Playlist: A Crash Course in Southern Hip Hop

By Cameron Messinides ’19

Think ATLiens are from Jupiter? Can’t tell the difference between Young Thug and Yo Gotti? Drink your iced tea, dare I say it, unsweetened? Well, you’ve come to the right playlist, my friend. Forget your Kanye runway shows and sadboi Toronto rappers for a minute. We’re headed below the Mason-Dixon line for a swim with some of the biggest names in Southern hip hop. Get ready for a tour of fifteen artists, the three biggest scenes (plus a few bonus spots), and all the grime you can handle. Welcome to your crash course in Southern hip hop.

Atlanta – The Heart of Weird

  • Gucci Mane – Lemonade
  • OutKast – B.O.B.
  • Young Thug – Best Friend
  • Future – Where Ya At ft. Drake

It’s really going down in A-Town. Outkast put Atlanta on the map with their color, smarts, and unprecedented success with a distinctly Southern sound. Along with Gucci Mane, they grandfathered a culture of gangsta rap with a positively weird edge in Atlanta that continues to succeed today. Young Thug and Future exemplify the ATL strangeness: howling, red fedoras, and those slurred, sloppy vocals. It’s a city bursting with artists who embrace whatever sound they want to make. I didn’t even get to Rae Sremmurd, Migos, or OG Maco, each just as distinctively Atlanta as the next.

Memphis – The Melting Pot

  • Gangsta Boo and La Chat – On That ft. Lil Wyte
  • Yo Gotti – King Sh*t ft. T.I.
  • Juicy J – Show Out ft. Big Sean, Young Jeezy
  • Three 6 Mafia – Doe Boy Fresh ft. Chamillionaire

I have no idea what makes a Memphis rapper. Iconic Memphis rap comes from Three 6 Mafia, probably the most well-known rap group from the area. But more recently, rappers like Juicy J, Yo Gotti, and Gangsta Boo have shifted the scene away from Mafia’s classic 2000s gangsta rap. They stay true to Southern roots, adopting some of Atlanta’s trap sound and drug obsession, but they never get quite as wacky with their vocals. Their lyrics come through loud and clear, influenced by a dry Midwestern style (see: Freddie Gibbs, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony). You might not recognize Memphis rap right away. But once you do, you’ll find one thing remains true across the board: Memphis really, really, really likes to party.

Houston – The Wild Wild West

  • Scarface – On My Block
  • Geto Boys – Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta
  • Chamillionaire – Ridin’ ft. Krayzie Bone
  • Travi$ Scott – 3500 ft. 2 Chainz, Future

You might not realize you know Houston rap, but you do. In the 90s, Scarface set the bar high for conscious gangsta rap in Houston. Following in his footsteps, Houston rappers perfected a formula for charismatic, addictive lyrics tinged by a severe awareness of the poverty and crime surrounding them. Geto Boys and Chamillionaire found incredible commercial success with “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” and “Ridin'” respectively, two tracks that definitely provide as much social commentary as they do smooth grooves.

Most recently, Travi$ Scott has repped H-Town, and he’s doing it by calling on the voices of other Southern rappers. On his album Rodeo, he mixes Houston rap with features by artists hailing from Atlanta, Memphis, and the Carolinas. I reviewed that album here. Basically, Travi$ Scott goes hard.


  • J. Cole – Wet Dreamz (North Carolina)
  • Missy Elliott – Work It (Virginia / North Carolina)
  • Kevin Gates – Paper Chasers (Louisiana)

As Juicy J puts it, “it’s really going down in the goddamn south.”

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