The Rap Game Gone South Hip-hop might have been born in New York, but Southern artists have been dominating rap and pop charts for at least a decade. Roni Sari is author of the new book "Third Coast: Outkast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing."

The Rap Game Gone South

The Rap Game Gone South

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Hip-hop might have been born in New York, but Southern artists have been dominating rap and pop charts for at least a decade. Roni Sari is author of the new book "Third Coast: Outkast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing."

TONY COX, host:

The grandparents might call it down south. But hip-hoppers know it as the dirty-dirty.

The Southern states have been cranking out rap stars and hip-hop hits for more than two decades now. The success of dirty South acts like Master P, Ludacris and Lil John have brought international fame to their down home hip-hop scene.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: Roni Sarig is the author of "Third Coast: Outkast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing." Roni, nice to have you.

Mr. RONI SARIG (Author, "Third Coast: Outkast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing"): Thanks for having me.

COX: You probably, we should say it, how hip-hop became a southern thang instead of southern thing, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SARIG: Well, you know, that was my first impulse, it really was. But my editor said, no way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SARIG: Well, it's a little too corny, you know. And I think he made the right call.

COX: You think he made the right call?

Mr. SARIG: Yeah, yeah.

COX: All right. Well, let's talk, you know, you said some interesting things in the book. And the "Third Coast," obviously, meaning that hip-hop and rap are not confined to the basis of the East Coast or the West Coast, and that there is another place. And in fact, you say this in the book, hip-hop was - well, hip-hop may have been born in the Bronx - Bronx, New York - but rap is an invention of the South. What did you mean?

Mr. SARIG: Well, I'm taking the long view on it. And I'm looking at rap in the most general terms as being what you do when you sort of speak poetry in rhyme to a beat, to - in a rhythm and just - in that general sense, it's very, very closely connected to the African-American oral tradition that goes back centuries and actually even goes back to Africa. But if you look at just in the United States where - how it developed, it mainly developed in the South, this oral tradition. And I'm talking about things like the toasts, which were kind of these extended epic rhymes, storytelling poems.

COX: Atlanta, you described in your book as the new Motown. And groups coming out of Atlanta like OutKast, you know, they became just really big crossing over into movies and film. Andre Benjamin has his own TV cartoon. How did groups like OutKast rise to the top the way they did, and how much of it had to do with the fact that they were coming out of this new musical mecca in Atlanta?

Mr. SARIG: Well, I think it wasn't so much that they were coming out of this mecca. I think they created it. They made the mecca, those groups. They were the ones that sort of created this infrastructure, I think. There were a lot of factors that led to Atlanta becoming a center for urban music. Some of it was just the big picture of this reversed black migration where you had a lot of, you know, well-educated, very, you know, creative people that were moving to Atlanta. And you know, Atlanta has a very thriving, you know, very dynamic, diverse black population. And it creates, you know, it creates a lot of exciting things there.

COX: You know, you described Southern rap as - these are your words, this is your word - bipolar. What do you mean?

Mr. SARIG: Yeah. Well, it's a funny thing about Southern rap. I tried to - you know, the whole book is about Southern rap and I tried to define it. And one of the difficulties defining it is that there is quite a bit of range in the different - there are sort of subgenres of Southern rap. And when I say bipolar, I mean, if you look at the west side of the South, meaning Texas, say, you have the sound in Houston, which is called Screw music based on the style that was created by DJ Screw.

(Soundbite of song, "The Crossroads")

Mr. SARIG: He played the mixes with slowed down tracks and he gave it a real lethargic kind of real, kind of syrupy slow, you know, a languorous kind of feel.

(Soundbite of DJ Screw's "The Crossroads")

BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY (Rap Group): (Rapping) Bring in it for Wally, Eazy sees Uncle Charlie. Little Boo, God's got him and I'm going to miss everybody. I roll my…

Mr. SARIG: Many go to the east side of the South, which would be, let's say Miami and Atlanta. And there you had, at least going back into the '80s, you had bass music, which was a very frenetic, high energy, fast kind of music. Probably the most famous and first famous group was the 2 Live Crew coming out of Miami.

(Soundbite of music)

2 LIVE CREW (Miami Rap Group): (Singing) Get it. Get it. Take, take, take, take a look. That's the way. Yeah. That's the way to go.

Mr. SARIG: You know, a lot of - I'll go back to the OutKast. And I sort of consider OutKast to be the most significant, the most, you know, artistically sophisticated group that came out of the Southern movement.

(Soundbite of "Player's Ball")

OUTKAST: (Rapping) Scene was so thick, low rides.

Mr. SARIG: You know, in a lot of ways, they have taken bits and pieces of a lot of elements from a lot of different places in the South and made it their own, and also added a lot to it and really pushed the sound. OutKast is a product of Southern hip-hop, but they're just much bigger than that.

(Soundbite of "Player's Ball")

OUTKAST:(Rapping) It's beginning to look a lot like what? Followed my every step. Take notes on how I crept. I's bout to go in depth. This is the way I creep my season here's my ghetto rep. I kept to say the least, no, no, we can't speak. So why…

COX: You know, you talk a lot about them in the book especially in Chapter Seven when you described Atlanta as the new Motown. And at the bottom of page 171, there is actually a rhyme involving OutKast. I don't know if you remember it by heart. Do you? You know what I'm referring to?

Mr. SARIG: No. I have the book in front of me.

COX: Yes. Well, turn it, well, then turn to page 171.

Mr. SARIG: One seventy-one. All right. This is a song from "Aquemini." This is there kind of their breakthrough album. I mean, they've - every record they put out has been a success. But "Aquemini" was really the record where they pushed beyond the hip-hop audience into a pop audience. And the first, sort of the opening song on that record is called "Return of The 'G'."

COX: Read out lyrics for me, would you please?

Mr. SARIG: All right.

(Reading) It's the return of the gangster. Thanks to them that get the wrong impression of expression. Then they're questioning Big Boi. What's up with Andre? Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay?

(Soundbite of song "Return of The 'G'")

OUTKAST: (Rapping) When y'all going to break up? When y'all have to wake up? (bleep). I'm feeling better than ever. What's wrong with you? You get down.

COX: So this lyric signifies what? These kinds of lyric signify what to you?

Mr. SARIG: It signifies, one, taking - saying that not only are we not - people questioning Andre, saying you're kind of soft. You dress in this colorful, you know, these weird clothes. Are you - what's wrong with you? You know, you're weird. And him saying, not only am I - is it okay to be weird but as gangster to be weird.

(Soundbite of song "Return of The 'G'")

OUTKAST: (Rapping) Sticking together like flour and water to make that slow dough we worked for. Everything we have ain't going to stick up for each other like we brothers from another mother. Kind of like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover…

COX: How long do you think the dominance of the South will continue in terms of hip-hop, or does it have a short shelf life?

Mr. SARIG: It's already been going for quite a while. And so, you know, I don't know that it will go forever, but hip-hop now is no longer about being New York. So what you're having now is groups would really dominate - these groups from the middle of the country that don't have any certain allegiance to the Bronx and to what hip-hop was and what it has to be. And they don't necessarily follow these rules, and they really are just making pop music and using the language of hip-hop to make pop music.

You know, as far as I could see it will continue. I think some of the specialness of what made the South so different as a style is wearing off. But I think, you know, the infrastructure of artists and labels and producers who are in the South are still there and it's not going anywhere in the near future.

COX: Roni, thanks a lot of coming on.

Mr. SARIG: Thanks very much.

COX: Roni Sarig is a music journalist, a teacher and a writer. His most recent book is "Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing."

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