Tending the Chonkyfire: Does the South STILL Have Something to Say in Hip Hop?

Curator's Note

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.


Yes! So much of the dialogue about the South is tethered to our notion of a past, some past, somebody's past, but you are right--hip hop is always about the creation of a counter-narrative- a story that might be invisible to some, unimaginable to others, or perhaps not even born yet. The writing of these counter-multiple narratives of the South (and elsewhere) is happening now, as we speak. It goes "on and on." Hip hop artists may not have always been fully aware of their power to create on-the-spot narratives of experiences and places that are constantly being redefined and re-imagined, but those aware of this power expand our concept of hip hop culture and of our own space in time.

Awesome! The idea of hip-hop and Southern culture as experiencing time in a nonlinear fashion is very compelling. I think sampling does this, with its emphasis on reuse and reconfiguration of the past, and so provides some of the multiple points of entry to which you both refer.

Most certainly. Southern hip hop or hip hop period for that matter has been at its creative best when it engages in those counter narratives and flips expectations even for those hard core hip hop heads. I am very interested in the development of your larger project as the current work you've been doing on hip hop is critical. The "Outkasted conversations" really challenges the disposable mentality some consumers have about rap cultural production.

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