It seemed like 2006 would finally be the year that rappers from the north (more specifically the northeast) finally regain their strangle hold on the hip-hop industry. Ever since hip hop started at the block parties and discos in New York City, innovators like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa ran the show on the East Coast. But that was a long time ago, and in recent years the general public has shifted its attention to the Dirty South.
Power has swayed in such a way that it’s more common to see rappers from the north pairing up with rappers from the south, which was unthinkable in past years. More Southern rappers have begun using Northern producers like Just Blaze and Swizz Beats to give their albums a different feel. More Dirty South and East Coast artists are working together on tracks and gaining an incredible amount of attention. More recently, Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli recorded the song “Country Cousins” with Port Arthur, Texas natives UGK. And in returning the favor, UGK included Jay-Z on his album, Trill, for the song “Get Throwed” with his partner Pimp C and Young Jeezy.
This year, rappers in the Midwest and East Coast have lyrically surpassed the status quo and brought some serious albums to the forefront. The most memorable comes from Chicago’s Westside-wordsmith Lupe Fiasco, who, after months of delays, released one of the best socially conscious hip-hop albums to date. Rap hasn’t been this authentic since the mid ’90s (Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest), but just when you think it can’t get any better, Nas finishes the year with Hip Hop Is Dead, a brilliant concept album with real lyrical content revolving around what’s happening in hip hop – where it started and where it’s going
But after Young Jeezy and Lil’ Wayne took over in 2005, media focus stayed in the south for 2006. T.I. created a completely new standard for Southern rappers with his album King. No one knows this better than Tip’s only real competition in the South, Lil’ Wayne, who cut an album with his father, the slow-flow #1 Stunna, Baby. Weezy’s ability to make Like Father, Like Son a success, even with Baby’s lackluster flows and simple lyrics, have apparently convinced him he is second to none, and Jay-Z might as well have remained at home because he’s no longer the best rapper alive.
As far as underground hip hop goes, the East Coast completely owns it. New York has been pumping mixtapes like never before. With his new Blacksmith label, Talib Kweli has been bringing attention to artists such as Jean Grae, Krondon and Strong Arm Steady on the underground circuit. Lesser-known MCs, like Gillie Da Kid, were able to step into the spotlight when they showed up on mixtapes by DJs like Clinton Sparks, Big Mike and Nu Jersey Devil.
Though the South did plenty of mixtape work, like DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz, and took over everything released by DJ Envy, most Southern rappers on mixtapes were already fairly mainstream. Even Swishahouse – the underground monster that once held Paul Wall, Mike Jones and Chamillionaire – has become as popular as any other label. Even the lamest rappers in the south are getting record deals (it’s crazier than that damn “White Rapper Show” on VH1).
The main reason the south seems to have so much pull is the slew of simple, catchy and quickly worn-out dance moves. “Lean Back” was so easy it was boring and “Chicken Noodle Soup “is too complicated for the average party-goer, but the south knew how to get everyone moving in unison. And just when everyone got tired of “Lean Wit’ It, Rock Wit’ It,” lights, camera, action and Yung Joc walks through the door with the ever-popular motorcycle dance. It was even easier than the Lean Wit’ It, Rock Wit’ It and everyone from Tom Cruise to U.S. soccer player Clint Dempsey was doing it. It was something more than Dem Franchize Boyz or D4L could ever contemplate, and no one could stop it.