In 2017, Atlanta hasn’t looked better rap wise. It’s safe to say that hip-hop’s best music is coming from the southern city right now. With an impressive lineup of A-list hip-hop talent (there’s a pun there) including 2 Chainz, Young Thug, Migos, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, and T.I., there is a reason Donald Glover found it appropriate to shout out his hometown during his Golden Globes Award acceptance speech earlier this month. “I really wanted to thank Atlanta and all the Black folks in Atlanta,” Glover said when accepting an award for his hit FX show Atlanta.
The comedy series takes place in modern day ATL, but there are moments that draw on the nostalgia and sentimental value of the city’s rich history from the civil rights movement to establishing itself as an influential location in hip hop. There is even a movement among the city’s native residents to affirm the distinction between the city’s heritage and what it looks like in it’s current state of hipster-infused gentrification. You might’ve seen some ATLiens sporting fashion that pays homage to “Old Atlanta” or heard a reemergence in songs that recall an era in “The A” before Love & Hip Hop Atlanta came to town.
While some of the stars from that mid-1990s to mid-2000s era can be seen starring on LAHH, Rasheeda, Lil Scrappy, and Yung Joc, other pivotal artists have fallen out of the spotlight. They’ve been replaced by the faces of “New Atlanta” on the music scene, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, Childish Gambino and Rae Sremmurd.
With that being said, let’s get an update on the stars that paved the way for Atlanta to become the capital of Dirty South hip hop and bridged the gap between the city’s past and present.
Ying Yang Twins
When crunk music was turning up clubs across the country, the Ying Yang Twins were positioned right in the eye of the rap storm. Due to their successful club-friendly hits “Whistle While You Twurk,” “Salt Shaker,” and their most career-impacting collaboration with Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz on “Get Low” in 2002, Kaine and D-Roc cemented themselves as key components in the crunk era of rap.
The Ying Yang Twins have been inactive for the most part since D-Roc’s arrest in 2014. They’ve done minor collabs with lesser known artists here and there, but that’s it. Luckily their influence and ear for making timeless party hits has trickled down to our current faves “Black Beatles” Rae Sremmurd.
Lil Jon is the “King of Crunk.” His timeless hit “Get Low” skyrocketed him into mainstream success in 2002, but he’s had plenty of Atlanta classics under his belt before that. Songs like “Who U Wit,” “Couldn’t Be A Better Player,” and “Bia, Bia” cemented his status as a pioneer in crunk. Trends come and go, and when crunk fizzled out so did many artist who’s music relied heavily on it. Lil Jon took a smart hiatus off from the music scene from 2004-2009, but came back strong with EDM-influenced hit singles like “Shots!” and the 2014 banger “Turn Down For What,” which led to a Grammy nod. Lil Jon reinvented himself as more than a crunk pioneer and emerged a party anthem genius.
Throughout Jermaine Dupri’s career, he’s produced for the biggest acts in music including Usher, Jay Z, Destiny’s Child, and Mariah Carey. His hit anthem “Welcome to Atlanta” officially planted the cherry on top of the A during its huge success in the music industry that he was at the forefront of in the mid-90s. Today the music mogul is co-executive producing a reality television series, The Rap Game with Queen Latifah on Lifetime. It follows five emerging artists, ages 11-16, who are in a quest to become the next big rap star.
During the Snap era of rap in the early 2000’s, D4L (Down 4 Life) were at the top with their hit “Laffy Taffy.” The Atlanta-based rap group featuring Fabo, Mook-B, Stoney, and Shawty Lo would go on to reach the #1 spot on Billboard Hot 100 in 2006 with the single, which was a ringtone on every high schoolers Nokia and Side Kick phone. Getting a wave of nostalgia yet? Sadly, the reign of D4L became a very brief stint due to Shawty Lo pursuing a solo career. Lo tragically passed away in 2016 after a fatal car crash in Atlanta. Rest in peace.
Like D4L, Crime Mob had a short-lived career, but between 2004-2006, M.I.G., Cyco Black, Princess, Lil’ Jay, Diamond, and Killa C put out some of Atlanta’s best music. “Knuck If You Buck” to be precise. The song truly captured the teen culture of Atlanta during that time. If there’s a definition of “ATL street anthem,” it’s this song. Sadly, the crew parted ways after legal troubles for Killa C and a falling out between Diamond and Princess. The two ladies in the crew hashed things out and remain two of the more relevant figures from the group today.
Who else wanted to riot in their school after watching Trillville’s
litcrunk music video to “Neva Eva?” The ATL rap group embraced the “crunk” wave as close affiliates to Lil Jon, Lil Scrappy, and Three Six Mafia, and produced a trio of bangers with “Neva Eva,” “Get Some Crunk In Yo System,” and “Some Cut.” When “crunk” inedibly died out so did TrillVille’s relevancy. They tried making a comeback in 2011 with Trillville Reloaded, but couldn’t find a strong enough audience.
T.I., the self-proclaimed “King of the South”, lives up to the hype. The rapper has an arsenal of Dirty South anthems from “24s” to “Rubberband Man,” but what sets T.I. apart is his vision to attract mainstream audiences. With singles like “What You Know” and “Bring Em Out,” he painted a beautiful picture of the rap scene in Atlanta that still hasn’t fizzled out today. Where is T.I. now? He recently dropped Us or Else, an album aimed at creating awareness of social injustices throughout America. He’s cashing checks acting, recently starring in Marvel’s Antman. Of course we still love to see the Harris family on the VH1’s T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle. The King is doing alright.
Ludacris made his mark on the industry with singles “Southern Hospitality” and “What’s Your Fantasy” back in 2001. Since, Luda has delivered hit after hit with singles including “Move B*tch,” “Rollout (My Business),” “Stand Up,” and “Area Codes” solidifying himself as not only an heavyweight rapper in Atlanta, but of all time. Now Ludacris has slowly moved away from the mic and onto the big screen, starring in the popular Fast and Furious franchise since 2013, as well as landing a small role on the hit show Empire.
Even though this duo is inspired by their upbringing in the A, Outkast stood out from the rest of Atlanta rappers from the jump. Andre 3000 and Big Boi have always explored music-making outside the box of what’s popular. Jump to present, the two put on a highly anticipated reunion show at Coachella in 2014. Since, Andre 3000 has offered numerous guest verses to music’s top artists including Kanye West, Drake, and Frank Ocean. He’s also rumored to be dropping an album in 2017. Meanwhile, Big Boi always in the lab cooking up new solo music and dabbling in some acting as well.
Lil Scrappy’s rise to fame came in 2004 with his hit single “No Problem” off of his split album with Trillville The King of Crunk & BME Recordings Present: Trillville & Lil Scrappy. Scrappy hit mainstream success when his single “Money in the Bank” peaked at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2006, becoming his biggest solo hit and most commercially successful single to date in the U.S. He would go on to collaborate with slew of rappers from Yung Joc, Three 6 Mafia, Lil Jon, to Young Dro, 50 Cent, and Young Buck. Today, Lil Scrappy is still collecting checks doing shows around the world, but we mostly keep up with his movements as one of the original stars of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.
Killer Mike’s highest charting single comes from “A.D.I.D.A.S.” featuring Big Boi and Sleepy Brown back in 2003, but the ATL rapper has contributed countless classic verses to some of Atlanta’s biggest songs. From Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” to the 2003 Grammy Award winning Outkast hit “The Whole Word.”
In present day, Killer Mike has joined forces with rapper/producer El-P to create the rap group Run the Jewels, to release three self-titled albums together. Mike is also an activist, commonly know for his work with Bernie Sanders and giving several notable speeches on economic solutions.
Coming out of the Dungeon Family collective that birthed OutKast, Goodie Mob (CeeLo Green Big Gipp, T-Mo, Khujo) played an essential part in the rise of Southern rap. Intertwining soul-stirring appeal to a culture blossoming in spite of oppression. Their classic album Soul Food welcomed outsiders into the spirit of Atlanta dealing with social and political issues, but also glorifying their culture. It was struggle rap. It was the truth about the Dirty South, and hip hop fans embraced it.
The group’s last project came in 2013 with Age Against the Machine. The album was a commercial flop, but was met with positive reviews from rap critics. While they’ve all explored solo careers, CeeLo Green has gone on to create the most success with hit singles including “Forget You,” and also landing a judge role on the hit show The Voice.
From Dirty South (2001), A Ghetto Dream (2002), and GA Peach (2006), Rasheeda has always paid homage to her southern hip-hop roots. Her most notable work came in 2004 lending guest verses on Petey Pablo’s single “Vibrate” & Nivea’s single “You Like It Like That”. In 2012, Rasheeda landed a spot along with her husband/manager Kirk Frost on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, which she still stars on today.
Young Jeezy came onto the Atlanta rap scene in the rap group Boyz n da Hood with their hit single “Dem Boyz” in 2005. The same year, Jeezy’s solo career took off after releasing Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. It’s arguably his best work and easily one of the most important albums to come out of in the time period for creating a voice for the trapper in the A. Since his come up in 2005, Jeezy has been dropping fire album after fire album. The Inspiration in 2006, to TM: 103 Hustlerz Ambition in 2011, to Trap or Die 3 in 2016. In 2017, Jeezy is gearing up to release his eight studio album Snow Season.
Yung Joc won the summer of 2005 after he dropped his Nitti Beatz produced hit “It’s Goin Down.” The single reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped him receive a record deal with Diddy’s Bad Boy Label. He would go on to make his second biggest hit “I know You See it” in 2006 and went quiet for the most part after that. In 2014, Joc joined the VH1 reality series Love & Hip Hop Atlanta as a supporting cast member, which he still works on today with his new viral hairstyle.
Even though she’s from Illinois, Da Brat had a major impact on Atlanta rap. She helped break ground in the southern rap scene alongside hip hop duo Kris Kross, thanks to signing to Jermaine Durpi’s SoSo Def label. Her debut album Funkdafied sold one million copies, making her the first female solo rap act to have a platinum–selling album, and the second overall female rap act (solo or group) after Salt N Pepa. Her career took a huge dive after dealing with legal battles and a jail sentence in 2007. Today, Da Brat has taken a step down from the rap game and now works for the Rickey Smiley Morning show as a co-host. She’s also made a guest appearance on the hit show Empire.
Bow Wow was probably one of the youngest to successfully break into the Atlanta rap scene and roll with the big dogs. Despite being born in Ohio, thanks to producer and mentor Jermaine Dupri, it’s Atlanta that gave Bow Wow his fame back in 2000. After working with JD since the age of 11, Bow Wow, (formally known as “Lil Bow Wow,”) broke into the biz big time at 13-years-old with his album Beware of the Dog, which featured club bangers “Bounce with Me,” “Bow Wow (That’s my Name),” and “Ghetto Girls.” With ATL legend JD as his plug, Bow Wow had countless cameos from some of the biggest names in Atlanta and the industry period. Those features and co-signs would earn Bow Wow some more hits in 2002, including “Basketball,” (from his Like Mike movie soundtrack), “Fresh Azimiz,” and “Let Me Hold You Down.” Bow Wow was soon pegged “Mr. 106 and Park,” for his record of constantly snagging and keeping the #1 spot. So where is he now? Bow Wow announced his retirement from music in 2016, to focus his efforts on film and television. His latest major TV appearance was his role in CSI: Cyber. Currently, he is the executive producer of Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta.
Back in the early 2000’s, Georgia’s own Bubba Sparxxx was the face of “Country Rap.” He broke in the game working with Timbaland on hit songs “Ugly” and “Deliverance,” but it wasn’t until his 2006 hit “Ms. New Booty,” off his third album The Charm, did Bubba really take off. So where is Bubba now? Back in 2014, the rapper opened up about having a serious addiction to opiates at the age of 29, during the peak of his fame. After checking himself into rehab, Bubba abandoned music and went to go work on a farm in 2011, just like a true country boy. After years of farming and healthy living, the new slim-down Bubba returned to music in 2014. He release his EP, The Bubba Mathis EP, back in October 2016, and has found balance between rapping and farming.
Who can forget dynamic duo, Field Mob? The two friends and artists, known by their stage names Shawn Jay and Smoke, were the most sought out ATL duos since Outkast, after their critically acclaimed debut 613: From Ashy to Classy. But it wouldn’t be until their 2002 hit single, “Sick of Being Lonely,” produced by Jazze Pha, that the two would really top charts and blow up. From there, Field Mob would go on to sign with Ludacris DTP label in 2005, dropping “So What,” featuring Ciara in 2007. The song scored Field Mob another chart topper that year. By 2011, Field Mob left DTP after some controversy with label owner Ludacris. The two would go on to have solo careers at separate labels, before coming back together to sign to T-Pain’s own “Nappy Head Entertainment,” where they currently reside musically.
Pastor Troy is definitely your favorite Atlanta rapper’s favorite rapper. Well-respected for his independent hustle and crunk bangers like, “Vice Versa” and “No Mo Play in G.A.” the August, GA native is local legend. During his peak main stream moments in the early 2000s he worked with stars like, Lil Jon, Jeezy and Gucci Mane. Now the Down South Georgia Boys front man is still releasing music independently with the most recent being WAR in Atlanta.
The do-it-all producer turned rapper is one of the more successful talents from the rise of Atlanta’s original trap rap set. After working behind the scenes throughout the early 2000s, he kicked off his solo rap career with the 2007 hit “Umma Do Me.” He has since gone on to release more club bangers while being caught up in several controversies. His 2013 hit “U.O.E.N.O.” came under criticism for a a line by Rick Ross that was perceived as promoting rape culture. He sued former business partner Future last year over a contract dispute.
The Bankhead, Atlanta native made his mark as T.I.’s protégé in 2004 with the dance-friendly hit “Shoulder Lean.” His colorful charismatic personality helped drive the song to the Top 10 on the Billboard 100 charts. His major label debut in 2006, Best Thang Smokin’, was also a chart success allowing the rapper to grow his star power beyond T.I.’s shadows. He’s since released several successful mixtapes and albums with standout singles like “FDB” and “We in da City.” Today, while still making music, Dro might pop into a reality show storyline because of his much-talked about situationship with Joseline Hernandez on Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.