The Dirty South: Solidifying A Prominent Position In Hip-Hop

When discussing hip-hop, its rich history and cultural impact, the Dirty South must not be excluded from the conversation.


Hip-Hop originated in the south Bronx borough of New York City. It is a direct reflection of Black experiences in low income communities and serves as a testament to navigating America’s economic and racial state in the 1970s. Individuals sought ways to express themselves creatively despite the poverty, crime and corruption that consumed the cities in the North.

Music was now in the hands of DJ’s who created listening experiences, usually at house or block parties. The prominent styles of funk, soul and disco were repurposed and a new wave of sound emerged. DJ’s joined forces with MC’s (Master of Ceremonies) who rapped over a manipulation of beats.

The boom-bap style of rap in New York City quickly spread to surrounding areas on the East Coast. Rappers began to make names for themselves, influencing a plethora of East Coast styles of rap. The embrace of hip-hop was bigger than the East, spreading rapidly across the United States. The most prominent response to the music scene in New York was the emergence of g-funk or gangster rap birthed in Los Angeles.


When discussing hip-hop, its rich history and cultural impact, the Dirty South must not be excluded from the conversation. Just like its predecessors, Southern rap depicted what individuals were experiencing socially and economically during the 70’s and through the 90’s.

While New York and Los Angeles were receiving widespread attention, Southern cities like Atlanta, Houston, and New Orleans were on the verge of defining a new era of rap. Atlanta quickly became the driving force for Southern rap. In 1989, L.A. Reid and Babyface co-founded LaFace Records, taking the music industry by storm. LaFace was coined as “the Motown of the South,” undoubtedly shaping the region’s sound and breeding a new wave of artists.

In the mid 1990s, rap groups Goodie Mob and OutKast introduced a different style of rap to the industry. They were innovative in their approach by being less aggressive and more positive and melodic in their flow. They experimented with sounds by fusing genres like soul and funk and provided a perspective that listeners had not been exposed to. The Atlanta based production team, Organized Noize, composed of Rico Wade, Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray produced a large amount of content with these groups and are also credited for the South’s hip-hop scene being recognized.

At the time of the 1995 Source Awards, the East and West coast dominated the airwaves and high profile disputes between rappers from both coasts were on display. Although tensions were high, this night was a defining moment for the South, as OutKast was awarded Best New Artist. The crowd erupted in boos as the group walked on stage to receive their award. Group member Ándre grabbed the mic and let it be known that the South would no longer go unnoticed:

“But it’s like this though, I’m tired of them closed minded folks, it’s like we got a demo tape but don’t nobody want to hear it. But it’s like this: the South got something to say, that’s all I got to say.

People had no choice but to take Southern rap seriously. This moment revealed that others viewed the South as incompetent, unskilled and incapable of being an equal in hip-hop.


Stylistically, Southern rap is slower paced with a heavy use of unique lingo in contrast to the faster and aggressive east and west coast styles of rap. The laid back approach to life is infused in the music and elements of the culture serve as topics and themes from fashion, cars, sex, hustling and drugs, specifically codeine syrup or “lean”.

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Listen to playlist, “The Dirty South” here, curated by Terrionna Brockman.


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