T.I., Bone Crusher, Three 6 Mafia, Lil Flip, Chingy, various artists, Nappy Roots, and the Neptunes

Beat Box

Phases and Stages

Touching down in Austin after six years on the West Coast, I must state the obvious: The South is running shit within the world of commercial hip-hop. Hearing Baby G spin a continuous stream of Southern anthems on Hot 93.3 as if he's rocking Mardi Gras on Mars is something that fills me with much enthusiastic pride. As the whole world anxiously waits to find out whether OutKast sinks or swims with its latest excursions into uncharted waters, folks continue to fiend for that good ol' crunk. Perfected by producer-of-the-moment Lil Jon in the form of "Get Low" by the East Side Boyz and "Damn!" by the YoungBloodz, it's suddenly hard to locate those cynics out there who in the past have insisted upon categorically sleeping on subtropical rhythms. Atlanta upstart T.I. has been bubbling like the proverbial pot of gumbo with Trap Muzik (Atlantic) making it its business to pay tribute to Southern hip-hop pioneers like Eightball & MJG and UGK. With guest spots by Killer Mike, David Banner, and Goodie Mob, Bone Crusher puts some serious muscle into the hustle by way of AttenCHUN! (Arista). As usual with Da Unbreakables (Sony), Three 6 Mafia is flossing all the way, "Ridin Spinners" with Houston freestyle champion Lil' Flip, whose tandem release 7-1-3/Underground Legend Remixed (Loud) is indicative of a Southern aesthetic simultaneously drenched in both electro and dance-hall sensibilities. With equal parts Cash Money bounce mixed with Rap-A-Lot melancholy, songs such as "Nobody Move" and "Thugs N Club" present Southside parking lot funk at its finest. Chingy continues the trend toward freaky Friday nights with Jackpot (Capitol) characterizing his hometown of St. Louis as the ultimate sideshow. Meanwhile the 2 Fast 2 Furious soundtrack (Def Jam) not only delivers Ludacris in all of his glory by way of "Act a Fool," but also reveals that New Yorkers such as Joe Budden see no shame in biting off of a Southern plate. Nappy Roots return with Wooden Leather (Atlantic), pushing the envelope on the traditional soul-food recipe by adding as much "Twang" as humanly possible. On the more refined tip, The Neptunes Present ... Clones (StarTrak) features Pharrell and Chad serving up yet another feast of succulent beats and tasty hooks to be devoured by the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, and Busta Rhymes. By emphasizing the common ground that links Afrika Bambaataa to Mantronix to Too Short to 2 Live Crew, Southern rap has created its own tsunami of bass-heavy momentum. And at this point, it's a matter of riding that wave or being pulverized by it.

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