This theme week’s coordinator, Michele Beverly, asked the curators to think, “How is the South experienced through Hip-hop culture? What does it look like, feel like, and taste like?” So, I began this post on Southern hip-hop aesthetics in Atlanta, in August, and the answer was simple—sweaty. Actually, my clearest memory of Hustle & Flow, the film discussed in Monday’s post, is Terrence Howard’s glossy skin. Southern hip-hop, like summer in Atlanta, is felt at the level of the body.
Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.’s “Country Sh*t,” is a music video that provides a visual and sonic tour of the South. The video certainly fits within the generic tradition of filming rappers in their hometowns, but the locations in the video do more than secure K.R.I.T.’s connection to Southern space. Instead, the video seems to emphasize what cannot be easily visualized in a music video—the bodily experience of being in these spaces. For example, the video is full of images of food. There are signs for gizzards and hot fish sandwiches and the image of bubbling deep fryers. Instead of simply trying to imagine what it would be like to live in Mississippi, Georgia, or Texas, we’re encouraged to consider interactions between bodies and spaces in the form of the greasy touch of a chicken wing or the sting of smoke from an open BBQ pit.
Furthermore, the video leaves us plenty of space for us to imagine. The video repeatedly turns to vacant spaces—parking lots, the take-out line at a restaurant, and the space between rundown houses. These spaces work like visual placeholders that stand-in for our imagination of the rural South. By presenting viewers with images of places we only pass through, these representations of the South refuse to land anywhere squarely. The moment is fleeting. Like other representations of popular cultural spaces, the vacant sites in the video only visualize the inaccessibility of a universal Southern experience.
This video and the distinct regionality of Southern hip-hop clearly illustrate Southern pride. But presenting that hometown love does not mean foreclosing the Southern aesthetic by filling it with clear, easy-to-read imagery. This visual aesthetic has no problem maintaining a distance between fans and the “third coast.” Like the images of food, ultimately, we cannot taste, feel, or smell the South by consuming this music. This does not mean we are left empty-handed; instead, the distinctness of Southern hip-hop provides a serious interrogation of representation at its core and another example of what Southern hip-hop “has to say.”