During the 90′s, most hip hop headz from Europe, like us, were focused on east coast rap. The east coast was on fire, putting out one gem after another, so it was natural not giving a f#*k about southern rap music. In the SOURCE magazine, southern artists ads appeared mostly in the last pages…I remember we used to laugh at those awful album covers, full of diamonds, bit*#es and (fake) pimps.
But silently, the south coast was evolving its own sound in the underground, with bootleg mixtapes and live shows. The 3-6 mafia were the mixtape gods in Memphis back then, selling thousands of tapes in their neighbourhood.
In the late 90′s, as the east coast started its decline (and DJ Premier started producing dozens of songs using the same drums…terribly boring), i started checking out southern rap for curiosity (thanks to some suggestions from my personal music guru, djmp45), and, surprisingly to me, i found out some very good music. Very different from the New York sound, but, yes, it was dope!
Hip hop flava in the south is much closer to 80′s old school: 808 drums, synth basselines, sharp samples, immediate lyrics, focusing more on sounding dope rather than spittin complicated rhymes. It is music for clubs and car stereos, produced specifcally to sound good when played loud in fat-ass speakers. If you play it in your cheap home hi-fi, and you don’t have a sub-woofer, it is just not the same.
“Sippin’ on some syrup” is 3-6 mafia’s most famous song. Is a song about, …well…, it is about sippin codeine-based cough syroup to get stoned. This unusual (and dangerous, i imagine) way to get high is very common in some communities in the USA. Codeine’s narcothic effect gives you a slowed-down perception of the world around you, and most pepole use to listen to rap music played at half speed when they’re on syroup. (“screwed up” music, named after Dj Screw, the inventor of this crazy sound: he curiously died for codeine abuse. The world is strange sometimes. If you’re interested, check the whole story here) Southern artist use to release a screwed version of their songs, which are in fact produced specifically for being screwed. “Sippin’ on some syrup” is one of this songs… & the contribution if UGK takes this song to an all-time classic level, even if you listen it at normal speed…….
Susrprisingly to me, i discovered that producer DJ Paul stole the first bars from a beautiful song by the great Marvin Gaye. I didn’t expect this, i thought the track was made from scratch by Dj Paul with a synth piano (when high on syrup of course). But after all, this is still hip hop: big songs use big samples, that’s no surprise.
Most 3-6 mafia productions have a strong hypnotic, repetitive, trippy groove (they even called their label “Hypnotize Minds”), an attitude i find very interesting. And i like it of course, even if -since i don’t drink syroup- i listen only the normal versions, not the screwed ones….
Listen Three Six Mafia’s “Sippin On Some syrup” in the album “When The Smoke Clears” …a dope album, and a good way to approach southern rap music if you never heard it…
(epilogue)…Nowadays the south has gone mainstream, 3-6 Mafia won an Oscar prize (!!!), and the dirty south movement has been many times on the cover of the Source Magazine! A famous issue of The Vibe had the magazine logo iced out with diamonds. Time has changed again. And the dirty south has lost some freshness too… What will be the next sound in hip hop? Any suggestions?