There’s a new trend seeping through pop music, and we’re hoping it will saturate it: early-2000s Southern hip hop is back. Last December saw the release of a little Beyoncé album you might have heard about, where shades of bouncing, twangy Houston rap sneaked around corners in tracks like “Partition” and “***Flawless.” Then in January, OutKast announced their reunion, bringing hope to the hearts of fans (OK, me) that they might return to their “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean” days. Big Boi, OutKast’s shorter half, teased this hope with his latest single, released yesterday: “GossipZilla” features OutKast’s frequent former contributors, UGK, and Mississippi rapper and producer Big K.R.I.T.
While this genre, and its unabashed celebration of pimps, grills, bling, and the like, faded away, it never really died. The DJ Girl Talk was a huge fan, sampling Ludacris’ “Pimpin’ All Over The World,” Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ “Kryptonite,” and UGK and OutKast’s “International Players Anthem” in his mash-up tracks, propelling these now-classics into the late 2000s.
One thing to mention before you dive into this list is that, YES, some of these songs are horrifically sexist, and NO, they didn’t do much to combat racism either. But this is why the genre’s resurgence could be great: the music industry seems to be trying harder now. We’ve got smart, sharp rappers like Kendrick Lamar, self-aware rapper/singers like Drake, and all-powerful almost-feminists like Beyoncé running the show. If these “all-stars” could add a little “purple ribbon” flavor to some tracks, we could have the best of both worlds — the catchy danceability of Southern hip-hop and the social consciousness of 2014.
So without further adieu, we present 15 of the best Southern hip hop songs from the early 21st century. Let the nostalgia wash over you, and don’t be ashamed to walk it out underneath your desk.
Talib Kweli feat. UGK & Raheem DeVaughn — “Country Cousins”
Yes, Kweli hails from Brooklyn, but a) UGK is here and b) this entire song is a hymn of praise to the genre and its connection to East Coast rap: “OutKast from the A-Town, way down in Houston they play the UGK / I walk and talk kinda fast and thought of as a New York kinda rhymer / But most New Yorkers got family in South and North Carolina.”
T.I. — “Rubber Band Man”
T.I.’s first major hit, “Rubber Band Man,” epitomizes the sound of the genre in its title alone — the bouncing, elastic beats that lurch forward then snap back like a rubber band. The video is also a visual who’s who of music at the time, with cameos by Diddy, Usher, Nelly, Bow Wow, and uh… Michael Vick?
Jermaine Dupri feat. Ludacris — “Welcome to Atlanta”
Rappers’ hometown pride was stronger than ever in the 2000s, and Atlanta, home of Usher and Lil Jon (“Peace Up, A-Town Down!”), OutKast (ATLiens!), Ludacris (obviously), and many others, frequently played a starring role in the genre’s top songs. Why “Welcome to Atlanta” isn’t the city’s official song, we’re still not sure.
Ludacris — “Pimpin’ All Over the World”
Ludacris clearly honed his acting chops in this video, in anticipation of his Hollywood career. Also, how good is the phrase “traffic jam booty”? So illustrative, so slick, so poetic.
Purple Ribbon All-Stars — “Kryptonite”
Purple Ribbon All-Stars were a Southern hip hop supergroup, featuring Big Boi, Sleepy Brown, Killer Mike, BlackOwned C-Bone, Konkrete, Vonnegutt, and Rock D. “Kryptonite” is a painfully catchy tune, with a bobbing, thumping stickiness I choose to attribute to Big Boi because his music has a way of burrowing into your brain (ever heard 2010’s under-appreciated masterpiece “Shutterbug”? You’re welcome).
UGK feat. OutKast — “International Players Anthem”
Let it be known that André 3000 rocked a kilt long before Kanye, and this video is proof. After that sinks in, let yourself bask in the perfection of the line: “I CC’ed every girl that I’d see-see round town,” and the lovely advice from one pimp to another to “Keep your heart.”
Nelly — “Country Grammar”
Nelly, Nelly, Nelly. The man who made Band-Aids an accessory. The man who turned playground chants into a hook. The man who penned an ode to his bedazzled retainers. The video for “Country Grammar” also serves as a pretty good blueprint for those of its time: a block party, women in booty shorts, bandanas, leaning on cars with spinners.
OutKast — “So Fresh, So Clean”
It was hard to choose just one OutKast song to represent their influence (hence their strong presence across this entire list), but watching Big Boi and André 3000 dance around their house, brushing teeth and wearing gigantic fur coats, pulled this one to the front. Keep your ears open for the line: “You’re so Anne Frank / Let’s hit the attic to hide out for ’bout two weeks.”
Destiny’s Child feat. T.I. and Lil Wayne — “Soldier”
This is Destiny’s Child’s most thugged-out song by far: “If his status ain’t hood / I ain’t checkin’ for him / Better be street if he’s lookin’ at me.” Perhaps this is also when Beyoncé discovered her love for black-and-white music videos, which would help make an icon of “Single Ladies.”
UNK — “Walk It Out”
If you never tried to walk it out after seeing this video, you’re lying.
Juvenile feat. Soulja Slim — “Slow Motion”
Remember grinding? Remember junior high? This was the perfect soundtrack for that. On a more serious note, not only was “Slow Motion” the first #1 hit for Cash Money Records, but it was also the seventh #1 song to credit an artist posthumously — Soulja Slim, who wrote the track, died in a 2003 shooting just before Thanksgiving.
Big Tymers — “Still Fly”
“Still Fly” was another hit (though never #1) for Cash Money Records, and would later be sampled by Cash Money’s current breakout star, Drake.
Clipse — “Grindin'”
Clipse, the Virginia Beach duo comprised of Pusha T and No Malice, often worked with Pharrell Williams’ production team, The Neptunes. The collaboration is evident here, with a baby Pharrell featured prominently in the video, dropping the ends of words (“before” –> “befo'”). You might also recognize the infectious, stomping beat, which Lil Mama sampled for “Lip Gloss.”
Young Jeezy feat. Akon — “Soul Survivor”
“Soul Survivor” came a little late in 2005, but Young Jeezy, another Atlantan rapper, was both a member of Boyz n da Hood and the leader of United Streets Dopeboyz of America, and deserves a spot on the list. This was also pop music’s first real introduction to Akon and his distinctive voice.
Bubba Sparxxx feat. Ying Yang Twins — “Miss New Bootie”
Remember that sexism thing I told you to ignore?