For more than 30 years, rap music has shaped the entertainment industry. It began in the late 1970s as a phenomenon rooted in the urban working class of the East Coast and rising to prominence in the West Coast in the early 1990s. But where was the South in the historical narrative of the genre? During the late 1990s rap music produced in cities such as
Southern Spaces this week takes an in-depth look at the history of Southern rap, examining the style and cultural uniqueness of the genre. The essay's author, Matt Miller, provides the context of the emergence of rap scenes in Southern cities, and explains how their development shaped the re-imagining of both the South and rap music. The essay centers on the concept of the "Dirty South" as a geographical imaginary that has affirmed, critiqued, and confounded perceived ideas of the South.
As Miller explains of the "Dirty South":
The concept of the Dirty South as elaborated by the Goodie Mob and other rappers and producers in several of the major cities of the South was complex, contradictory, and multidimensional. This multidimensionality encompassed ideas of a racist, oppressive, white South historically continuous with slavery; a 'down-home' black South marked by distinctive speech and cultural practices; a sexually libidinous South; a rural, bucolic South; a lawless, criminal South; and a sophisticated urban South. The Dirty South was forged in conversation with older or alternate modes of imagining the South, spanning a continuum from Gone With the Wind-flavored Confederate apologetics at one end to the idea of the South as a unique African-American homeland on the other.
Nonetheless,in today's global age, this Southern brand of rap is growing and moving, shifting and forging images of the South along the way.