While we give a lot of credit to Atlanta for originating the “trap” sound that we know and love, there’s another city that gets criminally overlooked in the industry as a musical powerhouse- Memphis, Tennessee.
While I’m a huge proponent of saying that Texas has influenced most sounds of today, 90’s and early 2000’s hip-hop in Memphis has had a large influence on both underground and mainstream hip-hop as well.
Memphis has always been a musical city- being the birthplace of Rock & Roll. On the darker side of the city, it has had one of the highest crime rates in America- because of this unfortunate statistic, it brought about a new sub-genre of hip-hop music: Memphis Horrorcore.
Emerging in the mid 90’s, the sound can be characterized by the stock atmosphere, and Lo-Fi production. Some of the artists that have gained national attention from this sound include Three Six Mafia, DJ Squeaky, and Al Capone. These artists help to create the prototype for today’s modern trap music.
Memphis rap originated from a DJ by the name of Spanish Fly. His sound was electric, and he dropped his own music in between mixes. His music was a catalyst for change in the entire rap landscape. The beats to come from this sound were often dark and menacing. DJ Squeaky helped to further develop the Memphis sound, and produced music with acts that included 8Ball & MJG, & Kingpin Skinny Pimp. Squeaky’s sound went on to influence Three Six Mafia, (who had close ties to Texas sound, UGK.) Three Six, was accused of stealing Squeaky’s sound, but in reality, they perfected it, and helped Memphis sound to reach a national audience.
Talking about Memphis rap wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Gangsta Pat’s album #1 Suspect; this happened to be the first major label release in the city. In the same year that the album dropped, 8 Ball & MJG released the underground album, Listen to the Lyrics and followed up with Comin’ Out Hard, which is a Memphis classic.
The unsettling, often menacing sound of Memphis hip-hop was created through recordings on 8 tracks and drum machines. Not to forget 808 cowbells, that also made the music mysterious and eerie. Sampling has always been a cheat code in hip-hop, but Memphis producers and artists went about sampling in an unorthodox way- Memphis producers would loop the sounds of horror movie soundtracks. Memphis producers use of the 808 drum machine was particularly unique- they used thick kick drums, snares that sounded like gunshots, and twittering high hats all helped to make their sound distinct. The drum machines at the time were extremely basic, and forced producers to experiment with the sound.
The sound the Migos currently utilizes, has been around for much longer than you can imagine. The triple flow used half-time beats, and has been done by artists like Yo Gotti. This flow has speed, and witty punchlines. The sound and flow of Memphis hip-hop caused a beef between Three Six Mafia & Bone Thugs-N-Harmony because both used the same flow and style and claimed originality. If you listen to both groups, you can hear the parallel between the two. The themes of early Memphis rap are similar to what you hear in Bone Thugs music: murder, crime, and occult. The music offers a mysterious and dreamy sound that allows listeners to get lost in the music.
Hip-hop culture today has remained consistent with the use of this sound. While the genre remained mostly underground in its prime, it’s still prominent. It’s hard not to notice the connections between the internet music genres and hip-hop. Trillwave, is heavily influenced by Memphis rap. Artists from SpaceGhostPurp’s Raider Clan helped to lay the foundation for the cloud rap scene.
The flow and cadence has stood through the tests of time because it’s currently the sound that’s used in modern rap now. Migos has bit onto the sound, Lil Uzi Vert, and many more have used the flow. Probably one of the most notable albums of the decade, is Lil Ugly Mane’s Mista Thug Isolation. The rap scene has been heavily influenced by Memphis Horrorcore- Chicago Drill, what we know as “Mumble Rap,” and mainstream trap music. When you think about Atlanta, producers like Lex Luger loosely used Memphis sound, and made it more energetic.