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.
Webbie, Savage Life
“Tell me what you know about me? W-E-B-B-I-E.” It’s the first bar Webbie spits on his debut solo album, Savage Life, and his attitude even in that short introduction immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album. Arrogant, self-assured and subtly menacing, the Baton Rouge rapper wanted it to be known that he was an MC to be taken seriously. Save for a handful of detours to speak directly to the women listening — with tracks like the desirous lead single “Give Me That” and the timeless twerk anthem “Like That,” which has been interpolated by underground artists like SpaceGhostPurrp and Robb Bank$ and mainstream supernovas like Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé (who’s actually shouted out on the song) — most of the album is spent flexing on his contemporaries. On “How U Ridin’,” he asserts dominance through his cars, and on “Mind Ya’ Business,” he applies pressure to his enemies in a flurry of taunts. He’s consistent in his imperturbable nature, choosing to turn up when and how he sees fit and keeping the momentum hurtling forward from song to song. With cadences that never feel duplicated and production that translates as pure, unvarnished crunk, Savage Life encapsulates Southern rap at its most indefatigable. —Kiana Fitzgerald
Young Jeezy, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101
When Young Jeezy came onto the scene, hip-hop was at a special intersection of underground and mainstream culture. At that point, mixtapes and albums had clear lines of distinction, but both had equal significance to an artist’s credibility. On tapes, rappers were allowed to color outside of the lines — reimagining beats that their peers glided over commercially, while making sure they were prioritizing their core base’s wants and needs. The distinction comes into focus with Jeezy’s Trap or Die mixtape and the album it birthed, Thug Motivation 101. The mixtape was grittier and unvarnished with its hustler’s mentality devouring everything in sight. “I talk that shit to let n***** know, man, it’s out there for you to get,” he proclaims in an interlude. Thug Motivation 101 continued to build on that ethos, but its lessons felt accessible, polished and primed for wide consumption.
In regaling listeners with his colorful tales of the trap and the spoils of war, he framed his life as a true American rags-to-riches success story. And in the process, he pioneered dramatic, personalized ab-libs as absolute essentials in rap, as well as changing the meaning of a snowman from a wholesome winter fixture to a demonized symbol of drug trafficking in pop culture. Though the subject matter was specific, the lessons were universal — a reminder to us (and maybe himself, even) of the long, trying process of the climb. He preaches that putting your head down and working both smart and hard will get you everything you want in life. Looking back with the understanding of capitalism that we have now, one might say that these messages are easy to dispel, but there’s immense value in Jeezy’s intent here. While the majority of his peers at the time (and still to this day) weaponized their fortune against those without, the sole purpose of TM101 was to offer a playbook to the hustlers and go-getters. It’s hard not to respect the approach and even harder not to listen. —Lawrence Burney
Dem Franchize Boyz, “I Think They Like Me” (So So Def Remix)
On the heels of their debut single, “White Tee,” Dem Franchize Boyz released “I Think They Like Me (So So Def Remix)” as the lead single off On Top Of Our Game, their second studio album. The remix would go on to become one of the biggest songs of the era. Joined by Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat and Bow Wow, the group displays their swagger over heavy-hitting drums. This song was made for those who rock fresh Nike Air Force 1’s, baggy jeans, tall tees and flashy grills as seen by Parlae, Pimpin’, Jizzal Man and Buddie in the iconic visual. The group captures hints of Atlanta’s crunk movement and makes it sound exuberant with catchy lines throughout; the repetitive chorus, which hinges on a line recycled from the group’s breakout hit, holds the track together. The group’s charisma paired with the contagious production has granted their crowning single longevity. —Robyn Mowatt
Little Brother, The Minstrel Show
Little Brother is the intellectual offspring of acts like the Soulquarians — the collective of eclectic artists including Common, The Roots and D’Angelo who eschewed the trappings of popular music in favor of a more underground aesthetic. The Soulquarians were also associated with a Northern, more highbrow persona despite the fact their biggest star, Erykah Badu, was from Dallas. Little Brother mixed that Soulquarian, coffee-shop coating with a particular Southerness that made them stand out upon the release of their debut LP, The Listening, but it was the follow-up though, 2005’s The Minstrel Show, that sealed Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh as cultural critics who laid their essays over 9th Wonder’s beats. The trio from North Carolina built a masterpiece of an album that doubled as a social commentary on Black identity and capitalism, and they did so while embracing their Southern roots in the middle of the Crunk era — when distancing themselves as too intellectual for such a movement would have been the easy choice. The Minstrel Show was a reminder that the South contains multitudes and stood as a defiant work of art that flew in the face of anyone who wanted to point to the region as a vapid landscape of low-carb silliness. In its wake, Tigallo and Pooh became two vanguards of the culture in the 21st century. —David Dennis
“Scotty” may have lived on D4L’s debut album Down for Life, but it is all Fabo. Likewise, Shawty Lo was the group’s mastermind and breakout star, but Fabo’s was the other magnetic, hypnotic voice. The song stands in contrast to “Laffy Taffy,” the most visible part of the D4L legacy and the single that gained the group the most commercial success (No. 1 on the Hot 100!) and the most critical disdain. Fabo mentions being “geeked up” there, but the reference gets buried under the rest of the song’s playful flirtation. “I think a lot of people be forgetting we hustlers and street cats,” Fabo told XXL a few years later, but “Scotty” is a stark reminder. It’s a dark song about drugs and addiction and things that go bump in the night, seemingly by a thing that goes bump in the night — “I tell myself there’s nothing wrong / But I just keep gritting my teeth / I can’t sleep, I can’t eat / I just geek, I just geek,” Fabo rasps, belying the idea that snap was all fluff just because kids danced to it. —Melvin Backman
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II
Let’s get two things crystal clear. One, Lil Wayne’s run from 2004 until he reported to Rikers Island in 2010 for a gun possession charge is a run that very few artists in any genre have ever been able to replicate, in quality or quantity. And two, for anyone wondering, the definitive rankings for Weezy’s Carter anthology is as follows: 2-1-3-5-4. At the time of Tha Carter II‘s release, in 2005, Wayne was the last remaining relic of Cash Money’s original mainstream presentation. Juvenile and B.G. had left the label, and Turk was in prison. The youngest Hot Boy now had to carry the only musical home he’d ever known on his shoulders — and dios mio, did he ever. “I’m so 504 you got to kill me here / If you ever looking for me, b****, I will be here,” he rhymes on “Fly In,” “Cash Money is an army, Navy Seal me here / Lot of n***** ran from me but I still be here.”
On C2, he declared himself “the best rapper alive” and then walked it like he talked it. The album begins with “Tha Mobb,” a five-minute, no-hook odyssey of Wayne, in his own words declaring, “I ain’t ducking cause I’m right here, I’m chestin’ up / I don’t care who at the top of the stairs / I’m steppin’ up.” One of the rare 20+ track masterpieces, Tunechi — ever the avid sports fan — notched a Game 7 triple double, walk off grand slam and quarterbacked a Cash Money classic. Tunes from Tune like “Fireman,” “Grown Man,” “Fly In/Fly Out,” “Receipt,” “Hit ‘Em Up,” “I’m A D-Boy” and “Hustler Musik” masterfully weave all elements of his musical personality: the firecracker from Hollygrove now with an even more refined sound, enigmatic introspective and full-time Casanova. Wayne was already a star, and he’d reach megastar levels after C2, given a zany run of guest appearances and a biblical display of classic mixtape after classic mixtape. Yet, as an album, C2, ironically released only three months after Hurricane Katrina forever altered the history of his hometown of New Orleans, is undoubtedly Wayne’s magnum opus. —Justin Tinsley
Rick Ross, “Hustlin'”
“It was my time even if it wasn’t yet,” Rick Ross reflected on writing his debut single “Hustlin’.” “I felt like I could see through those different windows of life.” It’s an opulent description from an artist who’s made opulence — from caviar to selling crack rock — part of his very creative essence. In 2006, “Hustlin'” was a genre-gripping statement by the next hip-hop prodigy from the city that had already given the world 2 Live Crew, Trick Daddy, Trina, JT Money and, by 1981, the entry point of 70 percent of America’s cocaine and weed and 90 percent of its counterfeit quaaludes. In actuality, though, the song was cultivated through a mixture of influences and coincidences. After receiving the instrumental from a friend, Ross took the CD with the beat and drove three hours to a Trina concert later that night. As she’d done in the past, the Diamond Princess let Ross open for her. Ross told the DJ to play that beat — the “Hustlin'” beat — and Ross rapped the first verse, which he wrote on the drive to the show. “I just remember the look of this one dude in the crowd,” Ross said. “It was a look I had never gotten from anybody for any music I had ever written.”
Did Ross really know the real Manuel Noriega? And did he really owe Ross a 100 favors? *Shrugs* But “Hustlin'” helped define, in its own way, the sound of Southern rap moving forward. It was flashy, yet grimy. Callous, yet infectiously catchy. Motivational, yet dripped in street education that has many serving life sentences or lying six feet underground. If a person happened to be outside in 2006, then he or she remembers this song, and later the remix with Jay-Z and Jeezy, blasting out of every car, at every college house party, cookout, nightclub, strip club and street corner. Anywhere where rap music was played, Ross’ trafficking manifesto lived and thrived. The single would be the driving force behind Ross’ inaugural album, Port of Miami, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. Equally as important, it created a bidding war to secure Ross’ talents, eventually won by Jay-Z and Def Jam. —Justin Tinsley
Yung Joc, “It’s Goin’ Down”
“It’s Goin Down” is the biggest song of Yung Joc’s career. In 2006, it would become ubiquitous with the help of its accompanying motorcycle dance. The undeniably catchy track managed to command attention, as the Atlanta rapper, over a synth-heavy beat by Nitti pushed forward his sound. Joc’s artistry relies on his Southern drawl and contagious beat selection, as he displayed on his debut album, New Joc City. The chorus is hypnotic alongside Joc’s braggadocious bars about his exquisite taste: “Everybody love me, I’m so fly, n***** throw me deuces every time I ride by,” will always stick out no matter what year it is. —Robyn Mowatt
Yo Gotti, Back 2 Da Basics
Back 2 Da Basics is a classic album of Southern gangsta rap’s middle period, complete with the concomitant hard-driving production, exuberant marching band synth horns, rambling minor-key melodies, snapping snares and 808s that characterized the region’s sound in the 2000s. It’s in the category of Trap Gangsta Realness that North Memphis’s Yo Gotti, along with Atlanta’s T.I., Gucci Mane and Jeezy, cultivated while the OG trap Texan Pimp C was incarcerated and 8Ball and MJG were basking in their legend status from the first era. The album, Yo Gotti’s fifth, was a return for a veteran whose classical period of releases mostly spans his teen years. Memphis super-producer Carlos “Six July” Broady is responsible for nearly a third of the album’s tracks, and Broady’s deftness with soul samples is in part what distinguishes this album from other gangsta albums of the time. Moreover, it is here that Gotti established himself as a formidable regional force, with “I Got Them,” a track with Birdman and Lil Wayne, and “Gangsta Party,” which features 8Ball and UGK’s Bun B.
The key to Gotti’s quarter-century career might be a minute-long monologue at the end of “We Gonna Be Alright,” a song near the album’s end that chronicles his family’s struggles in the aftermath of the incarceration of Yo Gotti’s older brother. This prophetic moment connects the proto-hunger of the artist’s 1996 cassette release Youngsta on a Come Up to his 2016 gold-certified The Art of Hustle, both prefiguring and solidifying his status as a provider, in the most traditional of senses, to his family, his people and his community. Of all of Memphis’ rappers, Gotti’s longevity and hustle most embody the Black city’s strivings to elevate from surviving to this kind of capacious sustainability he prophesized and manifested for himself. —Zandria F. Robinson
DG Yola, “Ain’t Gon’ Let Up”
This single by Atlanta rapper DG Yola (aka Yola da Great) was the smash hit of the summer in Atlanta in 2006. The lightness and playfulness of the steel pan drum balanced out Yola’s cocky and self-affirming rhymes about street life and staying on top. The track was a trap affirmation, with Yola boasting about betting on himself and why he was among the greatest in Atlanta. Its biggest triumph, perhaps, was the balance it found between the expected hardness and grittiness of trap music — ushered in by acts like Jeezy (neé Young Jeezy) and Gucci Mane — and the popular “snap” rap or dance rap style that was prominent at the time. —Regina N. Bradley, Ph.D.
Rich Boy, “Throw Some Ds”
By 2006, Southern hip-hop had long since passed third-coast marginalization to dominate both rap charts and pop crossover, but it was hard to know which moments from the snap rap, dance fads, candy paint and rims, white t’s and gravity-defying New Era 59Fifty’s Dirty South would endure. The difference between music that later feels dated and the joints that still grab you after a decade-plus has proven to be good production, as is the case with “Throw Some D’s.”
Alabama hasn’t had the rap representation of bordering states like Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, so expectations were high for Mobile rapper Rich Boy to put his city and state on his back like Juvenile had New Orleans or Petey Pablo had North Carolina. But “Throw Some D’s” isn’t just a Rich Boy song; it’s a Polow Da Don song. The Atlanta producer, who’d been quietly churning out major pop hits for a couple of years at the point of its release, didn’t create a place-based anthem for Rich Boy, but rather a classic rap staple: a hood n**** success anthem. The track, which climbed to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, was arable ground for the multitude of remixes and remakes that followed, including the official multi-region Lil’ Jon remix with Jim Jones, Nelly, the delightful and underrated Murphy Lee, The Game and André 3000 in the midst of his “I’ma jump on anything” phase.
Polow — who even gave Rich Boy a run for his money with his own verse — flipped Switch’s “I Call Your Name” into a Southern rap soul sample that rivals “Int’l Players Anthem,” building a multilayered orchestration of synth and 808s that invites somebody to float over it. Rich Boy’s heavy Southern Alabama drawl was like another instrumental element in the production, turning lyrics like “Don’t you see the big chain, don’t you see the big rims? / Wonder who they hatin’ on lately, baby this him” into melodious chants. “Throw Some D’s” still sounds fresh because Polow knew how to craft a hit, but also because the song transforms a Southern staple, Dayton rims, into a universal rap fairy tale, the moment of arrival from dope boy to Rich Boy. —Naima Cochrane
Young Dro, Best Thang Smokin’
Once T.I.’s heir apparent to the “King of the South” throne, Young Dro is a writer’s writer — a technician who can break phrases down to their syllables and rebuild them anew. Nowhere does the Bankhead rapper’s uncanny knack for wordplay and descriptions come more alive than it does on his major-label debut, Best Thang Smokin’. Lead single “Shoulder Lean” was a perfect storm of otherworldly production (courtesy of Mississippi’s Lil C) and a readymade dance, but the latent power of both song and album was Dro’s breathless command of similes and metaphors. Over and over, he deploys them in ways that elicit questions of why or how someone would even think of such a thing. Food and colors are his speciality: cars painted everything from carrot juice and cinnamon to IHOP blue and pistachio, his diamonds in Miss Piggy, Teletubbie and Barney hues. But it isn’t just the one-liners — it’s the manner in which he plays with meter and enunciation (sometimes unintentionally), often carrying a single compound rhyme scheme through an entire verse, all in a country-fried drawl that allows him to match “interior” with “imperial.” Fan favorites like “outer space ballin, put you up on astronomy / mathematically with a pistol, I do triggernometry,” from the bouncy single “Rubberband Banks,” offer a snapshot of the kind of wit that makes him beloved.
Ever a sleeper, Dro is also proof of how, in the absence of New York golden era hip-hop tropes, it’s hard to be seen as sophisticated. With every goofy bar, attended to with the precision of a brain surgeon, he reminds us that profundity isn’t always a matter of self-seriousness or baring one’s trauma but also of having fun with the art of skill. The sobriety of a song like “Hear Me Cry” only makes his humor all the more welcome and revelatory. It was never that he was without struggle or a story to tell — it’s all over his 2001 mixtape I Got That Dro — it’s that he chose to use his music for more joyful endeavors. Southern levity is baked in, coupled with a unique fashion sense pulled from the book of André 3000; Dro was rocking preppy Ralph Lauren from head to toe when baggy tees were still the order of the day. (The bubbliness in look and sound hinted at the highly influential futuristic Yung LA-Black Boy Swag, White Boy Tags era to come.) Nearly 15 years later, the rapper is still good for a banger — 2013’s “FDB” and 2015’s “We In Da City” of late. He’s due up any day now. —Briana Younger
Boosie, Bad Azz
To paraphrase Drake and apply it to Boosie’s career, Pimp C could not have found him a better successor. The statement actually applies to both Chad Butler understudies Boosie and Webbie who, in 2004, released the criminally underrated joint album Gangsta Musik. Nowadays, Boosie has made more headlines for his views on the transgender community, condoning — by the letter of the law — the statutory rape of his nephews and son by older women and dubbing himself an unofficial member of the Black Greek-letter fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi than his music. He is, without question, one of the most complex, conflicting and transparent-sometimes-to-a-fault artists on this list. Yet, speaking of Bad Azz in a vacuum of pure musical appreciation is to speak of the Baton Rouge titan in a manner that has, for years, made him one of the most celebrated Southern MCs.
Off the rip, Boosie delivered one of my personal favorite rap lines on the confrontational “Set It Off” when he says, “Since ’98, I grabbed my plate up off the lunch table / I told mama I’m thuggin’ outside, we don’t need cable.” It’s a fitting synopsis of the project. Life through the eyes of the man born Torrence Hatch Jr., and all the experiences that came to define his music. On Bad Azz, Boosie brought his listeners through the entire palette of emotions, exposing his high-pitched snarl to listeners far beyond Wyoming Street in Baton Rouge. He did so with searing confessionals like “Going Thru Some Thangs” and “My Struggle,” where he talks of his graduation from “I-10 riders to I-10 traffickers.” “Zoom” with Yung Joc brought mainstream success. And “F*** You” featured one of the too-few collaborations between Pimp C, Webbie and Boosie. Unfortunately, a year following Bad Azz‘s release, Pimp C died — and in 2009 Boosie reported to prison while awaiting trial on first degree murder (he was acquitted in 2012). But that’s just it about Boosie: He’s as heralded as Southern MCs come, with a robust catalog of street classics and ghetto gospels making him a demigod in Southern gangsta rap. But with the sudden death of a mentor and lengthy prison stint, he’s also a classic “what if” case study as well. —Justin Tinsley
Killer Mike, “That’s Life”
Killer Mike’s career was over. His poorly-executed, record-label-micromanaged debut album, Monster, had underperformed and threatened to render Mike simply the tagalong on OutKast’s “The Whole World,” despite the measurable success of songs like the playful “A.D.I.D.A.S.” and Bone Crusher’s club-anthem “Never Scared.” Then the Atlanta MC reinvented himself as the Internet offered a more democratic chance for artists to be their true selves (although many saw it as an opportunity to do the opposite). “That’s Life,” a cut from his double-sided I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind, is a defiant, brutal evisceration of race in America, with a few jabs at Oprah to boot. It foreshadowed the trajectory he’d ultimately follow, blending fiery political punditry with equally in-your-face production and reminded us of the monstrous talent of Mike’s voice. He hasn’t looked back since. —David Dennis
T.I., “Top Back (Remix)” (featuring Young Jeezy, Big Kuntry King, Young Dro, B.G)
T.I. declared himself King of the South on his first album and didn’t stop saying it until it was true. The remix to “Top Back,” an already victorious song from his triumphant fourth album, doubles down on his kingmaking. Recruiting trap stalwart Young Jeezy and hot boy B.G. and shrewdly pairing them with Young Dro and Big Kuntry King from his label Grand Hustle, T.I. uses the remix as a multi-pronged flex, showing off his connections and his roster. The song opens with T.I. shouting out producer Mannie Fresh then bragging that the song will demonstrate how to rap on Fresh’s beats, a decree that every guest follows. Matching T.I.’s brash car talk, Young Jeezy likens his Chevy Impala to an ice cream sundae; Young Dro’s rims are gray like grandpa; and Big Kuntry King’s paint job is wet like a tidal wave. The remix feels more like a victory lap than the original, which is as anxious as it is celebratory, but the shift in mood works; after all, it’s hard not to smile when you’re wearing the crown. —Stephen Kearse
Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3
Jackie Chan used to star in a series of movies called “Drunken Master” that revolved around the idea of a protagonist who mastered a fighting style that required him to be moderately drunk to execute — spirits allowed him the freedom to be unpredictable and loose with his style but not so much that he was ineffective. Once he reached that equilibrium he was unstoppable. I think you know where this is going. Da Drought 3 was Lil Wayne’s Drunken Master state. The mixtape is a double disc of Wayne at the absolute pinnacle of his outrageous, brilliant, prolific alien-like nature. A true jackin-for-beats legend, he raps over Beyoncé songs, ’90s rap songs and a Mike Jones song that you don’t even remember as a Mike Jones song anymore; such is the way of Lil Wayne. His subject matter ranges from Apollo Creed to armadillos, Gremlins and Geico ads, spun into some of the most clever and unexpected one-liners. Da Drought 3 arrived in the midst of Wayne’s maelstrom of songs and mixtapes — he put out hundreds of tracks from 2006 to 2008 and damn near all of them were great — but this one stands as a testament to what the New Orleans rapper could do at his peak. —David Dennis
Soulja Boy, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”
Soulja Boy is a marketing genius. His breakthrough song, “Crank That,” introduced listeners to a dance named after himself, and honestly, what better way to present yourself to the masses? From second one, the song sounds like an all-out party; its deceptively simple production features a steelpan riff and takes full advantage of the snap music movement that was breaking out across the South in the mid-to-late 2000s. The digital music space was ripe and ready to be explored, and Soulja Boy was the man with a plan. After racking up record-breaking numbers on MySpace, he dove headfirst into the burgeoning YouTube platform where he uploaded a social media-influenced music video and even gave fans step-by-step dance instructions in yet another video, ensuring his song would go viral before the term was even coined. As a result, he sold 3.9 million digital copies of the single in 2007 — the most for any record to that point — and the method continues to yield success stories, most notably, of late, through the TikTok video app.
The ubiquity of “Crank That” was so far-reaching that it inspired spinoffs (like “Crank Dat Batman” and “Crank Dat Spiderman”), but none of those iterations matched Soulja Boy’s success, nor his unadulterated confidence, which oozes through the speakers as he hollers out order after order, sounding like a demanding training coach preparing you for a 10K. “Superman that hoe! … Watch me crank that Roosevelt!” As supportive as Soulja Boy is of fans learning his various dances, he’s mostly invested in himself and the skillfulness of his own abilities: “Nope, you can’t do it like me, though / So don’t do it like me, folk / I see you tryna do it like me / Man, that dance was ugly!” With levels of tension built into the track — chiefly, Soulja Boy’s vocals rising and falling with calculated crescendos and decrescendos — “Crank That” is a mastery of the artform of entertainment, enrapturing us with ease. —Kiana Fitzgerald
UGK, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” (featuring OutKast)
At its heart, “Int’l Players Anthem” is a song about a union forged from uncertainty, evolving through confidence and success and pride. It’s the combination of three of the South’s greatest gifts to music — OutKast, UGK and Three 6 Mafia — all taking the wheel behind a Willie Hutch sample and steering it into perfection. There are arguments for this meeting of superpowers to be considered the greatest Southern rap collaboration ever.
Very few hip-hop songs have the distinction of a music video taking an already classic song and making it iconic, yet “Int’l Players Anthem” did with an over-the-top royal and Southern wedding featuring pimps, kilts and comedians in a who’s who of stars, including T-Pain as a choir director. The song itself, two men contemplating marriage and their two resolutely single friends bragging about their own exploits, is made even more flawless due to the “I Choose You” interpolation. Andre’s refusal to rap over Pimp C’s drums help make his closing statements before tying the knot sound like a preamble, while Bun B argues his case to “get down with the team” rather than settle for less. Big Boi’s closing remarks about the pitfalls of a relationship sound like a best man giving a rude yet honest toast, as Pimp C not only boasts about his No. 1 girl but what happens just by virtue of his presence in her vicinity (“Every time we hit the parking lot we turn heads”).
“Int’l Players Anthem” marked perhaps the biggest cultural moment for UGK after Pimp C was released from prison and, sadly, the final single before he tragically passed away in December 2007. Pimp left us with a perfect song — a wedding staple and Southern national anthem we all could be proud of. —Brandon Caldwell
Plies, “Shawty” (Featuring T-Pain)
“Shawty” is Plies’ magnum opus. Over a stellar Earth, Wind & Fire “Fantasy” sample, he reminisces about his stacked Southern stallion. It’s quite ridiculous how many times this song can be played and never grow old. Tallahassee’s beloved singer-songwriter and producer T-Pain also puts the song under his own spell, but it’s Plies’ innate ability to make a song bend to his will that makes “Shawty” come across as effortless — a quality shared with similar singles like “Hypnotized,” with Akon, and “Bust It Baby, Pt. 2,” with Ne-Yo. His brazen style clashing with his version of romance on each of these is rich and unforgettable. The Real Testament, the album “Shawty” appeared on, will always be a supreme release, as Plies paints intricate pictures, detailing pain and trauma (“Runnin My Momma Crazy” and “Goons Lurkin”) alongside pleasure (“1 Mo Time” and “Please Excuse My Hands”). “Shawty” epitomizes the hood love anthems that brought Plies from street rap darling to household name. —Robyn Mowatt
DJ Unk, “Walk It Out (Remix)” (Featuring OutKast and Jim Jones)
No one signifies like OutKast. Months after their platinum-selling, Prohibition-era concept album had left critics wondering if the thrill André 3000 and Big Boi always incited was gone, lost to Dre’s budding ambitions in film, he and Daddy Fat Sacks blessed this infectious single and reminded folk who the forever kings of Southern hip-hop are. Suddenly, Georgia-famous deejays Anthony Platt (aka Unk) and Montay Humphrey had cred for more than re-enlivening crunk with their invitation to the nation’s dance floors for a celebration of every side of ATL. While this joint owned the summer and fall of 2006 — and bested Idlewild‘s tracks on the hip-hop charts in the process — Unk had to show he had bars to stay relevant as 2007 dawned and unfolded, ultimately landing on the Stomp the Yard soundtrack and inspiring pirates to splice the track with Gwen Verdon’s Fosse moves. Even Jim Jones, riding the “We Fly High” wave, joined in on the fun, reminding urrybody Harlem’s finest flock to the A’s Magic City and Body Tap when they wanna get low. Of course, his and Unk’s lyrics slide like taffy inside Dre’s syncopated braggadocio (“I’m like jury duty / You’re new to this part of town”) and barbs (“Your white tee, well, to me, look like a nightgown / Make yo’ mama proud / Take that thang two sizes down”) and Big Boi’s hood winks (“I walk it out like that last shot of yak at da club”) and double entendre (“Now the king queen of jack fade this / Come clean, son, swing from my sack like my babies”), which open and close the track. Then, as now, a verse from either of these GOATs raises a record’s lyrical relevance. —L. Lamar Wilson, Ph.D.
Shawty Lo, “Dey Know”
Shawty Lo rose to fame as a member of Atlanta-based quartet D4L, for which he provided the initial space and capital for the group to work on the material that resulted in Down For Life and the No. 1 single “Laffy Taffy.” That work helped popularize “snap” music, a less aggressive descendent of crunk, but when Shawty Lo went solo in 2007, “Dey Know” became his formal introduction. It was a rather wise choice: Southern hip-hop and R&B has had an affinity for the marching band look and sound for decades, and the single, with its brassy production, was primed to become an anthem. Add to that the rapper’s signature jog-in-place dance, and it was a recipe for greatness that only put the spotlight on Shawty Lo’s charismatic gifts (not to mention that singular gravelly voice). The track endured thanks to a slew of remixes — in particular, one that featured Ludacris, Jeezy, Plies and an autotuned Lil Wayne, which became a staple in an era that was filled with star-studded posse-cut remixes (Rocko’s “Umma Do Me” being another and Shawty Lo’s own “Foolish” remix another). R.I.P. to the legend Lo. —Brooklyn White
Lil’ Wil, “My Dougie”
Contrary to popular belief, the DTown Boogie was a continuation of Dallas’s rich dance legacy which started in the early 1980s when the city was highly regarded as one of the best pop locking scenes in the world. BoxHeads, the city’s first B-boy crew to achieve national success for their signature “Egyptian style,” passed down the torch to the dance crews. Their trademark “power” breaking was incorporated by the Los Angeles dance crews and marked the beginnings of a fraught relationship between the two urban sprawls, augmented by Cali Swag District’s theft of Lil’ Wil’s “My Dougie.”
Although the track is a tribute to Doug E. Fresh, the dance was unquestionably linked to Dallas’s boogie era when clubgoers were instructed to “Do The Ricky Bobby,” dip to “Rack Daddy,” shift to “Do Da Stanky Legg” and finish with “Check Out My Lean” by B-Hamp, Fat Pimp, Them GSBoyz and Lil Shine, who brought boogying to the Billboard Hot 100. Amplified by online sharing platforms like YouTube, this collective of local rappers achieved worldwide success, shifting the nation’s attention to the hip-hop scene in Dallas and the young artists capitalizing on the potential of the YouTube era. Despite placements on 106 & Park and MTVJams, “My Dougie” and its accompanying dance eventually faded out of the national consciousness until, two years later, Cali Swag District, a Los Angeles hip-hop group, uploaded “Teach Me How to Dougie” to YouTube and secured a double platinum single in the process. The only mention of the dance’s birthplace comes in a single line — “I ain’t from Dallas but I DTown Boogie” — rapped by C-Smoove, who learned the dance from his peers at Texas Southern University. Lil’ Wil saw little of the measurable success for his “Dougie,” but his legacy is no less set in stone. —Taylor Crumpton
Gucci Mane, “Bricks” (featuring OJ & Yo Gotti)
Gucci Mane could comprise his own Southern rap canon. Few rappers have such sprawling output, which is to say that “Bricks” is far from the definitive Gucci Mane record — there are too many entry points and eras for any one song to be that. Still, the song streamlines the elements that help explain his deep, enduring appeal.
The classic Gucci ad-libs are here — the haughty “hunhs,” the soaring “yeaahhhs” — as is Zaytoven’s churchy organ, which Gucci’s vocals navigate perfectly. His voice is heavy, and a lot of his lines around this time were alternatively delivered in a semi-shout or a dragging slur, but his delivery is like a football center’s, largesse propelled with deft, unseen footwork. When Zay plinks the keys in double time, Gucci slides: “They think I’m puttin’ VVS jewwwels in the coke.” (Zay is one of Gucci’s oldest collaborators; he produced the entirety of EA Sportscenter, the mixtape “Bricks” first appeared on; he told Red Bull Music Academy that this was the first track in the marathon session that also birthed OJ da Juiceman’s “Make the Trap Say Aye.”) Yo Gotti’s verse is a throughline from the Memphis scene to the trap sound that Gucci helped pioneer. The city’s guttural sound, which imprinted on a younger Gucci and makes itself known in other parts of his catalog, came full circle when Eightball & MJG jumped on a “Bricks” remix. There’s also a hint of Gucci’s sense of humor, which juxtaposes his favored topic with blitheness: “After this flip I’m quitting the trap cold turkey / Psych! The pack in and I’m working.” —Melvin Backman
Jeezy, “My President” (featuring Nas)
“My President” and Jeezy’s The Recession album that spawned it are among the most unexpected releases in rap. Jeezy had made himself famous, of course, by regaling fans with stories of the trap and the ill-gotten gains of organized crime. Nobody would have guessed that he would go on, three years after his debut, to pen the definitive anthem for Barack Obama’s historic presidential nomination on an album about economic anxiety and global disarray — a rallying cry for 20-somethings staring down what they thought would be the financial catastrophe of their generation.
This all represents a growth from Young Jeezy that he didn’t even necessarily have to show us. He’d given us a legendary debut album that made him the purveyor of trap music. His fan base was rabid for him to continue with the same type of music, and he could have done as much with fine results. Instead, he pushed himself to put out a project that was just as relevant and a resounding declaration that quote unquote rap with substance can sound like rap about substance.
It’s also important to note that the “My President” video had John Lewis. That alone is worth the spot. —David Dennis
Gucci Mane, The Movie Trilogy
There’s nothing like a good mixtape series — Sqad Up’s SQ, Re-Up Gang’s We Got It 4 Cheap, Lil Wayne’s Dedication, Yo Gotti’s Cocaine Muzik, Young Thug’s I Came From Nothing, Gunna’s Drip Season all feature the rappers who made them in their element. For Gucci Mane, whose prolificness is legendary in itself, his many series create a way to map his evolutions. There’s the free-wheeling Wilt Chamberlain, the commercially-oriented Trap House, the always gritty Trap God, and then there’s The Movie, a group of mixtapes released under DJ Drama’s coveted Gangsta Grillz imprint (a series within another kind of series).
The Movie trilogy captures an essential transitional period between Gucci’s early hood-hero era and his arrival with “Lemonade” and The State Vs. Radric Davis at the tail end of 2009. It’s also indicative of the rapper’s fabled work ethic which allowed him to record enough music in advance to keep feeding the streets through several stints of incarceration. The first mixtape in the series was released in September 2008, as he began serving a 6-month sentence, but it would prove sufficient to hold fans over. His playful but persuasive disposition along with the imaginative flows in songs like “Add It Up,” “Bachelor Pad” and the club-staple “Photo Shoot” reflect vintage street Gucci growing into superstar Gucci — the cherry on top of a bountiful year that saw the release of classic tapes like EA Sportscenter, Mr. Perfect and Gucci Sosa. Following his release in March 2009, Gucci went on to put together another stunner of a run that included his jewel Writing On The Wall and The Cold War, a 3-mixtape set that marked the year’s 10/17 holiday. In between, The Movie 2 continued the mythmaking as the flows grew more slippery and his ear for hooks and hits more refined (see: “Break Up” and “Beat It Up”). The Burrprint (The Movie 3D), the apex of the series, concluded the proceedings in the best possible way: by introducing yet another series.
Gucci Mane carried the torch for trap music even while his peers began backing off the subject matter as their profiles rose. His defiant consistency coupled with his audacity made him the conduit through which the sound could mature and earned him scores of loyal fans, including those who would grow up to make music in his image. He diligently tilled the fertile earth of trap rap and planted countless seeds — from coast to coast, dig around the last few generations, and you’ll find all that has bloomed from the garden of Gucci. —Briana Younger
F.L.Y., “Swag Surfin'”
The beat that has captured the ears of millions was made on Kevin Erondu’s ex-girlfriend’s laptop in 2008 and posted to MySpace before it was bought by F.L.Y (Fast Life Yungstaz), the burgeoning hip-hop group from Stone Mountain, Georgia, for $500. What followed in the time since has made F.L.Y. and Kevin Erondu icons in hip-hop. The beauty of “Swag Surfin” rests on its first 30 seconds. The synth, horns and chime, the calling card of the song, has joined the legacy of Black joy psalms. It is played at possibly every homecoming, cookout and family reunion, and, for millennials and Gen-Z folks alike, it is known almost verbatim by anyone who attended an HBCU after 2009. Made at the beginning of the Obama era, it harkens back to a time when Black bravado and the beauty of internal Black life was the heartbeat of club culture across the South — you couldn’t find a polo collar not popped. Though F.L.Y. didn’t come out with a second hit, the Def Jam signees (Myko McFly, Mook and Vee) were able to personify the melody-driven sound of the late 2000’s that catapulted the likes of Roscoe Dash and Travis Porter to stardom. —Clarissa Brooks
Rich Kidz, “Wassup”
In 2009, “Wassup” became Rich Kidz’s second hit and first to feature its complete lineup — an anthemic single from a group that had a city behind them even as high schoolers. (A pre-fame Young Thug and 6LACK were at the video shoot.) As critics scrambled to get hip to the Atlanta-born “futuristic swag” and “teen bop” scenes Rich Kidz were a part of, ultimately the appeal behind “Wassup” was simple: Yes, being part of a clique that can spend a stack at a time at Lenox Mall is still how any teen would hope to spend their summer, but more importantly, their buoyant approach to rap felt like a portal to a new era. The next generation of trap artists — no matter their age — would try sounding just as carefree and charismatic as new member Skooly’s melodic hook. Whether Young Thug, YFN Lucci, Lil Keed or Silento in “Watch Me,” those who remember Rich Kidz as the popular ones are still sing-rapping the group’s praises by association. —Christina Lee