This particular list gives homage to the hottest section of the country over the past fifteen or so years: the South. While many blame the South for the downward spiral of Hip Hop right now, let’s not forget that this sector was, and still somewhat is, responsible for some outstanding music and ground-breaking albums just as much as the East or West.
Had it not been for the South, there would no icons like Scarface, The Geto Boys, Eightball & MJG, UGK, Outkast, or Uncle Luke. There would be no game changers like Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Ludacris, or Z-Ro. These acts shattered the notion that “country” cats can’t rhyme. Don’t let what’s going on the radio nowadays shun you away. Outkast boldly said, in front of a heavily defiant New York crowd during The Source Awards, that “The South got something to say”, and over the years, they ended up taking over.
This is a look at fifteen of the most impactful and influential albums the South has ever released to our ears. Ready??? Set??? Let’s go!!!
15. Bun B - Trill (2005)
All props due to one of the true godfathers of southern Hip Hop. Bernard Freeman, otherwise known as Bun B, released this album just after his late partner-in-rhyme, Pimp C, was incarcerated. Although disheartened, this only served to make his album that much more potent, and with the Pimp in his mind and heart, he dropped one of the grittiest southern Hip Hop albums in years with his debut. From track to track, Bun and friends bring that trademarked Houston (by way of Port Arthur) sound and proved Bun was quite legit on his own.
14. Goodie Mob - Still Standing (1998)
How do you follow-up a sure-fire classic like their debut, Soul Food? You deliver Still Standing, a fifteen track musical endeavor which many have called Soul Food Pt. 2.
While their debut was more down home, with soul, heart, God-sprinkled flavor, this was more social commentary and spiritual, more so than Soul Food. With the exception of a rock-infused cut on there (“Just About Over”), there are so many similarities that this deserves as much acclaim as their wonderful debut.
13. Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level (1989)
With this sophomore effort from the Geto Boys, they went extra miles to ensure shock and hardcore gangsta themes into their music. Considered one of the single hardest releases ever heard on wax, this album marked the debuts of MC Akshun, whom later became the icon we know as Scarface, and the notorious “Gangster of love” Willie D, and officially placed them as a very formidable group within the business.
12. T.I. - Trap Muzik (2003)
Fresh off the disappointing sales of his debut, I’m Serious, Clifford Harris wanted to make another stance at bringing his own form of hood hop to the masses. Clearly very talented, he knew he needed a major label to help support him, so he took his Grand Hustle imprint to Arista, and it helped heads to get more of T.I., and we definitely appreciated it.
This album showed that he had what it took to be a star with highly infectious singles and an album that is honest with drug tales and the struggles of hood living (very cliche I know, but it least sounded good). We knew this was his takeoff album, it did just that – took off.
11. Young Jeezy - Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
While ‘trap rap’ was established by the likes of T.I., Yo Gotti, and Gucci Mane, a guy that really brought it to commercial levels was ATLien Young Jeezy.
His Def Jam debut, Let Get It: Thug Motivation 101, was trapping at its finest. Considered as one of the best coke albums in years, this album made Jeezy get into everyone’s car speakers from all directions of the nation. From top to bottom, this was a turning page in the life of “the Snowman”. This is an album that still stands head and shoulders above anything he’s done since.
11. Scarface - The Untouchable (1997)
This album from Brad Jordan officially put him into the platinum spotlight, primarily because of his major crossover hit with a posthumous 2Pac appearance, “Smile”.
This was a very formidable follow-up to his all-time magnum opus The Diary, and while there was a lot of pressure to deliver, he did just that and then some. Every bit as dark, murky, and reflective as The Diary, The Untouchable furthered his status as one of the greats in the game.
10. Eightball & MJG - On Top Of The World (1995)
Memphis legends Eightball & MJG are considered as influential in the early South as the Geto Boys and UGK, and rightfully so. While we had gotten exposure of the talent in Houston, and Florida at that time with 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke, we took an equally ominous walk through Memphis with these hustlas. This album became a darling to them and the South as we saw their talent as a duo breakout with an album that became a strong statement to their building star power.
9. Outkast - ATLiens (1996)
This spaced-out, yet painfully soulful, album touches areas such as the uplifting of the Black woman (“Jazzy Belle”), the euphoria of gaining more self and worldly knowledge (“13th Floor/Growing Old”), and even extra-terrestrial space travel through Hip Hop.
This is truly a unique and exceptional, album that officially made Dre and Big Boi stars, as they went double platinum with this release. Many consider this album even better than their debut, and there’s a decent argument with that one.
8. Juvenile - 400 Degreez (1998)
This was the album that marked the mainstream spotlight of Cash Money Records.
Naw’lins own Juvi presented an album full of anthems, but none more so than the booty-glorified, “Back That Azz Up” that remains an all-time club classic. This also introduced us to the Big Tymers and the Hot Boy$, which included a very young yet verbally nice Lil’ Wayne.
A turning point to the sound of contemporary southern Hip Hop, Juvenile became a smash, as he sold over four million units and officially taking over the New Orleans sound previously owned by No Limit.
7. Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped (1991)
After following the gold success of their previous album, Grip It! On That Other Level, they come back with the biggest album of their careers, We Can’t Be Stopped.
This album was even more violent, vicious, and macabre, only this time they also injected some crass and misogynistic humor in the mix as well. The album is more widely known for two specific things: the controversial album cover (which has a real photo of Bushwick getting stretchered in the hospital after his eye got shot) and the chilling, yet brilliant cut about paranoia, their seminal “Mind’s Playing Tricks On Me“.
This platinum effort marked their rise to stardom and they cemented their stance as the N.W.A. of the south.
6. Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
This follow-up to ATLiens in a word: MASTERPIECE.
This album is among the greatest Hip Hop albums ever recorded and wonderfully displayed the chemistry Dre and Big Boi contain within them as a duo. Artistically, creatively, and musically, this album went far and beyond anything that was out during this time, incorporating live instrumentation, elements of funk, soul, gospel, and world music, and an overall eclectic mix of styles and sounds, making this one an album ahead of its time.
While Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was more funk, and ATLiens was more spacey soul, this album was filled with incredible lush arrangements and lyrical poignancy the likes of which they haven’t repeated since. With the prior two albums, they arrived commercially, but with this one, they arrived artistically.
This album served as a predecessor to albums like Kendrick’s modern masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, and may very well be the greatest Outkast album of all-time.
5. Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)
We got pleasantly introduced to this four-man crew on Outkast‘s debut album and the anticipation for an album grew quickly. What followed was the apocalyptic and cautionary “Cell Therapy”, to serve as a warning shot to what would become one of the most influential albums not just in southern Hip Hop but all of Hip Hop.
Their debut, Soul Food, continued what Southernplayalistcadillacmuzik established and put more raw, poignant, heartfelt lyricism on top of very soulful production from Organized Noize. Considered a classic by many, Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Khujo, and Big Gipp became ambassadors for the “soulful South” and presented of work of honest art and one that still gets highly rotated and discussed in acclaim twenty years after its release.
4. Scarface - Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)
After bringing his trademark brand of macabre, raw, and halfway insane lyrics with the Geto Boys for two albums (Grip It! On That Other Level and We Can’t Be Stopped), he stepped out on his own to present his debut, and it’s littered with tales of grisly violence, drugs, misogyny, depression, and suicide.
This debut is considered a milestone in southern Hip Hop, as we saw Scarface as a dark, bipolar Dr. Seuss, only with no green eggs and ham. There’s no filter here folks. This is brutality as its finest, but this also saw the emergence of a future icon on this auspicious debut.
3. Outkast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
This was a game changer for the south. This album marked an entire new era for Hip Hop as we saw the emergence of Andre and Big Boi, two late teens who had talent all over their bodies. Their blend of funk and soul was enough to garner the attention of an intrigued nationwide Hip Hop audience and was enough to help them win Best New Artist at The Source Awards, despite a very bitter New York crowd.
Outkast became the Hip Hop voices of Atlanta and ushered in the dawn of a new day in Hip Hop with this very release. One that saw a third coast if you will. It was no longer East vs. West. The South had finally found a legit, commercial voice that worked and worked profoundly. Although this album centered on getting high, partying, and hanging with the homies, they also found time to tell you to “Get up, get out and do something/don’t let the days of your life pass by” on the knocking “Git Up, Git Out”.
Outkast’s debut will forever be cemented in history as the album that put them on the map and created the “Dirty South” sound and feeling.
2. UGK - Ridin' Dirty (1996)
OMG!!! This third effort by Port Arthur, Texas’ favorite sons, UGK, is nothing short of a game changer.
While their first two albums of Too Hard To Swallow and Super Tight were funky and explicit introductions to Bun B and the late Pimp C, it was this album that provided a bluesy, soulful, and raw look in the streets of P.A. and nearby Houston in ways we hadn’t heard since the Geto Boys’ We Can’t Be Stopped. Without question, this album served as their magnum opus, and served as inspiration to not just southern acts like Outkast and Goodie Mob, but to even the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube.
While not a contender for the most artistic album ever, this album makes up for it with some of the best production to ever emerge from the south, or anywhere for that matter. Plus the honest and vivid lyrics from these two made them indeed kings of the underground. No album from them has come close to the stellar work this was, but there’s no shame in that. Subsequent albums like Dirty Money and Underground Kingz were both very dope releases that continued to expand the legacy of UGK. However, it was this album that made them share the title of kings of the south with Outkast.
Here’s to one of Hip Hop’s all-time best duos, regardless what section you rep. This was the album that put them in that category. Did I mention that this album was nearly platinum with no radio or commercial single?
1. Scarface - The Diary (1994)
What can you say about the icon Scarface? Besides being one of Hip Hop’s greatest storytellers, he’s also among the rawest and most honest. After breaking away from the Geto Boys, he dropped incredible material after incredible material. However, it was this haunting epic of an album that marked a new plateau for this man.
With his prior albums of Mr. Scarface Is Back and his sophomore effort, The World Is Yours, he begins to balance his macabre storytelling and dark humor with spirituality and the conflicting duality of instinct versus consciousness. This is Scarface at his unparalleled, untouched apex, and we saw the dawn of his influence as most revered emcee to ever come from the South, and more importantly, one of the entire game’s most respected emcees.
Although he will never humbly take the title of “king of the South”, this album is the album that deserves that claim. Noticeably nihilistic at times, there’s a method to his madness when it’s carefully explored. Scarface delivered the South’s brightest gem of grit and rawness, and should be considered the greatest album to ever emerge from below the Mason-Dixon line.
UGK – Underground Kingz Their final album serves as a reminder to their older fans of their legacy and to introduce new fans as to why they are the kings!
Scarface – The Fix A more grown-up lyrically and content-wise Mr. Jordan gave us a blueprint in looking into your soul for redemption and trying to balance the streets with the human consciousness
Ludacris – Back For The First Time We get introduced to Chris Bridges’ zany yet highly lyrical stylings over trunk-rattling, above average production. The south would never be the same.
Bun B – Trill O.G. Mr. Freeman’s most complete album to date, and his first post the death of his partner-in-rhyme Pimp C. Made for incredible results, including his beasting a cut produced by fellow Texas native DJ Premier.
2 Live Crew – As Nasty As They Wanna Be They can still turn the party out with any booty bass cut on their infamous yet trail-blazing album
Cunninlynguists – A Piece Of Strange Criminally slept-on group from ATL by way of Kentucky, these three cats presented an album filled with creative storytelling and personal content
Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica This Jackson, Mississippi native brought back the soulful sound of the South with his major label debut, Live From The Underground, but was more expansive lyrically and musically with this tremendous album
Devin- The Dude Houston’s residential rapping/singing stoner gave us quite the amusing debut solo album and became a flag bearer for Rap-A-Lot
Lil’ Wayne – The Carter III This album firmly established DeWayne Carter as one of the most checked for emcees in the game, selling a million units in a week.
Three 6 Mafia – Chapter 2: World Domination The breakout album from Three 6 Mafia made a mainstream buzz with this album, filled with dark, hypnotic beats and content that makes one ready for war.
Mystikal- Unpredictable The former No Limit soldier’s breakout album gave him an entire new audience and made him an official general of the south.
T.I.- Paper Trail Tip Harris’ crossover album gave him even more fans and a Grammy nod.
Outkast- Speakerboxx/The Love Below One of the biggest Hip Hop albums in history, this became the final album of Hip Hop’s most prolific duo.
Hot Boy$- Guerilla Warfare This wasn’t your typical bling, shiny Lambo-esque album from them. Sure it was in there, but this was also just as much a raw look in the bloody streets of the Magnolia
Nappy Roots – Watermelon, Chicken, & Grits One of the more feel-good albums to come out the South, these Kentucky boys surprised everybody with their dose of down home soulful Hip Hop.
Youngbloodz – Against The Grain Sean Paul and J-Bo delivered an album that put them on the map and truthfully had groups like Outkast and Goodie Mob playing very close attention to these boys. Widely considered one of the most underappreciated albums out the A.
UGK – Too Hard To Swallow Our first introduction to UGK, and with the southern classic, “Pocket Full Of Stones”, and the ever-soulful “Something Good”, this was the beginning of legendary things to come.
Outkast – Stankonia Unquestionably a legendary album, Dre and Big Boi further solidified their status as the greatest Hip Hop duo of all-time with this classic.
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music The beginning of the game’s most in-your-face duo, Run The Jewels, began with this outstanding release. The game still hasn’t recovered from this one.
Boosie Badazz – Touch Down 2 Raise Hell Brutally honest and vivid, Boosie has had it rougher than most rappers these days with prison and his cancer scare, but through it all persevered, and this album showed he’s not afraid to be transparent.
Master P – Ghetto D No Limit’s crowning commercial jewel. While the No Limit sound was very formulaic, it had the whole nation under its spell. This album from Percy Miller officially made everyone stand up and take notice if they already didn’t before.
Crooked Lettaz – Grey Skies Before David Banner became the star he is today, he was part of a duo with then partner Kamakazi to present a highly slept-on album that balanced ghetto gospel with street redemption.
Trick Daddy – Book Of Thugs: Chapter AK, Verse 47 Before Rick Ross ruled Miami, there was this guy, and with this album, he established his stardom with a very gutter, yet accessible, album.
Paul Wall – The People’s Champ This Houston native dropped an album so draped in the influence of the late DJ Screw, one would think he would be more than proud of this very dope release
Outkast – Idlewild The soundtrack to the movie was very musically rich and fit with the sounds of old 50s juke joint bars, and the results were outstanding.
As you can see, there are a lot of highly influential and important albums to surface from this acclaimed region of the country. The South did indeed have something to say, and is still doing so.
Don’t be misguided by lazy, talentless music that has been forced into your subconscious, there’s room to have more impactful, genre-bending talent to further staple the South as not only the most dominant, but also as the most musically rich and soulful.