A couple weeks ago Big K.R.I.T. dropped "King of the South," a song I took to be much more than just a banger. It was both a statement and a question from K.R.I.T. He was saying, "Just who is the King of the South right now? Why not me? No, seriously, why not me?"
It was a great question, why not K.R.I.T.? To answer that question would mean first figuring out just what being the King of the South means, and then weighing Krizzle's credentials against all the other worthy candidates. In other words, it sounded like the perfect excuse for a bunch of rap writers to write about rap. So I gathered up the squad - myself, Lucas and Yoh - and we each put forth our own King. So without any further ado, let's travel to the land of dirty Sprite and try to answer what I've come to realize is an almost impossible to answer question. Just who is the real King of the South?
When I first started marinating on this question my first instinct was to go with T.I., mostly under the, "When you're the champion you stay the champion until someone decisively knocks you off" RULE that I made up in my head but is still definitely a thing. T.I. was really the first to publicly popularize the idea of there even being a King of the South at all - without him are we even having this conversation? - and so even though his sales aren't at the astronomical heights they once were, even though he's not omnipotent force he once was, it was his crown first and it felt like it should remain his crown until someone decisively snatched it from his hands. Had anyone really decisively snatched it from his hands? No? Then the crown still fits.
But going with the first name that popped into my head felt lazy, and even though I'm literally writing this while drinking and wearing gym shorts, I try not to be lazy about my hip-hop. So I pondered and ran through the list of every name I could think of, and when I got to Bun B I stopped dead in my (mental) tracks. Could it be? Should it be? Fuck yeah, it's totally Bun B. Let me count the ways.
1. At the risk of getting sucked into a separate "most underrated rapper" article, how underrated is Bun B? His flow and delivery were always superb, and it's still just as strong in 2014. I think most of the reason he's so often overlooked in great rapper discussions is that he comes from the era of "Southern rappers aren't real emcees," an era that still exists in many ways. How Southern is that?
2. Side note: Did you know he refused to do multiple takes of a verse for years? It was one-take or nothing. That's fucking awesome.
3. There might be some artists who are as Southern as Bun, but I defy you to find anyone who's more Southern. You could blindfold him, spin him in circles, tell him to head in any direction and there's a 147% chance he'd start walking South. Plus, the way he's carried on Pimp C and UGK's legacy means that all of Pimp's "King of the South" points should transfer to him.
4. Speaking of which, a new generation of artists from outside the South have made Southern hip-hop sounds a staple of their music, and who do they turn to when they need that dirty co-sign? Who did Drake turn to? Who did A$AP Rocky name as his biggest influences? Exactly.
5. Ideally, I don't just want the King to be someone who rules my power, I want him to be a leader. I want him to survey his kingdom and dream not of riches but how to improve the lives of his people. Listen to Bun's Combat Jack interview. Goddamn, after I heard that I was ready to elect him president, but if this is a monarchy instead of a democracy, he's welcome to the crown. Seriously, who would you rather have representing hip-hop? Long Live Bun!!!
- By Nathan S. (@RefinedHype)
Some call him Gucci Mane, others call him Guwop, his mother named him Radric Davis, but I consider him “The King of the South.” When Nathan first introduced the topic, my mind shuffled through all the southern stars – everyone from T.I to Jezzy, Killer Mike to Phonte, even J.Cole came to mind. Naturally, I was looking for the most skilled and popular artist born and raised in the Dirty South. Another major quality is influencing the sound and affecting the overall spectrum, and after careful consideration, I can’t name anyone currently doing it on par with Gucci.
Some of today’s biggest rising rappers and producers’ beginnings started in the 1017 Brick Squad kingdom. Before Nicki Minaj was a Barbie she was throwing Slumber Parties with Guwop. Before Mike WiLL Made It “made it,” Gucci was the first major artist to lay bars over his beats. Before Future Hendrix was crooning the panties off our women, he teamed up with Gucci in 2011 for Free Bricks. At one point of time, even Drake was working with Gucci on a collaboration mixtape. Somehow, with his many incarcerations, Gucci was still able to discover and cultivate the sounds that are dominating in hip-hop. Who else has added this much new blood to the South with their popularity?
If Gucci Mane is King Arthur then Waka Flocka Flame, Yung Thug, Sonny Digital, Lex Luger, and Zaytoven are the knights of his roundtable. Despite their strained relationship, without Gucci, Waka’s career doesn’t exist. How many producers wouldn’t have a sound to mimic if Gucci didn’t introduce us to Lex and Zay? Even OJ da Juiceman made it on the 2008 freshmen cover! Yung Thug, Peewee Longway, Young Scooter, Migos, and even Rich Homie Quan will cite Gucci as being prominent in their careers. Gucci is a stamp of approval, a gateopener, unafraid to take untapped potential and give it a platform. With a solid solo career, an odd cult following, an unbelievable music catalog, and being one of the most influential figures in southern hip-hop, and by far the best A&R of the digital age, how can you not crown him king?
- By Yoh (@Yoh31)
In addition to being a rap nerd, I'm also kind of a history nerd too.
Maybe I'm just a nerd.
Part of the reason why I love southern hip-hop is for the rich history and culture. New York may have invented it, but I think the South perfected it. A ton of the hip-hop I grew up with - T.I, Lil Wayne, etc. - all came from below the Mason-Dixon line. I didn't know it or appreciate at the time, but there is no doubt that the South helped shape my hip-hop tastes. I spent four years of college analyzing cultural movements and I know a culture with heritage and history when I see one; Southern hip-hop has such a rich history. It's part of the reason I love it so much. Sure some of it is drug-dealing and candy paint--not exactly my favorite topic or one I know a ton about--but even that stuff has a more authentic vibe to it.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that my pick has to reflect the history of the culture. I would love to pick K.R.I.T as he was my gateway drug to the South, but the truth is that he hasn't been around long enough to really be in the running. My pick has to be an OG; someone who was crucial to the growth of the culture. Still, picking Pimp C or Andre doesn't seem right because they don't make music anymore. It would be disrespectful to the guys who are making great music to pick someone who hasn't released an album in a decade or longer. So what's a young, history-driven rap nerd to do? Finding the middle between the history and the can only mean the one and the only Big Boi.
When you think about the greats in Southern history, Outkast has to come to mind immediately. The proof is in the albums: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia. People always say that Andre was a better rapper, and yeah, he was, but Big Boi is also absolutely one of the bests. If you ask me, based on their production post Outkast, Andre may have dazzled, but it's Big Boi who likely kept the engine going. Outkast is one of the best duos in hip-hop history. Without Big Boi there is no Outkast. Period. Think about a Outkast-less landscape and weep.
That history is so important when selecting a King. How can he rule his subjects if he hasn't earned his stripes? The last thing we need is a Southern King Joffery running around. He's been around for 20 years! Twenty! And still he continues to consistently produce great make music. Think about the let down of not having Andre rapping with you anymore. Most rappers would fall off the face of the earth without 3 Stacks, and yet Big Boi has continued to be great all on his own. He has not only been successful but remarkably consistent. What was the last bad Big Boi song? Seriously, can you name a bad Big Boi song off the top of your head? How many other emcees can you say that for?
Plus, he has the producer kicker too. Part of the South's appeal, to me, is the beats, the samples, and Big Boi has been flipping stuff before some of these new ATL cats were even born. Big Boi has done it all, has done it well, and continues to show no signs of slowing down. Long Live The King!
That, and the first verse on "ATLiens," is why Big Boi is my King Of The South.
- By Lucas G (@LucasDJBooth)
Alright, so that's three pretty different answers from three pretty different people who all conveniently happen to live across the country: I'm in California, Lucas is on the east coast and Yoh is in Atlanta. But I'm even more interested to hear what DJBooth Nation has to say. If I know y'all, and I do, the comment section is about to get real live. Let's do the damn thing.