Dirty South examines impact of Southern Rap

Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop

By Ben Westhoff

Chicago Review Press

$14.95 (trade paper), 272 pages

In scores of interviews with key players — some requiring classic shoe-leather man-hunting — Westhoff pins the genre’s roots to 2 Live Crew, profiles the renegade boom-bust fortunes of No Limit Records, details the tragic grip of “lean” (recreational cough syrup), and talks to Big Boi about Andre 3000’s ever-growing disenchantment with Outkast. Westhoff is even-handed, extolling the storytelling talents of Houston’s legendary Scarface while admitting that Lil Wayne’s ego is as colossal as it is absurd. Via input from Andre 3000, he portrays crunk as a hip-hop response to punk music, where artistic mastery is not as important as catharsis. Golden trivia abounds in Dirty South, as when Lil Romeo discusses his potato chip product line.

Westhoff wisely avoids legitimizing southern hip-hop by simply citing sales figures. Instead, he brings the relevance of the genre to bear by chronicling through a humane, sympathetic lens what the South has in common with the East/West Coast scenes, including the ever-limiting drugs, crime, prison, hedonism, cred, race relations, ego, and self-destruction. Westhoff’s insights remind us how all critically reviled, commercially successful music — like fusion jazz, hair metal, and now Southern hip-hop — need their defenders.