There is no better hip-hop than Southern hip-hop.
Or, just think about it logically.
Geographical subsets are held together by loose-leaf musical ideologies, firm socio-political thematics, and the indefinable somethings that make someone so very somewhere in particular. Long story short, the reasonings for geographical subsets – in hip-hop especially – are hard to put a finger on. But they’re there, and no subset has a more distinct yet varied and influential sound than Southern hip-hop. From Miami and Atlanta to St. Louis and New Orleans, the scene is not only one that brings in tow a history perhaps more inspiring and certainly more innovative than any other but is also one that is continuing the trend in the present day. Though of course, hip-hop has expanded and adjusted at exponential rates and continues to divide itself further and further into imminent indefinable post-genrefication, Southern hip-hop above all others still feels tied to its history.
It’s not to say that others don’t. West Coast hip-hop still explodes with synthesizers and fills the room with laid-back energies and smoke. East Coast hip-hop still prides itself on low-fidelity lyrical prowess. The Mid-West continues to build on the conscious foundations of its past. But, from the production to the delivery, no matter how completely differentiated artists may be, Southern hip-hop artists carry with them a certain moxy that makes them fitting of the bill. And that’s saying a lot because though that connective tissue helps to define something in the sounds of all Southern artists, the Southern soundscape is one of broader creative breadth than any other.
If any artist is perhaps most fitting of the confusing patchwork that makes Southern hip-hop so special, it’s also an artist that is arguably by association, not truly a Southern hip-hop artist at all. But those arguments would be wrong because Smino, who hails from St. Louis and splits his time equally, if not unequally, in Chicago, is as grass-roots Southside as hip-hop artists come. On the heels of the release of his sophomore album, NOIR, the Southern influence in his style has become impossible to deny. Just listen to Z4L and KRUSHED ICE.
A left-of-center, borderline alien delivery makes Smino one of the most unique rappers on the scene today. Edged by shuffling cadences, an indecisive rap-sung approach, and a fun-loving musical demeanor that makes his particular take on hip-hop approachable across the spectrum of differing ears, Smino is an enigma. But, if there is something that actually can be defined in his music, his videos, and his seeming personality, it’s that he is St. Louis to the bone.
A historic center of Southern hip-hop, St. Louis, which has a past earmarked by the likes of Nelly, Chingy, and Murphy Lee, boasted a modern interpretation more or less up for grabs in the recent years prior to Smino’s rise. But now, St. Louis is his. A blossoming number of artists are being pulled from the woodwork in his wake, many of whom, like Bari, are his close friends. And not only St. Louis, but Chicago likewise finds itself under the umbrella of his quickly expanding influence. With a close circle of friends, at its core lying the Zero Fatigue Crew (Ravyn Lenae, Monte Booker), Smino is bringing Southside styling to an international level in ways few artists from the South have done since the Lil Wayne era.
In the spirit of building empires, another name that must be brought to attention not only when discussing the South, but also the modern region’s budding international influence, is YGTUT. A rapper whose range brings him from the South’s tradition of bouncy approachable hip-hop to an equally stern and intimidating delivery, YGTUT can do it all. He’s a product of the young Chattanooga scene, which, led by the charge of TDE’s Isaiah Rashad, finds itself increasingly influential on Southern hip-hop. Surrounded by a tight-knit circle of friends who in collaborative harmony trudge forward for Chattanooga’s future as a Southern hip-hop capital, YGTUT has a tendency to come across as an enforcer. But, such a title, though definitely deserved, comes up short in describing YGTUT at a macro scale.
Legitimately one of the most promising lyricists on the underrated spectrum of Southern rappers, YGTUT is a dynamo with his penmanship. His most recent project, Save It, which came delivered to SoundCloud in intriguing 3-track parts until completed, is hands down one of the best projects of the year, and is a masterpiece of the Southern tradition. As is his debut album, Preacher’s Son.
His delivery also leaves plenty of wiggle room for change. The second track of Save It, Late, is a proper romantic hip-hop ballad that of course puts on display his lyrical prowess, but in equal measure, allows room for TUT to explore his melodic ability. Through the constant work and improvement as an artist, the range, and his ever-expanding exploration of it, YGTUT may very well end up being to Chattanooga what Smino is to St. Louis. And that’s saying a lot considering the explosive creative climate surrounding YGTUT in Chattanooga today.
A collaboration between Smino and YGTUT wouldn’t only be a remarkable collection of creative and unique Southern wordsmiths coming to life, it would be all about balance. The two are so very different in so many ways. Smino is a silver-toungued enigma of poetic absurdity. YGTUT is a brute enforcer of intimidating Appalachia legacy. And yet, just as the Southern soundscape finds itself tied together by something indescribable, the stylings of Smino and YGTUT are bound together by that very Southernism.
To be truthful, it goes much deeper than geography and is in equal measure about the fact that both are incredibly underrated, young hip-hop artists whose futures seem to be obstructed by no ceiling, and the brash differences in their sounds would be incredibly intriguing in collaboration. The quick, shuffling cadence of Smino would easily compliment the meditative delivery and deep vocal range of YGTUT, while both artist’s ability to switch it up and find a slow, rap-sung approach would make a joint project between the two transcendental in the same ways that their individual careers are.
So, let’s make it happen and watch the next era of the Southern hip-hop legacy really take form.