Southern Hip Hop: A Sensory Tour Through the Third Coast

Curator's Note

This theme week’s coordinator, Michele Beverly, asked the curators to think, “How is the South experienced through Hip-hop culture? What does it look like, feel like, and taste like?” So, I began this post on Southern hip-hop aesthetics in Atlanta, in August, and the answer was simple—sweaty. Actually, my clearest memory of Hustle & Flow, the film discussed in Monday’s post, is Terrence Howard’s glossy skin. Southern hip-hop, like summer in Atlanta, is felt at the level of the body.

Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.’s “Country Sh*t,” is a music video that provides a visual and sonic tour of the South. The video certainly fits within the generic tradition of filming rappers in their hometowns, but the locations in the video do more than secure K.R.I.T.’s connection to Southern space. Instead, the video seems to emphasize what cannot be easily visualized in a music video—the bodily experience of being in these spaces. For example, the video is full of images of food. There are signs for gizzards and hot fish sandwiches and the image of bubbling deep fryers. Instead of simply trying to imagine what it would be like to live in Mississippi, Georgia, or Texas, we’re encouraged to consider interactions between bodies and spaces in the form of the greasy touch of a chicken wing or the sting of smoke from an open BBQ pit.

Furthermore, the video leaves us plenty of space for us to imagine. The video repeatedly turns to vacant spaces—parking lots, the take-out line at a restaurant, and the space between rundown houses. These spaces work like visual placeholders that stand-in for our imagination of the rural South. By presenting viewers with images of places we only pass through, these representations of the South refuse to land anywhere squarely. The moment is fleeting. Like other representations of popular cultural spaces, the vacant sites in the video only visualize the inaccessibility of a universal Southern experience.

This video and the distinct regionality of Southern hip-hop clearly illustrate Southern pride. But presenting that hometown love does not mean foreclosing the Southern aesthetic by filling it with clear, easy-to-read imagery. This visual aesthetic has no problem maintaining a distance between fans and the “third coast.” Like the images of food, ultimately, we cannot taste, feel, or smell the South by consuming this music. This does not mean we are left empty-handed; instead, the distinctness of Southern hip-hop provides a serious interrogation of representation at its core and another example of what Southern hip-hop “has to say.”

Comments

Akil Houston's picture

Sensory imagining

As much as music is an auditory experience there is something tangible about the taste of southern hip hop. Lauren, I appreciate your notion of what the South has to say and how it is said. Though we cannot actually taste the music it does engage our ‘southern schema’ as I could relate to those sticky Georgia afternoons and the spaces and places we may pass through. The video while maintaining staples of rap videos (hometown, cars, panning shots, etc.) there is a distinctness in the imagery of the south.

Lauren Cramer's picture

Thanks Akil!

Thanks for the comment. I think by focusing on the sensory experience of the South, Southern hip-hop’s visual culture is ahead of the game. It’s encouraging us to think about aesthetics and the organization of the senses in a way that rarely happens in hip-hop discourse. To me, thinking about form in hip-hop is so important for a genre that is so often required to “represent” for certain communities. Instead of praising or condemning hip-hop when it doesn’t represent “well,” it seems wise to consider what the genre wants to tell us about representation in a broader sense.

Regina N. Bradley's picture

Southern Comfort

Thanks for these thoughts. Im grappling with the notion of southern pride and how it takes root similarly (differently) in the black community than for southern white folks. Touchstones of southern white pride - i.e. the Confederate flag - do not necessarily stem the same type of pride for southern black folks. I remember when I was a girl I hammered out a few notes of “Dixie” on our piano and my Grandfather had a fit.

I love the nod to food studies you’ve done here. It’s quite brilliant and you should consider expanding it for a larger piece.

Charles P. Linscott's picture

Hip hop in the South

First, this is making me really hungry! Being from the South, but living in Ohio, I really miss a lot of this food. Sigh.

More importantly, though, I think these critiques of representation are so valuable. I was reading about the musical subgenre known as “country rap,” and the distinctions between it and Southern hip hop are presented as entirely representational. No surprise there, but marking a form based on what it “talks about” is obviously problematic. Thanks for this post, and the discussion.

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