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||His three mix cd compilations of Dirty South rap, 'Da Hood,' 'Da Bad,' and 'Da Thugly,' are underground sensations. Joey Massarueh tells index what compels him to search the record bins looking for the best talent from Houston to Atlanta to New York. Ariana and Joey met up for breakfast at the Lower East Side Swedish joint "Good World".
ARIANA: You're the self-described king of the Dirty South. How did you get into southern rap?
JOEY: All my favorite rappers from New York Biggie, Big L, Big Pun died around the same time. I sort of ran out of people to listen to. Then I started to notice what was happening down South.
ARIANA: Where are you from originally?
JOEY: I'm actually from the South. I was born in Florida. I've lived in Tennessee and Georgia. In 1996, I went to Arkansas to visit my mom and spent time hanging out with a lot of kids there. I was listening to Wu-Tang and Beatnuts, but they were all about Master P. and No Limit. I realized they didn't give a shit about what was going on in New York. They were like, ‹You 'bout it 'bout it?þ I was like, ‹What the hell are you talking about?þ After spending time in Arkansas, Dirty South music made more sense to me. I got over my East Coast hip-hop snobbery.
ARIANA: Southern rap has a distinct feel the music is faster and jumpier, and of course there's the slang.
JOEY: Yeah. The beats are choppier, more off time. There's more bass and boom. In the South, driving around is a major activity, because there's really not much else to do. So the music is made with a booming bass, for a car instead of a Walkman. But it's not just about beats and booty anthems. There are a lot of great lyricists there.
ARIANA: Jay-Z embodies New York hip-hop with his clever rhymes and aggressive delivery. But every album has the same theme I'm rich and living large.þ
JOEY: In southern rap, artists aren't afraid to talk about struggling, they're not afraid to talk about being poor. The Field Mob, from Georgia, had a classic song a few years ago, with the chorus, ‹If you ever been broke, put your hands up. Even though there is a lot of blingin' and flossin' in southern music, there's attention paid to the struggle, because kids aren't just running from the cops, they're running from the Klan too. You can't get over if you just talk about your diamonds.
ARIANA: Some southern rap actually has a reportorial feeling. I'm thinking of a song by Three 6 Mafia from your first compilation, The Crunk Before the Fall. It's about parents fighting over child support payments.
JOEY: Yeah, that song's called "Baby Mama". The guy disses the girl, and then the girl disses the guy. But when it's over you're like, Damn, that sucks. The whole point of rap is that you can spread ideas through your lyrics. I think that if Malcolm X, Huey Newton, or Martin Luther King were blowing up today, they would have to be rappers for anybody to listen to them.
ARIANA: In the Dirty South, each region has its own distinct sound.
JOEY: Right. New Orleans has that bounce sound. Houston originated the screwed sound everything is basically slowed down to half-time. Atlanta is very diverse, while in Memphis they're into a Halloween kind of sound, real scary and creepy. Initially, the Miami sound was bass-heavy. It was all associated with 2 Live Crew, but it's more diverse now. Even Jackson, Mississippi, and Charlotte, North Carolina, have their own scenes. And of course, Timbaland and The Neptunes represent Virginia Beach.
ARIANA: How do you find out about all this stuff?
JOEY: The best place to find new southern rap in New York is in the sale bins at record stores. Most of the time they're just marked down and thrown away. I also get information from a great magazine called Murder Dog, which is produced on the West Coast. Since southern rap is so regional, a DJ in Texas is not going to play music from Atlanta or Memphis. In New York, I can actually see what's going on everywhere. If something is happening in the South, even in a small town, somehow I find out about it.
ARIANA: What have you found recently that's blown you away?
JOEY: Pastor Troy is my favorite artist today. He has this whole fire and brimstone persona, and he wears a wrestling belt. He has this strange way of mixing ideas of righteousness and violence together all his songs are about God and guns. He reminds me of Sam Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.
ARIANA: Where's he from?
JOEY: Atlanta. The Atlanta stuff is my favorite. Two-thirds of the songs on my last CD mix, Da Thugly, are by Atlanta artists. That stuff is really aggressive.
ARIANA: A lot of the songs on that mix by people like Youngbloodz, The Calhouns, and 54th Platoon sound like anthems to hardness.
JOEY: Yeah, they're almost doing black heavy metal, or thrash metal. But that unbridled energy is hard to ignore.
ARIANA: There's a real gang feeling to it, because the vocals are often a group of guys yelling. Do you think it's revolutionary in some way?
JOEY: The energy is there, but there isn't any mobilization towards revolution. But I think the seeds are in place. There's a lot to be said for expressing frustration and anger. When I went to see my family in Arkansas, they told me the day they moved in a guy drove up in his truck to greet them. He was a Klan member, asking my stepfather to join.
ARIANA: That's insane.
JOEY: Yeah, but it's not that unusual. I can see where the frustration comes from.
ARIANA: You seem to exist seamlessly in several different worlds.
JOEY: I'm half-Palestinian and grew up moving around a lot. I didn't have any Palestinian friends so I never felt there was one particular ethnic group with which I could identify. It makes it easier to relate to different kinds of people.
ARIANA: How do you put your mixes together? Do you pay for the rights to use the songs?
JOEY: Nah. There was a time when the record industry wanted to make DJs pay for usage on mix CDs. But the truth is, it's great promotion for artists. As long as you identify a mix CD as a promotional item, it's fine. Music executives have so much to worry about with the war on piracy and file trading, mix CDs aren't a big concern more like a tiny blip on their screens.
ARIANA: How do you get the CDs out to people?
JOEY: Word of mouth is important. I give them to friends. There are also a lot of stores, especially in New York, that just sell mix CDs. There's a good one right on Houston Street called Burkina.
ARIANA: Southern rap isn't as sample-oriented as mainstream hip-hop. The songs aren't dependent on previous songs for content and hooks. That's kind of refreshing.
JOEY: Yeah, it's more keyboard-based. But you hear people around here say, What's up with all those stupid keyboard beats? People in New York think everything about hip-hop begins and ends in this city. I remember, at the very first Source awards in New York, OutKast, who are from Atlanta, won group of the year, and they actually got booed.
ARIANA: And OutKast are the godfathers of the phenomenon.
JOEY: Those guys can never be given enough credit for promoting southern rap. When time judges the music coming out of this era, OutKast will be considered our Parliament or Funkadelic. They've put out five or six classic albums that you can listen to from top to bottom. There's a lot of work going on in their music, and you can feel it and hear it. That's why I feel optimistic about the southern rap scene the most influential artists are also innovative and interesting.
ARIANA: It's hard to believe that the northeast hip-hop community is still so myopic.
JOEY: Part of the problem is that radio and music videos only promote one perspective. If you just watched MTV, you would think that the same six or seven clowns rule hip-hop.
ARIANA: There are a few southern acts and producers, like Timbaland, who have broken into the mainstream.
JOEY: Timbaland is from Virginia Beach, which is officially the South, but I wouldn't really consider it the Dirty South. There isn't that real country feel there. And it's true that some songs that are popular nationally now have a kind of southern sound. Timbaland co-produced Jay-Z's song, Big Pimpin, with a Houston group, The Underground Kings. It's one of Jay-Z's biggest hits, but it's a southern kind of song.
ARIANA: Even though they don't get much mainstream exposure, a lot of Dirty South artists seem to do really well selling their music regionally.
JOEY: Artists on independent labels make tons of money just selling their music out of car trunks. They make seven or eight dollars per CD, while on a major label they might only make sixty cents per CD. It's usually a 50/50 split between the artist and the label.
ARIANA: At the same time, a group like OutKast seems to be thriving on a major label.
JOEY: Oh yeah, but that's the exception, not the rule. For every OutKast, there are ten little OutKasts who haven't made it. I lived in D.C. in the post-Nirvana period and I was involved with the punk rock scene there. A lot of those bands, like Jawbox and Shudder to Think, got chewed up and spit out by the major labels. They all broke up after their major label releases failed their core audience had long since dismissed them.
ARIANA: Can you see another southern group having the success OutKast has?
JOEY: It's hard to keep it real and be on a major. But there are exceptions. There was a big bidding war for Lil' Flip from Houston. He was selling three hundred thousand records, not just in Houston, but all over the country. He ended up getting millions up front. The label that signed him, Loud, knows that with a little promotion they can make him blow up.