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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet The Southern Underground

by Mosi Reeves

Cheat Sheet The Southern Underground


When the indie-rap movement swept through hip-hop culture in the mid-to-late '90s, it seemed to completely skip over the South. Sure, there were subterranean groups like Atlanta's Mass Influence (formerly known as Y'all So Stupid) and Binkis Recs, Nashville's Count Bass D, Houston's K-Otix and others. But they were footnotes to the thriving scenes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York. It wasn't until North Carolina's Little Brother released their 2003 classic The Listening that the majority of rap fans realized that there were indie groups in the South similar to the ones they heard elsewhere.

In recent years, critics have argued that street-rap artists that release their music independently deserve the "underground" label as much as artists that fans perceive as more traditionally hip-hop or "conscious." There is some truth to this, particularly in the South. Here, there is less separation between the "backpack" scene and "street" scenes. Artists like Big K.R.I.T. and Curren$y (who was briefly signed to Lil Wayne's Young Money label) clearly value the South's rich tradition of rap gangsters and funky bluesmen. The history of Southern hip-hop is very different from that of the two coasts, and its underground is a reflection of that legacy. You can trace a line from OutKast to G-Side -- and from Three 6 Mafia to SpaceGhostPurpp).

Today, the Southern underground is more vibrant, and that's entirely due to the fragmented nature of hip-hop in the aughts. Influences, and the music on your hard drive that inspires you, may be more important than your physical location. As a result, the artists on this Cheat Sheet can only be pigeonholed by the cities where they're from, not their sounds. As Rakim once said, it ain't where you from, it's where you're at.