A nice primer on 90s Memphis rap from Reddit


bandz ahoy

(List under the link)

The last few years have seen a noticeable increase of interest in the 90s Memphis Underground by everyone from hypebeasts to music journalists to internet kids to metal nerds to old heads, in addition to a heavy influence on the internet-centric cloud rap scene. In the 90s and 2000s, however, it was obscure and almost unknown outside of Memphis and European hip-hop nerds. They had a unique problem of making music that's arguably 20 years ahead of it's time on equipment probably 10 years behind. As the music industry shifted to CD's, the underground scene in Memphis was distributed almost exclusively in cassette tapes for most of the decade. This coupled with an extremely niche and foreign sound to the rest of the country meant a lot of really talented and creative artists never were able to take off.

Luckily for the past 5 years or so there has been renewed interest in this very fruitful creative period due in part to a "revival" scene and the magic of the internet. Artists like Rvdxr Klvn, Tommy Kruse, DJ Smokey, Bones, Xavier Wulf, LIl Ugly Mane, $UICIDEBOY$ and even A$AP Rocky (largely due to SGP's influence) have drawn heavily from the 90s Memphis sound and aesthetic. In fact if you break down much of modern Southern hip-hop and cloud rap there are some serious overt similarities to music made in Memphis 20 years ago. As early as 1990, Memphis’ sound was distinguished by hi-hat and 808-driven beats which showcased MC’s like Lord Infamous, Skinny Pimp, Tom Skeemask, Princess Loko, and a prepubescent Yo Gotti (as Lil Yo) using double time and triplet (“Migos”) flows. Instead of the polished, digital crispness of modern trap, producers in Memphis were mostly working with a very lo-fi sound and using a lot of samples. The sound and subject matter is often very dark and haunting, with menacing vocal samples, organs, violins, Eastern and Arabic zitars, harpischords, and keyboards being used to add an appropriately dark soundtrack to the bleak post-industrial economic reality of Memphis in this time period. Memphis rappers weren’t just rapping about banging, pimpin’ and murder, they added a horrorcore and even Satanic element to their subject matter which sometimes felt more than just performance. Though it is now largely associated with it’s darkest and grimiest lo-fi sound fetishized by internet kids from 4chan to Soundcloud, it also had some more conventional gangsta rappers and producers that fell within the Memphis sound like Eightball And MJG, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, Shawty Pimp, Indo G & Lil Blunt, and Tela.

The sound (and arguably much of modern Southern hip-hop’s sound) has largely been credited to being initially developed by DJ Spanish Fly, although history of the scene is not thoroughly publicly documented. By the late 80s he had really crystallized Memphis’ signature production techniques. Clubs where he had worked since he was 16 weren’t interested in his more explicit mixes which centered largely around banging, armed robbery, and pimping, so he released tapes of them independently. Other local producers/ DJs such as Dj Zirk, DJ Sound, DJ Squeeky, Tommy Wright, DJ Paul, Juicy J, Shawty Pimp, and 8Ball & MJG started building off his formula and by 92 the sound was solidified

It was a very DJ-driven scene, in part because a lot of DJs had home studios where many of the tapes were recorded, and also in part because the scene was mostly interested in atmosphere, mood,and aesthetic. For this reason I'm gonna suggest a lot of DJ tapes when possible. Most of a DJ collaborators' best songs ended up on tapes as well. Rappers were of course vitally important in the creative process, but in some ways vocals were more used as an instrument than the main focus of songs. Because of this, rappers were trying out tricky flows that would sometimes change up in unexpected areas (not just double time or triplet, listen close and sometimes you'll hear quick change ups between bars and just at odd times), and messing around with singsong deliveries that, while not as obvious as many rappers working in a post-Lil Wayne world, were still dramatically different from the more straight up/ monotone style preferred by most of the industry's most popular rappers in that time period.

Here are albums that I’ve listened to and I think are a good representation of this time, and most key contributors. European collectors grabbed everything they could get their hands on and uploaded really obscure homie/ neighborhood tapes, so there is a huge amount to choose from, and a lack of mainstream coverage or discussion means there is no real consensus on what is and what is not essential. Because of this, I listed the 10 or so most popular tapes and 15 tapes that I’m partial to that are a fair sample Memphis Underground’s various sounds. It's in no ways a complete guide to every tape, there are literally thousands. Feel free to correct anything or suggest more essential tapes I might have missed.


Darned cockwombles.
Ah no, this post has disappeared from Reddit, just when I was in the mood to check out some 90s Memphis stuff...will never know what this guy's canon is.

Enjoying digging in the youtube crates, nonetheless