The South Got Something to Say, Part 2: Trap Time, We Want the Crunk and Other Byways

Who invented trap music? Depends on who’s asked. The subgenre—a sound powered by booming 808s and skittering snares—gained traction in the early 2000s as a soundtrack to selling drugs out of abandoned houses. With the title of his 2003 sophomore album Trap Muzik, Atlanta rapper T.I. (born Clifford Harris Jr.) gave it a proper name. He claims to be the subgenre’s originator, as do fellow ATLiens Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. But beats and lyrical content are equally vital to trap’s identity, so producers like Shawty Redd, Zaytoven and DJ Toomp, who’ve each worked with some combination of that big three, can just as rightfully stake their claims.

There’s less confusion around another phrase that T.I. spoke into existence as early as 2001: King of the South. The former dope boy made his mark on the game with aggressive singles (“24s,” “What You Know”), crossover records (“Live Your Life” f/Rihanna) and blockbuster albums like 2006’s King., which dropped the same week he made his acting debut in the film ATL alongside Lauren London and Big Boi.

A boisterous new sound that had been simmering in Atlanta throughout the ’90s began to bubble over in the early 2000s. This subgenre, dubbed crunk, took over hip-hop with its deep, thumping bass, synths and call-and-response lyrics, often delivered in guttural shouts. Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz were ambassadors for the style, first catching nationwide attention with the 2001 posse cut “Bia Bia” and collaborating with the Ying Yang Twins for 2003’s “Get Low,” a #2 Pop hit. Jon became a household name after being parodied by Dave Chappelle in a series of hilarious sketches on Chappelle’s Show, supercharging his already-ubiquitous production. Pretty soon, everyone from Usher to Pitbull was requesting Jon’s special production sauce.

Crunk dovetailed with another musical style that had a moment in the sun: snap music. The genre took the baton in 2005 off the strength of tracks like Dem Franchise Boyz’s “I Think They Like Me,” Lil Jon’s “Snap Yo Fingers” and D4L’s #1 Pop hit “Laffy Taffy”—minimalist thumpers that incorporated finger snaps both sonically and in accompanying dances. Soulja Boy Tell ’Em cashed in on the sound with his 2007 breakout, “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” which he promoted via early social network MySpace and an instructional video he posted to YouTube—an innovative approach for the era.

Atlanta wasn’t the only hub of burgeoning musical styles. 2005 marked the explosion of a new crop of Houston artists who introduced their own drawl and lean-influenced sound. Mike Jones led the way in ’04 with “Still Tippin,’” followed closely by the grill-making MC Paul Wall, deep-voiced Slim Thug and Chamillionaire, whose “Ridin’” f/Krayzie Bone was a #1 giant. Down in Miami, Rick Ross began shaping his persona as a coke king of rap, dropping his debut album, Port of Miami, which featured the smash single “Hustlin’.” He’d build on that bigger-than-life image through the next decade and beyond, dropping 10 solo albums. Elsewhere in Florida, Tallahassee’s self-proclaimed “rappa-ternt-sanga” T-Pain made his mark around this time, crafting a vocal that leaned heavily on Auto-Tune (2005’s “I’m Sprung,”) and inspiring artists like Snoop Dogg, Kanye West and Lil Wayne to incorporate the pitch-bending tech in their own music.

Among some hip-hop traditionalists, these middle years of the decade became known as ringtone rap, a backhanded nod to the truncated versions of popular songs that would announce the phone owner’s excellent taste whenever a call came in. Ringtones were a rare bright spot in the music economy of the time, ravaged as it was by Napster and post-9/11 doldrums; they gained momentum in 2004, peaking in 2007 with $1.1 billion in sales, according to the RIAA.

Nas’ 2006 set, Hip-Hop Is Dead, was a firestarter statement that sparked an often-heated debate about the state of the artform. Folks like Ludacris, Big Boi and (especially) Young Jeezy felt the phrase was a dog-whistle diss aimed at Southern artists, despite Nas’ murky explanations. True, there was no love lost between Jeezy and Nas, though the two Def Jam labelmates collaborated on 2008’s “My President,” which celebrated Barack Obama securing the Democratic Party’s nomination and became a rallying cry for the first black president.

By the time Lil Wayne dropped his sixth studio album, 2008’s Tha Carter III, it was clear that he was head, shoulders and dreadlocks above his peers—making good on his Best Rapper Alive declaration from a few years earlier. The triple-platinum effort, which features the woozy “Lollipop” and the no-hook-all-bars session “A Milli,” represents the critical and commercial peak for Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., whose career spans more than two decades. The only thing that could slow Weezy’s roll was an eight-month jail sentence he served in 2010 (and years later, a record-release stalemate with his label, Cash Money), but by that point he had reserves who were well suited to keep his throne warm.

Read Future Shook in its entirety here. 

John Kennedy is a writer and editor who has spent the last 15 years covering music, Hollywood and men’s lifestyle for print and online media. He’s penned cover stories on Kendrick Lamar, Migos, Drake, J. Cole and Ed Sheeran, and has written for publications like Genius, Vulture, Complex, Billboard and XXL. Queens made him, but he calls Brooklyn home. John currently serves as Senior Editor at LEVEL, a Medium-backed publication for black and brown men focused on race, culture, identity, sex and how to become the best version of oneself. Find him on all socials at @youngJFK.


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