In the immortal words of OutKast’s Andre 3000, “the South has something to say.” Whether it be hip-hop, rap, country, rock or some fusion in between, musicians from Atlanta have a remarkable ability to craft songs that speak to the spirit of what it means to be from Atlanta. Whether it’s about tunes keyed to adolescent experiences in College Park or wild nights that will forever go unspoken spent at the Clermont Lounge, we’re taking a moment to recognize some of the ATL artists who have left their industry-defining marks on the music scene and the lyrics paying homage to the city they call home. And before you get all up in arms saying, “Well what about…” just know that this list was pared down for length so we wouldn’t have you scrolling for days with all the amazing talent that has come out of our lovely city.
The conscious hip-hop and culturally focused music group Arrested Development found its voice when it was formed in 1988 by Todd “Speech” Thomas and Timothy “Headliner” Barnwell. The hip-hop collective of rappers, singers and dancers has had multiple members throughout the years, including music maestro DJ Kemit and songstress Dionne Farris, and it was one of the first groups to bring the alternative hip-hop to the mainstream by bringing together jazz, rock, tribal and soul as one cohesive and socially relevant sound.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Tennessee" by Arrested Development
Eshe, she went down to Holly Springs/Rasadon and Baba, they went down to Peachtree/Headliner, I challenge you to a game of horseshoes, a game of horseshoes
Arrested Development's Speech on Atlanta's music scene, past and present
Baby, baby, baby! The '90s belonged to female R&B super group TLC. The trio of Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes not only shattered record sales and garnered numerous accolades from Grammys to Billboard awards, but the "Creep," "Waterfalls" and “No Scrubs" singers also promoted women’s empowerment and safe sex conversations during a time when that was far from the norm.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Dirty Dirty" by TLC
A-T-L /I'm an Atlanta girl (woo)/I've been born and raised/To come and rock ya world/I don't want to hurt nobody (nobody)/just came to move your bodies
Hey Ya! The dynamic duo of André "André 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton was a match made in heaven when OutKast formed in 1991 nurtured by the production gurus of Organized Noize and later put the Dungeon Family on the map with another major ATL group, Goodie Mob, and Killer Mike. As one of the most successful hip-hop groups of all time, OutKast took the genre of “Southern hip-hop” to mainstream audiences with albums like ATLiens, Aquemini and Stankonia. OutKast’s music is a testament to life growing up in Atlanta at its most supreme highs and soul-searching lows.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" by OutKast
Show 'em, who's the OK/Like collard greens and Hoecakes/I got soul, that's something that you ain't got/That's why your style is rotten/Stop in the land of ATL/Where nothing but pimps/Fully equipped/Quick to make a sale, swell
An artist in his own right, producer, rapper, songwriter and record executive Jermaine Dupri is the man behind the music of some of ATL’s most recognizable acts like Usher, TLC, Xscape, Monica, Bow Wow and more. The musical genius not only helped craft the sound of Atlanta with artists under his So So Def Recordings record label, which was basically the city welcome mat as a billboard driving into the city, but he stepped into the spotlight himself as a rapper with hit songs like "Money Ain't a Thang" and the city anthem “Welcome to Atlanta.”
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Welcome to Atlanta" by Jermaine Dupri
Welcome to Atlanta where the playas play/And we ride on them things like every day/Big beats, hit streets, see gangsta's roamin'/And parties don't stop til eight in the mornin'
Atlanta Downtown Mural
You can’t turn on your television, scroll your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed, or listen to the radio without hearing this trio that has become a cultural phenomenon. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff of the acclaimed hip-hop group, Migos, have crushed the hip-hop music scene with numerous and unmistakably catchy tracks like "Versace," "Bad and Boujee," "Look at My Dab" and "Stir Fry" since forming in 2009. Leading the charge of “new hip-hop,” the super group that doesn’t show any sign of stopping catapulted to the mainstream and racked up billions of social media views.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "New Atlanta" by Migos
Come to Atlanta, we breakin' the rules/Do you remember my teacher say we wouldn't make it/I gotta thank y'all, Atlanta made us famous/Hustle where we invented swag, live in Atlanta, we might have some haters/The new Atlanta like the old Lakers
While Atlanta has become the hip-hop capital of the South, it’s sometimes hard to see that the city has more musical depth than just rap. Take country music with Grammy Award-winning duo Sugarland. Made up of singer-songwriters Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, Sugarland has dominated the country and folk-rock scenes with high octane, rabble-rousing riffs and heartfelt ballads that have garnered huge, multi-platinum record sales and numerous musical accolades.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Stuck Like Glue" by Sugarland
You almost fell/Too stuck together from the ATL/Feeling kinda sick/Just a spoon full of sugar make it better real quick
From the windows to the walls, when this Atlanta rapper and producer’s beat drops, you know the crowd is about to have a ball. Lil Jon practically created a whole new genre of hip-hop meshing speaker-thumping bass hits into club rockers like "Who U Wit," "Bia Bia," "Get Low" and "Turn Down For What." The crunk music pioneer’s rowdy and bass-heavy tunes not only gave rise to the new musical genre but also helped to launch the careers of ATL artists like Lil Scrappy, Ying Yang Twins, YoungBloodz and more.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "ATL" by Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz
In the ATL (yeah, where we gettin' it crunk)/In the ATL (ah huh, ah huh wassup wassup)/In the ATL (yeah, we're gonna tell you a lil story 'bout somethin' happen)/In the ATL (yeah, yeah, Shorty Pimp wassup)
Skyline at Atlanta's Philips Arena
While Atlanta artists introduced the mainstream to Southern hip-hop and crunk music, it also made way for the sub-genre known as trap music. And one of the most prolific and well-known rappers to bring it to the masses is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., also known as T.I. Proclaiming himself “King of the South,” the rapper and actor has parlayed his adolescent experiences wrought with guns and drugs growing up in Atlanta’s Center Hill neighborhood into a successful music career complemented by Grammy Awards and numerous other accolades. Delivering hits like "Bring Em Out," "Whatever You Like," "Live Your Life,” “Dead and Gone” and “Swagger Like Us,” the ATL native has worked with the likes of industry heavy-hitters Rihanna, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Pharrell and Justin Timberlake to name a few.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Tha King" by T.I.
All hail Atlanta's own, owner of Atlanta's throne/If he ain't want no trouble he just should've left the man alone/It's been seen, shown and evident Atlanta's known/The king's been the one representing all of Atlanta's zones
Move! Get out the way! That’s exactly the mantra rapper/actor Chris Bridges, better known as Ludacris, has lived by since exploding onto the scene in 2001, and he still hasn’t stopped. Making his way as one of Atlanta’s most preeminent voices in Southern hip-hop and putting the “Dirty South” at the forefront of the conversation with the likes of OutKast, Ludacris has found widespread success in his music career. With his music and lyrics that caricature pop culture and represent his city to the fullest in tracks like “Rollout,” “Stand Up,” “Get Back” and “Money Maker,” the rapper has found international acclaim as an actor in the "Fast and The Furious" films, "Crash" and more.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Georgia" by Ludacris
We some ATL thrashers/Scope your pumpkin and smasha/We'll come through your hood worse than a tsunami disaster/Don't know who they gonna get or who them robbers gonna hit/That's why I keep my Georgia Tech in the state of... Georgia
A quadruple threat as a singer, dancer, songwriter and actor, Usher Raymond IV, simply known as Usher, grew up in Atlanta and sang his way to stardom racking up Billboard hits like “Yeah!,” “Burn,” “You Make Me Wanna…,” “U Remind Me,” “U Got It Bad” and more. Selling millions of records worldwide and winning numerous Grammy awards, Usher has worked with the likes of Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Diddy and more, and he continues to reinvent himself in his music to this day reaching a new generation of R&B fans with his soulful riffs and high-energy performances.
Most Atlanta Lyric: "Appetite" by Usher
I'm not trying to be late, rush through security gates/With weather in Atlanta, all outgoing flights delayed/No rooms left in the Mandarin, I gotta figure out a play/Sparked up some conversation, she was going the same way
Chris Watkins is an Atlanta-based writer and photographer and serves as the voice of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (@DiscoverAtlanta) on social media. You can follow him on Instagram @christopherbw.
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