's the story of Virginia hip-hop as a whole.

In no state is the debate around "Southerness" more prevalent than it is within Virginia. It's an impossible argument to win on either side of the aisle because "Southerness" isn't painted with a definitive, clear cut brush. And, to be honest, Virginia rap, in particular rap from Richmond and below, doesn't replicate the same texture, drawls or even outright geographical alignment as other Southern rap metropolises like Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston or Miami. But like the Black experience as a whole, rap music from the South isn't monolithic. I'm admittedly biased when it comes to this discussion, but "Grindin'" is a classic Southern rap tune (and the greatest lunch table beat of all time). The sound itself may not reflect it, but the environment that gave the Clipse its musical script is as Southern as the two HBCUs, Hampton and Norfolk State, that share the same zip code. —Justin Tinsley


Georgia

Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, Kings of Crunk

Kings of Crunk
BME

Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz have been hitting the airwaves and your favorite mixtapes since the mid-1990s and their 1997 regional smash "Who U Wit?," but it was Kings of Crunk that solidified not only the sub-genre of crunk music, a mashup of chanting and hard-hitting bass that traces its roots to Memphis, but Lil Jon's place on the throne, as Southern hip-hop — especially in Atlanta — was starting to reap the benefits of its wide-ranging appeal. Kings of Crunk took full advantage of the region's devotion to 808s and party culture: The album boasted smash singles like "Get Low" and "Play No Games" as well as deeper cuts like "Throw It Up," which was a staple at parties and football games across the South. Kings of Crunk propped up Lil Jon as the South's crunkest architect and as a purveyor of its past and present, featuring prominent and regionally favored Southern rappers like Bun B, 8ball and MJG, Trick Daddy, Mystikal, Devin the Dude and Petey Pablo across the album. It showed crunk at its purest and what happens when it hybridizes with other genres of music, most notably the beginning of Cuban-American sensation Pitbull's crossover into not only rap but American pop music. Lil Jon himself would also become a pop culture staple, most notably catching the attention of Dave Chappelle and earning Lil Jon a coveted characterization on Chappelle's wildly successful skit show Chappelle's Show in 2004. —Regina N. Bradley, Ph.D.


2003

David Banner, "Like A Pimp" (featuring Lil Flip)

Mississppi
YouTube

The music video for David Banner's "Like A Pimp" combines imagery of Banner escaping an attempted lynching with scenes of him and Lil Flip, pimp cup in hand, commanding a crowd that has gathered around candy-colored cars. The juxtaposition of terror and triumph offers a glimpse of the contrasting experiences that sometimes come with growing up Black in the South.

With a prominent sample of UGK's "Take It off," "Like a Pimp" easily evokes Southern Black life in the 2000s, even without the music video. The references to Southern staple Pappadeaux and strip club encounters create a sense of place that's only heightened by the accents of Banner and Houston rapper Lil Flip, whose pronunciation of "door" and "floor" rhymes with "hoes." Later in the song, when Banner makes an explicit request involving lips, his famous Mississippi drawl transforms the one-syllable word into two.

Today, Banner is more known for his public speaking and a podcast that aims to make you "laugh, push your thinking, liberate your mind and move you to disrupt the status quo," than for songs about pimping, apparently honing the political and social commentary he weaved into his earlier music videos and songs.—Jewel Wicker


Georgia

T.I., Trap Muzik

Trap Muzik
Grand Hustle / Atlantic

It's still debatable if Trap Muzik is the album that actually gave the self-proclaimed "King of the South" his crown, but it did at least give T.I. the throne for king of the trap. Obviously, music about trapping and the word "trap" itself existed long before this 2003 release from a then 22-year old rapper. But no one, even in Atlanta, was rooting their entire musical identities in the idea so deep that they would go so far as to name their album after it. Up to this point, Atlanta was either bouncing and booty shaking, nodding to Dungeon Family's heartbeat, dancing to So So Def's hits or getting hit by crunk's elbows. Any music that dared to talk vividly about the Black Mecca's underbelly of poverty, crime and drugs (i.e. Ghetto Mafia, Hitman Sammy Sam) was considered underground. What kept Trap Muzik above water is that T.I. didn't just rap about the lifestyle, he could make hit songs about it.

Going into this album, he'd already been groomed by a major label and worked with platinum producers and artists via his 2001 LaFace/Arista debut I'm Serious. He speaks directly to his transition at the end of Trap Muzik's title track saying, "Listen to I'm Serious, thinking, 'How did he not end up way up on top of the chart?'" / That's because where I was, see you gotta be pop, if you really want to pop, and I'd rather be dropped." Fortunately for him, T.I. stuck to his guns (still too soon?) and went pop on his own accord. As much is proven when you realize that each of the album's singles ("24's," "Be Easy," "Rubberband Man" and "Let's Get Away") were produced by either DJ Toomp, David Banner or Jazze Pha — a Southern trifecta that makes you forget that an already-platinum Kanye West had two beats on this album as well. —Maurice Garland


Texas

Mike Jones, "Still Tippin'" (Featuring Slim Thug & Paul Wall)

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There was a moment in the mid-aughts when it seemed like Houston was untouchable. Bun B released his immaculate solo debut Trill; Slim Thug's debut Already Platinum yielded a handful of memorable singles; Pimp C was steady "Knockin Doorz Down" with his Pimpalation album; Lil Keke was showing us how to "Chunk Up Da Deuce" and Chamillionaire was "Ridin'" all the way up the Hot 100. But before all of that, it was Swishahouse and "Still Tippin" that transported us to the city and leveled the floodgates to let loose a Texas wave.

"Still Tippin" is the kind of song that needs to be broken down into its components to understand what a perfect storm it is: that glorious string production, that chopped-and-screwed hook, Slim Thug's gruff baritone voice, Mike Jones' impossibly catchy repetitions ("back then hoes didn't want me"), Paul Wall's ultra smooth drawl and flow. Every element is a compass pointing south, every line a possibility. Mike Jones converted his own words into another track as did Paul Wall and Slim Thug; "Magnificent 'bout his cash" nods to lesser known labelmate Magno who turned the lyric into a song of his own.

Rap is an especially self-referential genre, and you will know a Southern rapper by the way he connects himself to his lineage and builds it out in real time. To claim the South, one need only call on its sonic history, need only invoke its legends and their progeny by name. Few places do this as well as Houston, whose music is a map that opens up the city and insists on its past in its present. "Still Tippin'" is proudly of this tradition, from the very sculpting of its beat to the idioms and references which fill its lines — it's the single that put the whole of H-Town in the homes of an entire generation. —Briana Younger


2004
Georgia

Trillville, "Some Cut"

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A young rap trio that emerged during the late 1990s, Trillville was signed to Lil Jon's BME, debuting with its now classic "Neva Eva," which landed the group on the Billboard Hot 100. That may have been Trillville's introduction to the world, but it did little to foreshadow what was to come. In contrast with the belligerent style of their aggro anthem, "Some Cut" is one of the raunchier numbers from the crunk era.

The single features late singer Cutty and walks us through your everyday Southern mall harassment in all of its blunt persistence. Lil Jon, who produced the track, gave it its iconic squeaking sound — which is slyly implied to be a bedspring, though Lil Jon recalls it as a sample of a chair rocking back and forth — that's been copied on tracks by Wale, Ty Dolla $ign, Tinashe, Bruno Mars and countless others around the world (including in K-pop). —Brooklyn White


Georgia

Crime Mob, "Knuck If You Buck"

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One of the biggest draws of crunk music is how it converts aggression to euphoria; just the potential of confrontation offers a rush of adrenaline all the same. There's little remarkable about men allowing their testosterone to take over their bodies (isn't that the history of the planet?), but women create a special kind of allure with the threat of violence — a theory Crime Mob proved over and over again. Despite the men of the group, Lil' Jay, M.I.G., Cyco Black and, formerly, Killa C outnumbering the women 2:1, Diamond and Princess own this show, and "Knuck if You Buck" remains the best proof of their power.

The hook adheres to the standard crunk structure — or, aptly, buck, as its Memphis originators called the sound — with its simple one-line chant, primed for club conflicts. It's in the verses of Princess and Diamond, though, that the song explodes with the fire of a thousand suns (as does everyone hearing it in its natural habitat). They're nothing short of convincing when they deploy lines like "Yeah we knucking and bucking and ready to fight / I betcha I'ma throw them things, so haters best to think twice," as Princess asserts in the second verse, or "B**** you irrelevant, step to my residence / Best to back up 'fore I fill you with lead," as Diamond demands in the fourth. It's not just the contrast of their voices to their counterparts' but the energy they conjure in service of ensuring that we have a proper soundtrack for stomping someone out should the need arise. Like Chyna Whyte before them, Crime Mob's first ladies are a welcome injection of feminine magic into a decidedly hypermasculine style; test them at your own risk. —Briana Younger


Tennessee

Young Buck, "Stomp" feat. T.I. and Ludacris

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The beef between T.I. and Ludacris was immortalized thanks to Nashville rapper Young Buck and his single "Stomp." A street release that never made the final cut of his debut album, Straight Outta Cashville, "Stomp" pits T.I. against Luda in a clash of two of the day's most preeminent spitters, as Buck plays the role of neutral facilitator. As the story goes, Buck reached out to T.I. for a feature, which was returned to him with a diss; Buck, in an act of diplomacy, invited Luda to respond with his own contribution, and so one of the most iconic products of rap rivalry was born.

T.I. and Luda's jabs at one another give the track an extra punch (sorry!), as each one uses his verse to assert dominance, both tangible and lyrical — complete with namechecks for good measure. "Real n***** see the difference between you and this / Me getting beat down that's ludicrous," T.I. spits midway through his part; "Nobody's thinking about you, plus your beef ain't legit / so please stay off the T-I-P of my diiiiiiick," Luda fires back to wrap his. In between, there's a buffet of clever one-liners that emphasize just how compelling both artists were at the time. Rap beefs tend to yield some of the genre's best music (whole lists are dedicated to ranking these verbal faceoffs), but "Stomp" is a rare instance of the two opposing parties trading barbs in the space of one track. Though the conflict has long been quelled, to this day, the debate over which esteemed Atlanta rapper emerged victorious rages on (Ludacris is the correct answer). —Briana Younger


Texas

Big Tuck, "Southside Da Realist"

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According to the Department of Justice, in the mid-2000s, Dallas's transportation system solidified its status as the nexus of distribution and shipment in the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, contributing to the city's ranking as the nation's most dangerous large city according to the FBI; this is the shadow that lingers over Big Tuck's "Southside Da Realist." "At the particular moment who I hung out with was selling dope, that street s*** and I felt like I wanted to capture that in the 'Southside' song," the rapper said in an interview with RealLyfe Productions. "Everybody from every Southside, every part of the world was on it ... I wanted to capture the moment of what I was living in."

Since the emergence of Dirty South Rydaz, T-Town's signature group pulled together by George Lopez in response to the success of Rap-A-Lot and No Limit Records, Big Tuck has been the sole consistent member as the group evolved through the decades. In the city's hip-hop scene, Tuck's domineering voice remained prominent throughout the years for his trustworthy depictions of the lived experiences and feelings of Dallas' Southside: "Roll down the exit night it looks like Vegas / Small time bangers, that's what that is / If you ain't scheming you are making drug deals."

"Southside Da Realist" is an auditory experience of a Dallas hustler reality hiding in plain sight, as narrated by Big Tuck. An idyllic ride "from the state fair down to x to the pine / Home of the killas, home of the G's" is the entryway into his isolated urban jungle where he educated his peers about the benefits of moving drugs via the city's rail system, though his preferred mode of transportation is a "chameleon" foreign car, the changing paint jobs a visual ploy to distract law enforcement officials and prevent them from identifying them across the Southern highways. Highly regarded in the local hip-hop scene because of Dirty South Rydaz, Big Tuck achieved his iconic status as a solo artist through his straightforward representation of the city, bestowing on local and national fans alike an anthem that highlighted the complexities and nuances of Blackness in Dallas. —Taylor Crumpton


Florida

Jacki-O, "Fine" (Featuring Ying Yang Twins)

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The twerking era of Southern rap was a good time on its own, but Jacki-O came through and made it sexy. Her breakout record "Pussy (Real Good)" was an ode to her lady parts that could moonlight as a feminist text, but its follow up, "Fine," which doubles down on the self-love with aplomb, is a party, and she is the center of attention. It lands like a sequel to her cunning appearance on Ying Yang Twins' "Salt Shaker" extended remix. This time, the brothers feature on the hook and in the verse to expressly contribute to erecting a musical monument to the Florida rapper; their "Jacki, Jacki, Jacki, Jacki" lives on through beauty maven Jackie Aina.

There's a confidence in Jacki-O's demeanor on and off wax that feels especially salient. Lines that would be written off as exaggeration in any other case roll off her tongue with ease, like casual inner-monologues made public. Aptly, the accompanying video for "Fine" is a celebration of women and women's bodies presented through dance and sensuality with sapphic undertones. Like many of her peers, Jacki-O is remembered primarily for her sexually-charged tracks, but that characterization doesn't do her justice. On mixtapes like Free Agent and Jack the Rippa, she proved quietly proficient in more traditional street rap and narrative form; the world happened to love her most (or perhaps she was just easier to market) when she was loving on herself. —Briana Younger