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Hip Hop Fridays: New York, The Birthplace Of Hip-Hop, Has Never Been So Irrelevant by Crayton Harrison

The whole world loves hip-hop. Well, maybe that's a stretch. But the genre has replicated around the globe like a virus, implanting its beats and rhymes in the minds of young people from Nigeria to Japan to France.

Hip-hop is a democratic art form. With some simple recording equipment, or even just a computer, any kid in the world can make a hip-hop song. And kids all over the world are doing just that.

This year, a Brazilian style known as "favela funk" began to reach our shores on compilation CDs, and it sounds suspiciously like the Miami hip-hop known as "booty bass." Reggaeton, the hybrid of hip-hop, Caribbean and Latin music, has taken off, and the U.K. grime scene, bubbling under the surface for years, is about to unleash an army of rappers onto our shores. The U.S. has brought hip-hop to the world, and in 2005, the world began bringing it back.

New York, the birthplace of hip-hop, has never been so irrelevant.

The genre now belongs to the South, with rappers from the large, diverse scenes in Atlanta and Houston dominating the charts. This was Houston's big year, with blockbuster albums by Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire.

Sure, New York's 50 Cent still reliably produces mega-hits. And the Big Apple has plenty of talent, such as Cam'ron's Diplomats crew. But the city just seems to be devoid of fresh ideas.

The East Coast's concert of the year in 2005, an October show in New Jersey in which former rivals Jay-Z and Nas made peace, "felt like a celebration of an earlier era," music critic Kelefa Sanneh wrote in The New York Times. "Now that Southern rappers have so much momentum, hip-hop's ultimate big city is looking more like a small town."

The South is experiencing an artistic renaissance. In the last two years, Atlanta rappers and producers have popularized a dance music called crunk with bleeping synthesizers, buoyant bass and loud call-and-response chants.

This year, Southern rappers started whispering, apparently just to try something new. Atlanta's Ying Yang Twins and Mississippi's David Banner both had huge hits with bawdy raps performed in hisses and coos.

The trademark sound of Houston exploded in popularity in 2005. Its hip-hop beats are slow and lazy, loping along like a strut. It sounds downright eccentric next to 50 Cent's sharply produced dance hits. Houston rappers don't hide their Southern drawls, letting their vowels stretch out into several syllables.

Rap fans were obviously looking for something different this year. Mike Jones' "Who Is Mike Jones?" debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts in April. Paul Wall's "People's Champ" shot straight to No. 1 five months later, displacing Kanye West from the top spot.

New York has been challenged before. West Coast gangsta rap was the hottest thing going in the early '90s, but only one California rapper, the Game, dented the charts this year. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg still make hits, but they no longer pretend to represent a particular region.

But even if the scenes in Houston and Atlanta lose favor with the CD-buying public, there's no guarantee that New York would go back on top by default.

Hip-hop's influence has spread, spawning artistic communities around the globe. The next big sound could come from anywhere.

This article appears in The Dallas Morning News under the title "Let's rap, y'all - Hip-Hop: New accent is Southern drawl from Houston and Atlanta."

Crayton Harrison

Friday, January 13, 2006

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