By Brianna Smith-Herman
Beneath its humble exterior lies one of America’s most musically influential cities. Blues, Soul, Gospel, Rock & Roll, Down South Hip Hop and R&B could all claim Memphis as an early parent. The Bluff City has been and continues to be instrumental in the development of popular music.
You might’ve seen the recent viral clip of Charlamgne Tha God from the popular radio show Breakfast Club saying: “The best rappers in the game right now are from Memphis!”
“The very trap sound everyone in music is using to dominate the planet was born in Memphis,” said producer HitKidd. “I would personally say my beats sound a lot like an old Memphis sound, with a present spin to it. I tell people all of the time, my music is heavily impacted by my upbringing in Memphis.”
Originated in the early 1990s, Memphis rap, also known as Memphis horrorcore or crunk, has produced well-known artists such as Eightball & MJG, Playa Fly, Gangsta Blac, Tommie Wright, Gangsta Pat, Criminal Mane and of course Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat.
Memphis’ artists are known to exaggerate the boasts of classic gangsta rap into gruesome tales of murder, money and mayhem, like in the Memphis classic “Nobody Needs Nobody” by Playa Fly or Gangsta Blac’s “S.O.U.T.H Parkway.”
The new era of Memphis rap artists are building on that legacy and taking their music more mainstream – and the proof is all over the Billboard charts.
Yo Gotti & Young Dolph: The Battle that reignited Memphis Rap
The tension between Memphis rappers Yo Gotti and Young Dolph has been a major storyline in Memphis hip-hop for years now.
In 2016, Dolph alluded to Gotti and his decision not to sign to his CMG label on Twitter. Shortly thereafter he released his debut “The King of Memphis,” which peaked at number 49 on the Billboard chart. The title alone was seen as a direct challenge to Gotti’s claim to the K.O.M title.
Most Memphians are familiar with the backstory of the whole Gotti/Dolph issue, beyond what Dolph exposes on his explicit anti-Gotti anthem “Play Wit Yo B***h.”
However, this is when things began to heat up in the city, musically.
“This new wave of spotlight has been on Memphis since around 2016, when both Yo Gotti and Young Dolph started to sign artists of the next generation,” said Jeremy
Wilson, creator of KingsOfMemphis_Media on instagram. “They played a major role in contributing to this new artists wave that Charlemagne mentioned.”
Through 2017 the beef was largely between Dolph and CMG’s artist Blac Youngsta, who threw a Dolph diss into one of his tracks and filmed a video of himself in Dolph’s South Memphis hood.
The story is an old one: two rappers, both at their peaks, coming from the same place, each convinced that he’s the man.
No doubt, Young Dolph has carved out a lane for himself in one of the most competitive industries in entertainment. Playing the game by his own rules, and building an undeniable empire, this is clearly just the beginning of his success, and there is no end in sight.
However, Memphians know that Yo Gotti has sustained his CMG Brand for over 20 years. He recruited an all-star cast of artists such as Blac Youngsta , Moneybagg Yo, 42 Dugg, Co Cash and BlocBoy JB, and more recently the mogul has joined forces with Interscope to create a partnership that will build a bigger platform for his acts.
“With 25 years under his belt as a successful artist, label head, manager and entrepreneur, Yo Gotti has built an impressive legacy in hip hop and remains one of the most exciting voices in music,” IGA Chairman John Janick said. “We look forward to working closely with Gotti’s team to continue to build upon CMG’s incredible run in our business.”
The Memphis Influence
Today our city’s scene, which heavily consists of Memphis rap music, has played a huge role in the world’s current rap and hip hop.
“Everyone bites from Memphis. You hear it in the music,” producer Real Red said. “Now that more younger Memphis rappers and producers are emerging they are staying true to that Memphis sound but with a new flair to it.”
Memphis music gravitates to the trunk rattling sound of 808-driven hip-hop. It’s a calculated blend of haunting, atmospheric melodies and crisp trap drums with fire ass storytelling to match.
“Memphis rappers represent their city like no other,” said Jeremy Wilson. “It’s all about hustling, shining, being a boss and living life.”
It isn’t hard to find the Memphis influence in today’s hip hop.
Cardi B’s “Bickenhead” includes the hook from Project Pat, La Chat & Three 6 Mafia’s 2001 hit ‘Chickenhead’.
Rae Sremmurd’s “Powerglide” is another banger that pays homage to Three 6 Mafia’s Influence. They took heavy inspiration from Three 6 Mafia’s 2005 “Side 2 Side.”
ASAP Ferg did something similar with his hit “Plain Jane.” That song, as Ferg was the first to admit, was his version of the 1999 Three 6 classic “Slob on my Knob.”
And these are just a few songs…. But when you trace the dark sounds of Memphis rap, and Three 6 in particular, to the rap that’s hitting the charts today, it’s not too hard to hear the influence.
Memphis Takeover: We Up NOW!!
As we continue to get deeper into the second quarter of 2021, Memphis is still dominating the music wave and the Billboard charts and we aren’t slowing down anytime soon. So far this year, Memphis artists have been consistently dropping projects and singles.
Moneybagg Yo’s A Gangsta’s Pain is set in a Memphis-centric world with production from Real Red and YC, not to mention the production by The Neptunes. On this album Bagg demonstrates a new maturity and self-regarded sound that doesn’t sacrifice his
bite not one bit. Moneybagg Yo also opted for a range of features on this project (including Future, Jhene Aiko, Polo G, and Kaash Paige).
Paper Route Empire CEO Young Dolph and his right hand, Key Glock, have time and time again proven to be one of the most dynamic trap duos thanks to countless past hit singles such as “Major” and “Water on Water on Water.” The two Memphis rappers cemented the fiery synergy on Dum And Dummer 2. The project is highlighted by the street anthem singles “Aspen” and “Sleeping With Roaches.” A flex-heavy, money hungry album.
Since signing to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Record Label, Pooh Shiesty has been one of rap’s hottest prospects. Named by Spotify’s “Rap Caviar” as one of their “10 Artists to Watch in 2021,” Shiesty has staked his claim on a number of other influential charts in addition to Billboard’s Hot 100, including Rolling Stone’s “Breakthrough 25” (debuting at #3) and Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart (debuting at #30). He also spent over 20 weeks at the top of Pandora’s Trendsetter Chart. “Back In Blood” with Lil Durk proved the hype! The effortless, ice-cold bars and hooks on Shiesty Season are so catchy they’ll stick with the listener for weeks. With songs like “Shiesty Season Intro,” “Guard Up” and the BIG30-assisted “Neighbors,” the quality present in the diverse range of songs is well worth the listen. Pooh is playful in his wordplay but unafraid to put an opp in their place.
All in all, Memphis plays a notable role in establishing, influencing and transcending the Dirty South sound and culture captivating thousands across the country.