T.I., Shawty Lo & The Importance of Bankhead to Atlanta’s Rap Scene

By | Posted September 23, 2016
A lot of Atlanta history can be traced back to one Westside neighborhood.
2016-09-23-ti-shawty-lo-the-importance-of-bankhead-to-atlantas-rap-scene

Cell phones record as kids dance in the streets, dance in the schools, dance on the ceilings; dancing anywhere they can plant their feet with the dream of going viral twinkling in their eyes. All the dance moves taking over social media are no different than what I witnessed during the era of Soulja Boy and “Crank Dat”―a time when superhero dance routines were created with the hopes of record deals and millions of views on YouTube. Before the internet was turning teenagers into online sensations, the youth was adding flavor to Atlanta's hip-hop and dance culture.

Diamond and D-Roc were no older than 18 when they created the “Bankhead Bounce." A combination of Outkast’s “Benz or Beamer” and Michael Jackson’s inclusion of the move in his 1995 MTV Music Video Awards performance of “Dangerous” helped to propel a local dance on a global scale. Everyone was doing it—people are still doing it. Even President Obama had to bring back the shoulder dip while sitting courtside at an exhibition basketball game back in 2012. The “Bankhead Bounce” is embedded in Atlanta’s music history, but hip-hop’s relationship with Bankhead doesn’t stop there.

Bankhead is one of the most notorious neighborhoods on the Westside of Atlanta and it’s largely due to all the rappers who grew up in that area. Before it became a popular name in rap, Bankhead and the surrounding area was notorious in the city for crime, violence, drugs and lower-income housing projects like Bowen Homes and Techwood Homes. In an interview about Atlanta’s early history in hip-hop, Jarvis “King J” Rahim admitted that the “Bankhead Bounce” took the name of a rough area and made it into something joyous; something fun. In the same place where the crime rate is high, kids made music that’s caused people worldwide to enjoy themselves. Even in the worst areas, the environment doesn’t devour everyone. It’s possible for roses to blossom in the concrete jungle.  

T.I. emerged from Bankhead, born and raised, and has never stopped yelling its name on wax. If you somehow missed the “Bankhead Bounce,” you couldn’t escape the countless times T.I. has rapped the area's name. I didn’t grow up on that side of town, I’ve probably only been through Bankhead once or twice, but T.I. always made me feel like I was right there with him. He was very vocal about the hardships he faced, and about the kind of lifestyle he lived, but he never once reprimanded where he came from. On Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared,” he infamously rapped, “I’m a Bankhead nigga, I’ll take yo cookies.” It’s one of those lines that people rap with all their soul when the song is played. On his album Urban Legend, T.I. closes his final “Why U Mad At Me” verse with, “I’m Bankhead born and Bankhead bread, and when a nigga die I’m gon’ be Bankhead dead.” T.I. took Bankhead from the Westside of Atlanta to across the world and did it without the King of Pop. 

On King, T.I. dedicated the final song “Bankhead” to his birthplace. It features all the members of P$C (Big Kuntry King and Mac Boney) and Young Dro. Young Dro grew up right up the street from T.I. Not only did he sign a childhood friend, but someone else who grew up in Bankhead. Out of all the artists that T.I. has signed to Grand Hustle, Dro had a fair amount of success when he arrived. His 2006 hit “Shoulder Lean” went 2x Platinum and peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart. Ten years separate the success of the “Bankhead Bounce” and “Shoulder Lean” but both dances were huge locally before spreading their wings. After the release of his debut album, Dro slowly descended into the background and only made sporadic single and mixtape reappearances. His activity has increased over the last few years, and though he's never quite found his footing again, he has had made some splashes. The single “FDB” did well on Atlanta radio, a song he begins with, “West Bankhead, that’s where I’m from."

Before Young Dro had everyone in the city dropping their shoulders, Dem Franchize Boyz had the entire city snapping. Atlanta’s Snap era was fun for some, and others consider that brief time in history as the beginning of hip-hop’s darker days. Dem Franchize Boyz was the first group to see success from Snap music―”White Tee,” “Oh I Think They Like Me” and  “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” shook up the charts and dominated radio. DFB introduced the sound, but D4L went above and beyond with the release of “Laffy Taffy.” Sonically, their production had the same simplistic chord progression and drum pattern, but there’s an undeniable infectiousness about “Laffy Taffy.” The song would chart No. 1 on Billboard, another dance craze by artists hailing from Bankhead. D4L even started their debut album with the song “Bankhead.” From the beginning the group paid homage to their home. 

Snap music emerged from Bankhead, a working-class neighborhood in Atlanta pocked with large, sprawling apartment buildings. Many of the area's rappers and producers coalesced around the Poole Palace Cafe, a local bar and nightclub. Since the sound came from such a tightly knit music scene, it is difficult to point to a particular stylistic originator (although ATL producer Mr. Collipark is credited). Many snap music songs are organized around repetitive catchphrases such as "do it," "do your dance" and "rock your body." There is even a snap music dance, in which the dancer leans back and sways her shoulders from side to side. It's called "doin' it. It's a west side vibe," says Parlae of Dem Franchize Boyz, referring to an area of metropolitan Atlanta. "When everybody from the west side of Atlanta make they music, it's damn near gonna sound almost the same, 'cause everybody's living condition is the same. We do the same things, go to the same clubs, and like the same music. That's why we call it a west side vibe, aka snap music for the nation." - Bankhead Body Rock

Shawty Lo is a slightly different story. He was the one member of D4L to really break out and make a name for himself. “I'm Da Man” from D4L’s Down For Life album was his first taste of solo success outside the city. The reception was proof enough he had the potential to be the one who went beyond the group’s Snap music success. He wasn’t the best rapper but he had beats and charisma: the Jeezy effect. The bangers he dropped were trunk-rattling, earth shaking, peace-disturbing thumpers. “Dey Know” was undeniable, by far one of the biggest songs to drop in 2008. Rappers flocked to the beat, countless remixes were made, and they only helped to spread the word. “Dunn Dunn” was the second single from his Units In the City album, it was another hard-hitting street anthem with the Jeezy-esque charismatic delivery that made it an instant anthem. The single “Foolish,” and his verse on Soulja Boy’s “Gucci Bandanna,” kept Lo and Bankhead in the streets and on the radio.

“Dunn Dunn” put a different kind of spotlight on Bankhead. Shawty Lo felt T.I. sent a shot in his direction on “Big Shit Poppin,” so Shawty Lo responded and sparked the flame for their public dispute. Lo begins the song asking, “Who mentioned Bankhead and didn’t acknowledge me?” Credibility is everything in rap, and Shawty Lo’s “It must be two sides” was a subliminal jab questioning if T.I. was truly from Bankhead. He would later record a video in Bankhead asking the hood whether they had seen T.I. No one vouched for The King of the South in the entire two-minute clip. T.I. responds with “What’s Up, What’s Happenin,” a strong diss song with a stronger music video. T.I. shot himself lounging in front of the Bowen Homes sign and surrounded himself with people from the neighborhood. His hilarious imitation of Shawty Lo’s signature jog made it very clear he was taking a very clear shot at his rival. Both “Dunn Dunn” and “What’s Up, What’s Happenin” were shot in Bankhead, which brought even greater attention to the area. The “beef” would escalate, but was later squashed before anyone was harmed. T.I. vs. Shawty Lo was one of the more memorable rap controversies in Atlanta.  

Sadly, Shawty Lo passed away just a few days ago. His vigil was held in Bankhead and countless people came out to honor the man and rapper. There’s no question that Shawty Lo was beloved by Atlanta, but especially by Bankhead. Countless stories have been pouring onto social media about how he was a man of the people. Even after his success in music, being a presence in the city was important to him. Just a few months ago I saw him at Kroger, greeting and speaking with people warmly, in no rush or hurry. Even T.I. has opened up about his once-rival, singing only his praises and giving more insight into their fiery competition. I remember seeing a tweet yesterday, how T.I.’s status as a superstar didn’t deter him from responding to Shawty Lo’s taunts. Some rappers might feel too big to take the bait. But I do believe that T.I. cared more about his credibility in Atlanta than being a world-renowned rap star. It was a battle of respect between two men who the city truly respects.

What would you say were some of the most intense moments during the back and forth that y’all had?

 

We were mad respectful. Even though we were going through our things, there weren’t no real lines crossed, you know what I’m saying? I think we both had respect for one another, even in our differences just because I’m sure he knew the things that I’d done, I knew of things that he’d done. He knew people I knew, I knew people he knew, so it wasn’t like we could ignore the fact that there were some positive, respectable qualities about one another, you know what I’m saying? But a man is gonna be stubborn and push his line when he feel the need to push it in spite of all the things he may know about a person, positive or negative. So we never really had that “Uh oh, what’s gonna happen?” moment, even when we ran into each other. It was probably one of the most, I can say respectful beefs ’cause we spoke on the phone and he was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m ’bout to do this to ya, I’m ’bout to do that to ya,” and I was like “Okay, good luck” [laughs], you know what I’m saying?

 

It was more competitive competition. We were both tryna see who could put on the biggest for the city. He felt that my way was a little too, how can I say, postured, you know what I mean? He said, “The only thing you can do better than me is talk. Once I learn how to talk like you, I got cha!” And I was like, “Well, you better start, brother. You better hurry up and start.” But we even shared laughs with one another during the so-called beef moments, so it wasn’t ever really really that serious, you know what I’m saying? It was a far cry from, say, some of my other beefs I’ve been in. Other beefs I’ve been in where it’s all on site, you know what’s happening. Me and him, we were never like that. - XXL

Bankhead isn’t what it used to be. It’s not even Bankhead anymore; the name has been changed to Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. Gentrification completely bulldozed what was once there, but gentrification can’t change history. Bankhead lives in the music, in the artists, and in the people who saw it during the good and bad times. I love how rap can immortalize people, places, and things. All this history is ingrained in the sands of time. You can research “The Bankhead Bounce” and uncover the Ying Yang Twins since D-Roc would later form the group with Kane, years after the legendary dance song. "The Bankhead Bounce" can lead you to uncovering Shawty Lo, or digging into T.I.'s early work can introduce you to Young Dro. OutKast has rapped about Bankhead and Bowen Homes, that could lead to a fan listening to spaceships with Fabo.

It’s all music, it’s all rap, it’s all Bankhead. It's all here forever.

***

By Yoh, aka Yoh Got It For Da L-O, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credits: Instagram

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