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Peake Nasrallah

Josh Eskew

ENC 1102

17 November 2013

How Has Atlantas Hip-Hop Affected the Music Scene in America?

Atlanta, what the New York Times dubbed in 2009 as "hip-hop's center of gravity" has,

by far, grown the fastest of any other locality in the hip hop field. (Caramanica) Some go so far

as to say that Atlanta is the Hip Hop Capital of the World. Well how did such a city gain a

status like this in a music world controlled by New York and Los Angeles? While it may not

compare in terms of population size and metropolitan density to monstrosities like NYC and LA,

Atlanta is a unique city. It contains a racial blend of black and white that has formed what writers

like Ian Swain might argue as the perfect breeding ground for a hip-hop utopia. (Swain) When

you have a rising power in the Hip Hop scene such as Atlanta, the styles of the artists from that

locality tend to rub off on everyone else involved in that genre. One can make a strong case to

say that Atlantas hip hop has rubbed off on the rest of America changing popular music into

something that reflects the music culture of the South.

Hip Hop for the South is not just a music genre, but a way of life. It is a rich culture

characterized by racism, ghetto lifestyle, sexual desire, money, and ambition. Artists create tracks

that are old and new in the sense that they always strive to make the freshest hit, yet pull

melodies and beats from old school blues and traditional black soul music. OutKast member,

Dre, best describes hip hop like this, "We got the feel of the blues, the togetherness of funk

music, the conviction of gospel music, the energy of rock and the improvisation of jazz (Grem).

The South, specifically Atlanta, successfully combined southern black music with newer beats

and synths to create a revolution in modern hip hop. This revolution has changed the scope of hip

hop on a national level as well as locally.

The best way to introduce hip hop in Atlanta is by discussing the subgenre that was

birthed out of the South, centralized in Atlanta: Dirty South. Darren Grem describes Atlantas

own Dirty South genre as the readiness of some African Americans in the post-civil rights era

not only to embrace their southernism but to sell it as well (Grem). Dirty South hip-hop is

characterized by ghetto themes and a violent way of life that many artists experienced growing

up in the South. It originally sparked as a reaction to New York and Los Angeles styles of rap

from local groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob. These artists were overlooked by America and

were tired of being disrespected. A prominent member of Goodie Mob, Big Gipp, recalls his

group being booed off stage by the Source Reward crowd in New York, the summer of 1995. He,

in explicit terms, told the media that one-day the rest of America will have to put up with us,

and by us he meant southern artists. This, arguably, resulted in a catalyst effect which

stimulated a newer, more ambitious hip hop movement in Atlanta. (Grem)

What southern artists managed to do was add soul to traditional hip-hop, which

appealed to a broader audience. Black soul music had long been around in the Atlanta area and

was notable for its passionate emotion and seductive rhythms. (Grem) Soul music added to hip

hop a southern feel. It was the Souths way of claiming hip hop as its own. Dirty South hip hop

also brought interest from fans because of its lyrical references to life in Atlanta, racism,

segregation, financial issues, and black suffrage. Atlanta artists claimed respect for their

tribulations, which caught the attention of the rest of the hip hop world, significantly consumers.

Most importantly, as young black and white individuals became more connected, which resulted

from dying racial tensions, black music implanted its seed in white culture and slowly gained


Growing up in Atlanta and going to public schools, I heard hip hop everywhere. I hung

out with plenty of black kids and something about the way they got into it rubbed off on me

(Brown). Brown, an Atlanta native, experienced first-hand how hip hop sparked its way to a fire

in the white circles as well as the black ones. He along with many others remembers listening to

the earliest artists who started as local stars, but worked up to celebrity status in the national

scene. Brown is an example of an individual who let hip hop guide his path and is now very

involved as a promoter in the industry. It just drew me in, he said in response to the question of

why it was his passion. (Brown)

Along with OutKast and the Goodie Mob emerged more R&B style artists like Usher,

TLC, and Toni Braxton who made national recognition regarding their appearance on MTV and

top 40 radio. (Grem) The local LaFace record label boosted these artists careers, making a

business out of Atlantas urban music scene. LaFace was the first of many record labels to birth

out of Atlanta, growing the city to new heights both economically and culturally. (Hess 205)

Behind Dirty South, as previously mentioned, is a force of swollen racial tensions

stimulated by Atlantas historically segregated population, deep rooted racial bigotry towards

black folk, and black maltreatment. The rebellious lyrics of Dirty South hip hop originally

embodied hatred towards upper class white people and their lifestyles. (Grem) This passionate

energy ironically influenced a positive effect on the future of southern hip hop in that it triggered

the ambition to succeed. Southern hip hop artists had been neglected for so long by the remainder

of the music world that their competitive spirit to rise above ultimately caught the attention of

Atlanta-based businesses. This in turn promoted their music. The cycle is pure economics. The

record companies got what they wanted and so did the rappers. Over time, as record companies

channeled local artists energy into something profitable, southern rap shifted its lyrical content

from that of racism to sexuality and money.

OutKasts passionate lyrics and determination to show America what the South is cabable

of, brought about a wake of southern pride amongst artists in the South in the late 90s and early

2000s. Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz, who were known for their party and crunk style hits,

shot up from nothing into fame selling millions of albums. Lil Jon successfully put a brand on

southern hip hop specifically crunk. Jon was able to get his fans riled up by chanting pickup

lines like, Who you wit? He controlled the party music in the South putting a new life into

Atlantas hip hop culture. (Westhoff 179) At some point, Atlanta had developed two sides of hip

hop, the soul, R&B side represented by Usher and the grittier, crunk side faced by Lil Jon and the

East Side Boyz.

The new class of Atlanta rappers embraced their southern roots, unabashedly blaring their

music through the streets from high-rise convertibles with big rims and loud subwoofers. The

Dirty South now had an image. It was flashy, raunchy, and brave. It could be marketed and was

exploited by Atlanta entrepreneurs, investors, and record companies. The businesses together

with the hip hop artists put the South on the map selling over 250 million records in 2004.


Why would hip hop choose a place like Atlanta to establish its foundation? Daniel Silver

and Ian Swain coauthored an article about why Atlanta has the best tools for creating, promoting,

and distributing hip hop music. These writers argue that since Atlanta is a hub for entertainment,

an attraction to young people, has a high population of college educated people, and decades of

experience in the marketing field, it serves as an ideal money generator for the hip hop industry.

(Swain and Silver) Today, Atlantas economy is deeply connected with the music industry,

accounting for a great deal of the citys GDP. Simply put, Atlanta has risen to prominence in the

hip hop world not only because of ambitious artists, but also as a result of businesses promoting

local hip hop and generating popularity for a once overlooked breed of music.

In 2001, T.I., after leaving LaFace Records, founded his own label which would mark the

beginning of an entrepreneurial era for Atlanta artists. T.I.s Grand Hustle Records established

with producer Jason Geter built a hip-hop empire that would soon captivate audiences on a

national level. (Westhoff 192) This is an example of businesses and hip hop artists becoming one.

T.Is risk taking actions set a role model for Atlantas many upcoming hip hop stars. Since

Atlanta is equipped with all the instruments to produce hip hop on a significant level, all the city

needed was individuals to make it happen. T.I stepped in and filled that role. Along with Grand

Hustle came Disturbing Tha Peace Record label, So So Def Records, BME Recordings, Coporate

Thugz Entertainment, and Brick Squad; all self-founded companies. Among top artists to follow

T.I., were Young Jeezy and Dem Franchize Boyz who brought back Atlantas club style of rap as

crunk faded away.

As Atlanta began to reach into its heart and shift its style of hip hop towards club and

dance, it saw its music gain popularity on new levels. The shift happened in the mid-2000swe

saw beats go from fast and heavy to bold and smooth (Brown) The less aggressive blend of hip

hop appealed to a broader listener pool in the mid-2000s with the introduction of snap

characterized by Dem Franchize Boyz hit single Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It. (Westhoff 183)

Everyone was doing the leaning, rocking, and snapping in the South especially in Atlanta. This

proved that you didnt have to be Lil Jon to get people doing the same thing. In fact, Lil Jon and

his crunk style paved the way for Jeezy and Dem Franchize Boyz who derived a little of their

technique from him. In other terms, Atlanta has always proved itself to move with what is

popular and thats exactly what it did throughout the late 90s and 2000s. Dirty South hip hop

may hold on to its roots, but artists associated with Dirty South continue to be malleable

concerning the newest trends in popular style. Atlanta is a city geared towards profit and record

labels are not going to continue to produce music that does not make them money. Thus the

Atlantas hip hop being rooted in the Dirty South has been subject to shifting based upon where

there is money.

As Atlantas music increased in record sales, its influence on other artists followed. Lil

Wayne, a Dirty South rapper from New Orleans, exploded in the hip hop world surpassing Elvis

Presley with the most entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart counting 109 tracks. (Trust) Lil

Wayne, legally Dwayne Carter, was the essence of southern hip hop teaming up with many

Atlanta artists such as DJ Drama, 2 Chainz, and T.I. If OutKast was the spark that fueled

popularity in southern hip hop, Lil Wayne was the wildfire that spread his music. Many other

artists followed Waynes example riding on the style of southern hip hop as a sure path to

success. This marketability that dirty south rap had was probably due to its catchy rhythms that

were easy for young people to get in to.

Exclusive to Atlanta was the introduction of marketing techniques with the

implementation of mixtapes. A mixtape is simply an album prerelease that is distributed free of

charge where artists have a low-pressure medium to show off their skills. While mixtapes had

been around for over a decade, Atlanta artist, DJ Drama, utilized mixtapes that he collaborated on

with other artists and record labels as promotional tools for upcoming albums. He often used

copyrighted material from these artists, which bought him a great deal of trouble in 2007 when a

SWAT team raided his recording studio arresting him along with his partner Don Cannon. The

Record Industry Association of America drove their point across displaying to Drama and others

in his position that copyright gray areas should not be toyed with. However, this did not hold him

back. On the positive side, Drama noted, that situation brought me a lot of fame and exposure

and publicityin the long run it benefited my career. (Westhoff 187)

The neat thing about southern artists is that they have found their way into every part of

modern music. Most popular artists to date have at least once featured a hip-hop artist from the

south to appeal to a larger fan base. Even Taylor Swift wrote a song with Tallahassee native,

TPain that compiled over 1.3 million hits on YouTube. Southern hip hop has seeped into every

facet of American music. Atlantas king rapper, T.I has paired with countless artists in and

outside the urban realm including Chris Brown, reggae star Sean Kingston, singer Christina

Aguilera, pop star Justin Timberlake and countless more. Comparatively, Wiz Khalifa, Meek

Mill, and A$AP Rocky produce music that sounds like it came from the South yet we all know

they are unquestionably from the Northeast. (McCray) This phenomenon is derived from a

modern music culture that is overwhelmingly driven by southern style beats and rhythms. When

we see insanely popular stars like Justin Timberlake, pair with southern rappers like T.I., it tells

us that even pop relies on southern influence to grow big in America. Another matchup that

boggles minds is the collaboration of TV and pop star celebrity Miley Cyrus and Memphis local,

Juicy J in the hit single 23. (Hollywood Life)

If one plans to pursue a career in any sort of urban or pop music, it is almost inevitable to

find oneself mixing with a southern hip hop artist, a lot of times an Atlanta local. The point is,

Atlanta houses a network of artists, record labels, clubs, and entertainment venues so substantial

that it touches every aspect of American music and its culture. Realizing that not all southern hip

hop is derived from Atlanta, all of it in some form or another has ties to this city. After all, the

ATL as the New York Times stated, is hip-hops center of gravity. (Caramanica)

MSNBC writer, John McCray says, The South continually proves to be more hip-hop

than one could have ever expected. The popular wisdom five years ago was that the sound was

due to fade, but now everyones wondering how they can profit from a little southern flavor. The

world may not be eating grits or picking Bojangles over Popeyes just yet, but musically theyre

all in. (McCray) This confirms that the South has made a bond with American music that will


There is absolutely no question that Atlanta is a powerful influence when it comes to the

hip hop world. The culture of this city is teeming with black music that dates back decades. It is a

town where you have to fight to get what you want. (Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta) The local

culture is one that has bred a class of hip hop artists who have shown that they can prove

themselves on a national level. Atlanta is a city of pride and ambition, where opportunities are

endless, but hard work is a necessary tool to succeed. It takes more than just individuals to put a

city on a map, it takes a whole society willing to make the reach through diligence and the

determination to fight. Also, hip hop would go nowhere if it did not have portals through

businesses to promote it to popularity. Fame is a goal that is only reached by hard work and

dedication which is exactly what makes the Atlanta hip hop artist. Americans have seen their top

100 music charts dotted with southern hip hop tracks throughout the last 5 years. Is it because

people have just changed their music taste towards southern hip hop or is it because hip hop has

changed Americas popular music? McCray thinks the latter saying, everyones wondering how

they can profit from a little southern flavor and he is right. One does not have to look far to find

a little southern flavor in todays popular hits. Dirty South and urban Atlanta hip hop is

everywhere. The correct answer is that southern hip hop has changed peoples tastes. One can

say today with much confidence that Atlantas hip hop has changed American music in its


Works Cited

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Toby Barraud, prods. "The 'A' List." Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta. Dir. David Wolfgang and Jade Sandberg.

VH1. Atlanta, GA, 18 June 2012. Television.

---. "POP NOTES: Atlanta's Hip-Hop Finally Gets Respect." The Atlanta journal-constitution (2001)

(2003): E.1. Print.

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journalconstitution (2001) (2006): K.2. Print.

Caramanica, Jon. "Gucci Mane, No Holds Barred." NY Times. New York Times Company, 11 Dec. 2009.

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2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.


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the Entertainment Economy. Martin Prosperity Institute, 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.

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Hip-hop. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2011. Print.

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Grem, Darren E. ""The South Got Something to Say": Atlanta's Dirty South and the Southernization of

Hip-Hop America." Southern Cultures 12.4 (2006): 55-73. Print.

Brown, Derek. "On Hip-Hop in Atlanta." Personal interview. 14 Nov. 2013.