In the early 90’s, an overwhelming majority of rappers, music executives, and music labels looked at rappers from the [American] South as less than. The South’s brand of Hip-Hop wasn’t Los Angeles’ Gangsta Rap, and certainly wasn’t New York’s rap purist, gritty, Boom-Bap. Above all else, rap from the American South wasn’t seen as authentic or legitimate. 20 years later, it’s hard to imagine a world – a music industry – in which Southern Hip-Hop isn’t at the center. This relationship between sound and place is instrumental to how we feel music. New Orleans’ Bounce Music evokes an emotion Southern California’s Gangsta Rap does not emote. Similarly, Atlanta and Memphis’ Trap and Crunk Music shape the identity of place in specific ways that you can feel. Musicians like 8Ball & MJG, OutKast, UGK, Cash Money, The Dungeon Family, and countless others were initially mocked for their distinctive approach to the form.
In the years since the early 90’s, each subgenre of Southern Hip-Hop has introduced unique sonic elements that have been appropriated by others, making what has largely become mainstream rap. 20 years later we can see how Southern rap has evolved and sprouted as many branches as there are roots planted across the south; some of which are Mississippi-native rapper, Big. K.R.I.T., Atlanta-native rapper CyHi The Prynce, and South Carolina-native, rapper-producer, Childish Major.
After individually releasing projects in 2017, Big K.R.I.T., CyHi The Prynce, and Childish Major joined forces and set out the Heavy Is The Crown Tour, and on March 19th, they brought their tour to Philadelphia’s Union Transfer. Following the release of his debut EP Woo$Ah in 2017, Childish Major spent the latter part of the year touring with J.Cole. Continuing his hot streak, Childish Major opened the night for CyHi The Prynce and Big K.R.I.T. Known for strong melodies and soulful samples, Childish Major’s music tip-toes the line between Hip-Hop and R&B. Assisted by his tour DJ, Groove, Childish Major brought high energy and set the stage for what was to come.
CyHi The Prynce
Following Childish Major and a brief intermission, CyHi The Prynce took the stage. For the majority of his career, CyHi The Prynce has been known as an underground rapper, praised for his mixtape series – Ivy League and Black Hystori Project, which ultimately got the attention of Kanye West, landing him with G.O.O.D. Music. But, in 2017, CyHi put the mixtapes to the side and embarked on his first, and most [commercially] ambitious full-length project to date – No Dope on Sundays. Growing up in the Baptist church, CyHi The Prince’s music often eludes, and makes reference to, church and religious ideologies. When CyHi took the stage he immediately commanded the audience with his strong, yet raspy voice, rapping for bars at a time without stopping. As a rapper from Atlanta, CyHi can be viewed as somewhat of an anomaly – he doesn’t fit the typical mold of many of his peers, he’s far from the mumble-rap camp, and musically, he comes from a different tradition. But, by CyHi being closer to the underground world than to the mainstream, CyHi isn’t oblivious to his position in the music industry. This was most evident when CyHi said “I’m from the A, we rap, I don’t know about that other shit” challenging the stigma that rappers from Atlanta can’t, or don't rap.
With only a large screen projecting videos and a recording of Big K.R.I.T.’s voice playing, the dark concert hall was filled with audience members holding their cellphones up in anticipation for Big K.R.I.T. to take the stage. As the beat dropped, Big K.R.I.T. came running on stage performing the opening track from 4 Eva Is A Mighty Long Time. Dressed in a black hoody, and sunglasses, K.R.I.T. kept the energy high, performing songs like Big Bank, which features T.I., Subsenstein, and Ride Wit Me, which features Bun B and Pimp C. Growing up in Mississippi, most of K.R.I.T.’s musical influences are easily recognizable. K.R.I.T. has incorporated everyone from UGK to Three 6 Mafia in his flow, production, and beat selection. But, as can be seen and heard in his album 4 Eva, that’s only one side of Big K.R.I.T. After stepping off stage to change, K.R.I.T. came back on stage – this time with no sunglasses and a baseball jersey with the number “86” on it, the year of his birth. The change in attire signaled not only a change of clothes but it was also a look into Justin Scott – Big K.R.I.T.’s birth name -- the person off stage, when no one is around. K.R.I.T. opened the second half of his set with Aux Cord a melodic, synthesizer driven song that doubles as an ode to R&B, Blues, and Funk. In a transparent manner K.R.I.T. also talked about the burden of fame, record label disputes, and music industry politics, thanking fans for accepting him and his music. Closing out the night, K.R.I.T. performed Confetti (and actual confetti fell from the ceiling), and Keep The Devil Off, an organ dominant song that’s both an ode to the black church that he was raised in in Mississippi and a message of hope and perseverance.