On Robin Thicke's 2005 single "Shooter," Lil Wayne takes his turn at the mic to decry anti-Southern bias: "So many doubt 'cause I come from the South," he raps over Thicke's bluesy track, "but when I open my mouth all bullets come out." Further down in the verse, he delivers this final kiss-off: "This is Southern, face it / If we too simple, y'all don't get the basics."
To help fill y'all in on those basics — and perhaps dispel a few misconceptions in the process — Ben Westhoff has written Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, at once a user's guide and an informal history. Westhoff, like Wayne, thinks anyone who discounts Southern rap as too simplistic is quite simply missing the point.
Discussing Atlanta's DJ Smurf, the man who brought Ying Yang Twins and Soulja Boy, among others, to the national spotlight, Westhoff writes: "Faddy and unsophisticated, his brand is everything coastal rap fans detest. It is the epitome of what we talk about when we talk about 'lowest common denominator' music, and the kind of thing that inspired Nas to title his 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead."
Speaking to the Scene from his home in New Jersey, Westhoff says that even though "Crank That" is "considered the epitome of 'dumbed-down' music," he does not consider it a simple song: "You can't just sit down at a computer and make that, you know what I mean?" As for the bias against Southern rap, Westhoff says it's misplaced. Trace back to the origins of hip-hop, and it's about the party, plain and simple. Public Enemy and De La Soul took the music to new places, but their path isn't the only one.
"I love all that stuff," Westhoff says of golden-age hip-hop, "but the idea that hip-hop has to be that — that idea is really repulsive to me. ... This idea that Southern rap saved hip-hop is just the idea that it brought a new sound, a new style and one that people identified with more."
Westhoff traveled all over the South researching his book, alighting in Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston, among other locales. At one point, he inadvertently becomes part of former 2 Live Crew frontman Luke Campbell's entourage at a wild after-hours party. As Westhoff describes it in the book, Campbell's tour manager gives him a choice: "I can either perform oral sex onstage or have oral sex performed on me. As a married, STD-free man, neither option bears much appeal, but all I can think to do is laugh noncommittally."
Westhoff says that as a fan of the music, he really just wanted to tell as many stories as he could. "I just approached it as a reporter, and I think that's a little different than someone who's sitting at home reviewing music they don't really understand the context of," he says. "I felt that if I'm really able to, like, get out there, that it could help me tell more of a story, and that's what I was hoping to do."
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