Let’s keep it real: no one rides down Elvis Presley Blvd. blasting “Blue Suede Shoes.” Maybe on his birth…nevermind. They don’t. It never happens.
On any given day, however, you will see a Chevy Impala or Chrysler 300 – with subwoofers the size of the Exlines Pizza sign – blasting the hits of any one of Memphis’ rap superstars with the bass on max.
Hip-Hop, trap and gangster rap were birth as an underground music culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s when our parents were “gangster walking” in Club No Name or Crystal Palace. Legends such as DJ Spanish Fly and Kingpin Skinny Pimp laid the foundation for generations of southern rappers in Memphis and across the southern region, and the genre has since evolved.
From high school proms to Sunday brunches, here are the top 10 Memphis rap songs Memphis millennials hold near and dear to our hearts.
10. E.P. – Paperchase (Doin This), 2009
Find a high school or college party in Memphis that did not have wall-to-wall youth pumping their arms in bicep curl fashion while hopping back and forth on one leg. At the tender age of 17, Emanuel Patterson (now 27) shook dj’s and local radio stations with an unexpected release of his debut single with a dance to complement. The “paperchase” is for the aspiring hustler or the teen working at Best Buy after school to have enough money to buy cd’s and Mrs. Winner’s during school. “Watch me do that paperchase” speaks to the adage “Watch me prove you wrong” and I’ll see you in the club with a clean pair of Jordans. Chase on, brother!
9. Blocboy JB ft. Drake – Look Alive, 2018
Native Memphian, Blockboy JB, has nationalized the “shoot” dance, kicking one leg out while jumping on the other. After the dance and his namesake debut single went viral, he got a call from Drake who also has Memphis ties (his dad and family live here). Aubrey Graham (or Jimmy from Degrassi) came to Memphis for a few days to parlay on his old stomping grounds with Blockboy JB and another native Memphian, producer Tay Keith, to bring the streets “Look Alive.” A dedication to the grimy and dark corners of the city, “Look Alive” is a call for the hood to stay alert, stay woke and stay Memphis.
8. Rock Dillion, Da Volunteers ft. MJG – Favorite Color, 2006
The truth is Orange Mound is a cult. Ok, maybe cult is too harsh, but “Favorite Color” is for Orange Mound and Orange Mound only. Listen, if your pedigree doesn’t begin on the southernmost part of Park Avenue, you should just find a bar and sit down on this one. Historically, Orange Mound is one of the first African American communities in the country founded by African Americans. After a tumultuous era facing the drug and crime epidemic in the 70s and 80s, the community and its leaders remained steadfast in keeping Orange Mound bound by the values of community, closeness and self-preservation. Rap stars 8Ball & MJG, native Moundians, gave a platform to Rock Dillion and Da Volunteers and produced this clarion call for the area. This may be the only time UT gets this amount of love from Memphis. “Two fingers round, three fingers down” is the official orange mound hand sign (each community has one, ask your nearest local).
7. 8Ball & MJG – Pimp Hard, 2000
Let’s stay in The Mound. “Pimp Hard” was released in November 2000 on the group’s “Space Age 4 Eva” album. One of the few early Memphis groups to gain recognition outside the city, 8Ball & MJG glorified “Baller” culture. A nice car; few romantic options; a pocket full of cash, the definition of “Pimp Hard.” You can indeed find love in the Bluff City, or you can…uhhh, keep your options open.
6. Young Dolph – Get Paid, 2016
First and foremost, LeBron James listens to Young Dolph so you should, too. Adolph Thornton, Jr’s (34) encourages every young man to secure your financial future. Memphis prides itself on the grit and grind, the hustle and hoops. Young Dolph’s “Get Paid” spread across coasts quickly, motivating folks to increase their profits and their wallets.
5. Three 6 Mafia – Hard Out Here for a Pimp/Whoop That Trick, 2005
We know. We’re cheating a bit, but you can’t talk about Memphis without addressing two things: Three 6 Mafia and Hustle&Flow
Hard Out Here for A Pimp, another ode to the hustle culture, should come on your car radio as soon as your bluetooth connects, while Whoop That Trick is for your Saturday morning clean-up. Both featured in the Academy Award nominated Memphis film, Hustle & Flow, a story of hustle, pimping and rap dreams. Some still don’t care for the movie because the accents were all wrong, but we don’t hesitate to bob our heads when we hear either hit.
4. Gangsta Blac – S.O.U.T.H Parkway, 1999
Could there possibly be a more Memphis song than Whoop That Trick? Actually yes. There’s nothing more Memphis than representing your neighborhood and native communities. In 1999, Gangsta Blac dropped 74 Minutes of Bump with the hit “S.O.U.T.H Parkway,” paying homage to another historic residential community. It’s common to hear this song and recline your driver’s seat, roll down your windows and drive a few miles above the speed limit down I-240 in a Honda Accord coupe.
It’s a sacred homage to a community that refuses to cripple to any intimidation of poverty, crime or even gentrification. It’s still thriving and healthy with community efforts led by some of the very residents occupying.
3. Project Pat ft. Three 6 Mafia and La Chat- Chickenhead, 2001
Where to start?
First, you need a best friend who can sing this with you to fully enjoy this song.
Chickenhead may be the greatest Southern rap song of all time. Its melody and production style has been sampled and mimicked between trap artists, East Coast hustlers and West Coast bangers. Chickenhead is dedicated to the person who just wants to be left alone! It was “Gold Digger” before Kanye and Jamie Foxx penned a verse. Cardi B sampled it on her song “Bickenhead” on her Invasion of Privacy album.
Project Pat’s Mista Don’t Play album deserves a space in the Smithsonian. Only a few classics should receive such an honor.
Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”
Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing”
Project Pat’s “Chickenhead”
2. Playa Fly – Nobody, 1998
Did you just break up with your significant other?
About to quit your job? Got fired?
Are your parents riding you again about your college and career choices?
Have your friends posted pictures of them out drinking but they didn’t call you?
There has never been a song to move entire crowds to tears than Playa Fly’s “Nobody.”
This song is for those who realized they can do bad by themselves and need a safe way to not overreact while shutting yourself out from the community-at-large. Playa Fly still rules radio and Spotify’s with this hit. A former member of Three 6 Mafia, Playa Fly is a native South Memphian. His song came after he ended things with Three 6 and went solo. He needed to get the drama off his chest and “Nobody” was born. Fold your arms and bop to this emotional song of self-care and resilience. This was Beyonce’s “Me, Myself and I” before she knew she only needed herself. You don’t need nobody, ok? Godspeed.
1.Yo Gotti – That’s What’s Up, 2006
This is a Memphis millennial’s “Kumbaya.” This is our “Lean On Me.” This is our National Anthem.
Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims is indeed one of the Kings of Memphis and “That’s What’s Up” is the unofficial anthem of the city. From his mixtapes to trapping out of North Memphis, Yo Gotti gives a new meaning to Memphis pride with this one. “That’s What’s Up” is for the Memphian with a dream and a grind. After the prelude, he quickly goes into shouting-out his family, famous high schools, trap houses, friends, enemies, and eventually the entire city. It’s freedom. Entire stadiums have erupted in unison and in acapella belting this song. It is purely Memphis. It may or may not have reached national acclaim, but it surely has earned its keep in the Mid-South. You Gotti is ours. This song is ours. And now, it’s yours.
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