The nomadic global artform of hip hop has many faces and many places to call home, but in 2021, few are more prominent than Atlanta. The city has been the centre of the hip hop universe for two and a half decades, producing today’s biggest stars ranging from Migos to Future to Young Thug to Childish Gambino, following in the footsteps of T.I., Ludacris, and Young Jeezy. For as long as many can remember, the Billboard Charts have been peppered by prominent Atlanta artists, with some of the most forward thinking sounds and movements coming out of The A.
For the longest time, Atlanta was not a prominent hip hop city. Nowhere in the South was – in fact, the South really struggled to be taken seriously as a home for hip hop, and it was unfathomable to believe that it could ever go toe to toe with hip hop’s titans in New York and LA. The scene was often deemed as simple or unsubstantial despite the critical successes of Scarface and the Geto Boys or UGK.
Knowing Southern Rap’s history, there is something fitting about the misfit moniker of the tandem of Big Boi and Dré (later André 3000). The group emerged out of an unlikely Atlanta music scene, joining forces with the production outfit Organized Noize, who were making a name for themselves producing for TLC. Favouring live music and sticky funk licks, they provided the perfect soundscape for Big Boi’s urgent cadence and Dré’s syncopated flow. In late 1993, OutKast released their debut single “Player’s Ball” to unlikely success, and the duo didn’t look back as they put the finishing touches on their genre-defining debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
Southernplayalistic was unlike anything that hip hop had seen or heard, primarily due to its unapologetic Southernness. For the first time, listeners were transported to the streets of Atlanta through the eyes of two chroniclers, who had experienced more than their teenage birthday’s would propose. The album was chalk full of southern slang and twang, references to neighbourhoods across Atlanta’s metropolis, and featured distinguishably southern instrumentation. Yet the themes and topics were relatable to listeners despite their background, as the album tackled themes that all of us balance when coming of age: temptation, addiction, pleasure and mortality. For the first time, an album didn’t back away from being southern, but instead welcoming you in and “get[ting] served with some Southern hospitality”.
The most lasting moment this album provides is not found within the vinyl sleeve, but occurred months after Southernplayalistic’s release at the 1995 Source awards. After being welcomed on stage for winning the New Artist of the Year award, Big Boi and Dré were met by jeers and boos on the biggest stage of celebrating hip hop. Big Boi was able to get his thank you’s and shoutouts in, but when the boos intensified, Dré proclaimed the most immortal line in Southern hip hop history: "It's like this, the South got something to say”. The black sheep, the outcasts, were here to stay, and years later, the South continues to say it loud and proud.
Fried Chicken on Buttered Biscuits and Collard Greens
Nearly every culture has it’s take on fried chicken. The sticky, sweet, plucky fried chicken of Korea and Indonesia, to the balmy and herbal jerk chicken of Jamaica, to the crispy and punchy popcorn chicken of China and Taiwan. Yet, there is no more universally iconic and celebrated fried chicken dish than southern fried.
Fried chicken dates back to Ancient Egypt, where the art of frying food was born in around 2500 BC. This cuisine made its way across Africa, and like so many overlooked cornerstones of American culture was brought to the Southern United States through the slave trade. According to the Netflix series Ugly Delicious (S1 E6, “Fried Chicken”), one of the very few possessions that African slaves were allowed to own were yard chickens. These circumstances tied fried chicken to African American culture in the South, which has remained hundreds of years later.
Fried chicken requires cooking chicken submerged in a brine for moisture and flavour (buttermilk brine with salt and pepper is the most traditional), followed by a dipping in a starch coating (flour base with salt, pepper, and other seasonings like paprika and oregano), and cooking in hot oil until a golden-brown crisp forms around the whole piece.
Nothing pairs better with crispy chicken than a fluffy buttered biscuit. Southern cuisine became synonymous with Southern cooking as the soft winter wheat all-purpose flour only found in the warmer Southern regions of the United States. The word biscuit comes from the French words “bis” (twice) and “cuit” (cooked), denoting the baking process of putting the cooked flat cake back in the oven, similar to a biscotti, that early biscuits were created from. These hard cakes eventually became softer and airier as the wheat mill process evolved, and are now staples in Southern cuisine. Top with butter (or honey butter, used above), for the perfect fried chicken compliment.
No Southern meal would be complete without collard greens, which have been an essential on Southern tables for over a century. These big, bitter leafy greens are nutritious and inexpensive, often cooked alongside cured meats or wilted alongside onions and hot pepper.
This traditional Southern feast is capped off with a tart and bright treat, a lemon bourbon sweet tea, perfect for the heat of both Southern food and weather. Water is boiled and steeped with black tea (Earl Grey is preferred as the citrusy bergamot in the tea shines alongside fresh lemon), and combined with a simple syrup mixture containing sugar, ginger, and fresh lemon juice. Splash with bitters and either top off or drown in bourbon, depending on how boozy you like it.
This Southern experience is proud and unapologetic, never taking any shortcuts in displaying its heritage. Both the music and the food come from humble roots but have taken centre stage in their domains, both through the prominence of Atlanta hip hop (and hip hop as a whole) and the Southern staples acting as a focal point for global cuisine.
Despite their proud front, music and food, as well as African American culture as a whole in the South, have been ostracized and dismissed for years and years. Unfair labels of simplicity and unsophistication have characterized outsiders’ views of Southern culture, causing an uphill battle for legitimacy in the eyes of the conceited cultural centres like New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.
Instead of dumbing down to the stereotypes, OutKast brought the mainstream to the South, with two of hip hop’s most intellectual and forward thinking artists changed the game forever. Southern cuisine was borne out of making the most of unforgiving situations, and is now central in everything from street food to upper class cuisine. This experience is a story in staying true to one’s routes and changing the perception of entire groups of people, done through mastery in a domain and unrelenting pride towards the places that raised them.
The South's got something to say, alright.
Recipe based off Fried Chicken Biscuits With Hot Honey Butter (NYTimes Cooking)
Vinyl from VinylMePlease