At the 1995 Source Awards, Andre “3000” Benjamin of Outkast emphatically declared “The South Got Something to Say!” to a booing New York crowd. Benjamin’s statement is a rallying cry and space for teasing out how hip hop functions as a way to “update” Southern blackness. Rappers from the South grappled with how to facilitate their experiences in/as hip hop when hip hop was Northeastern or West Coast, urban, and monolithic. Outkast provided a blue print for navigating their Southernness via hip hop while maintaining awareness of the past. In the song “Chonkyfire” from Aquemini, for example, they sample audio from their rejection at the Source Awards. The funkiness of this jarring yet pivotal moment of their past influences the aesthetics of their present and future.
Indeed, the past lives and breathes in the South. Renewing time as a space of cultural expression for the present – i.e. functioning plantations and tours, Civil War re-enactments, debutante balls with horrifying poofy sleeved dresses – contextualizes Southerners as folks whose reality exists outside of a linear time spectrum. Jumps back and forth between history and "now" is status quo. For Southern blacks, the past is restricted to two culturally recognizable historical moments – the Antebellum Era and the Civil Rights Movement. Aside from the deeply traumatic experience of both periods of history, they also serve as touchstones for validating southern blacks’ experiences. It is comfortable – and less work – to think about Southern blackness within these historical earmarks. Granted, the Southern black community roots itself within these experiences as a reminder of fortitude and strength. However, the challenge for post-Civil Rights generations of Southern Blacks is speaking truth to power when their truths depart the trajectory of what was considered power in the past. Hip hop provides an entry point for thinking about race and Southernness in the late 20th and 21st centuries. Part of Southern hip hop culture's truth remains attached to the past but its power is grounded in the fact that younger Southerners use hip hop to embrace the possibility of multiple Souths, multiple narratives, and multiple entry points into contemporary Southern black identities.
Does the South still have something to say in hip hop? Yes. Because Southern hip hop has yet to run out of memories and experiences that tease out the complexities of what Southernness means today.