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  • Malcolm Trapp

The Carolinas and Resolving Its Identity Crisis In Hip-Hop

North Carolina rapper and superstar DaBaby had an undeniably incredible run this past year. Over the past few months, the Charlotte-native unveiled his sophomore album KIRK, earning his first №1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Additionally, the album sold roughly 145,000 album-equivalent units the first week, making a great leap forward following his March debut, Baby On Baby. In late-2019, DaBaby became a viral meme once again using the music social media app Triller to promote his standout cut “BOP.” Since then, the video has racked up over a million views, earning another win for the Carolinas.


Other rappers from both North and South Carolina have been making major waves this year as well. Beyond J. Cole’s commercial success, controversial rappers like Stunna 4 Vegas and Blacc Zacc to rising emcees like Lute and Mez are pioneering a new rap hub of trap sounds and lyricism. Producers are getting their shine as well, beatmakers like Jetsonmade, Producer 20, and Sean Da Firzt have all landed on the charts this year. Carolinas’ hip-hop scene has garnered more eyes this year than any other, something they’ve failed at in previous years.


Da Baby

J. Cole serves as one of the most prominent figures from North Carolina, having a number of platinum records and sold-out tours throughout his career. He spent twelve years living in New York where he eventually signed to JAY-Z’s Roc Nation. It wasn’t until 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Cole’s childhood home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that he moved back home and even stayed there for some time when creating 2016’s 4 Your Eyez Only. His hometown is referenced in songs like “LAnd of the Snakes” and “Villematic” as well. Despite J. Cole being such a big artist, it’s simply not enough that one artist from North Carolina blows up. Some of that attributes to the states having no face to put to its name.


Other artists include Pi’erre Bourne, the beatmaker behind Playboi Carti’s smash hit “Magnolia,” who lived in Columbia, SC for a number of his teenage years before moving to New York. YBN Cordae was also born in Raleigh, NC, but raised in Maryland where he began rapping. DaBaby, on the other hand, is born and bred in Charlotte only which sparked new courage to rep the state.


Previously, rapper and producer Speaker Knockerz held the crown following the viral success of his 2013 hit single “Lonely.” Unfortunately, the South Carolina-native passed away at the age of 19 in March 2014, leaving behind club bangers like “Freak Hoe” and his three-part trilogy “Rico Story.” He also produced records for Meek Mill, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, French Montana, and more. Speaker Knockerz is referenced by rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Denzel Curry, Kodak Black, and even newer artists like Roddy Ricch and Lil Mosey.


“I think the only thing that’s holding us back is exposure. We just need to be seen, nobody is really coming to Carolina.” — Charlamagne tha God

Before the new era, there was Greensville, North Carolina rapper Petey Pablo. The Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum hip-hop artist is known for rap anthems such as “Freek-A-Leek” and “Raise Up.” Furthermore, Durham rap triplet Little Brother — consisting of Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder — saw prominent emergence in the underground rap scene. Additionally, Greensboro, North Carolina producer Ski Beatz produced for high-profile artists like JAY-Z, Lil Kim, Curren$y, and many others.


Another attribution to Carolinas’ long-awaited rise is how regionless music has become, hip-hop in particular. Rap has become multicultural and artists can find inspiration and collaborations via the internet. Groups like Odd Future, BROCKHAMPTON, and Members Only are being formed by artists linking up through social media. South Carolina rapper Renni Rucci — who joins the ranks of Cardi B, Migos, and Trippie Redd — is similarly signed to Quality Control Music, a record label based in Atlanta. Even major artists’ hometowns are overlooked because of who they associate with or how they rap.


Renni Rucci

“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to make it as an artist from the Carolinas,” Charlamagne Tha God, who hails from Moncks Corner, South Carolina touched on the challenges of being a rapper from there in a Breakfast Club interview with DaBaby. The Charlotte rapper responded, noting how there are still many opportunities, “The Carolinas is such a big market for artists to come through ’cause we got so many cities,” said DaBaby. “It’s a gold mine in the Carolinas. It’s not like rappers don’t know about the Carolinas, they just haven’t had no face for it, no identity for it.”


Charlotte is the 17th largest city in the country with a population of nearly one million people. Other cities such as the state capital Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham have half of that. At the top of the year, J. Cole returned home for his first annual Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, featuring local acts like Lute and Mez. “We started looking at Raleigh and it’s a void here. It’s a void here in Carolina period for these type[s] of things,” Cole tells Rap Radar after performing in front of 40,000 people at his sold-out venue. South Carolina’s most populated cities consist of Columbia, Charleston, and Rock Hill.


Neighboring states like Florida and Virginia have had similar come ups, having waves of artists propelled into commercial success.Though it’s definitely not on the level of Atlanta, maybe one day it’ll reach the regional triumph. Florida boasts local acts like Uncle Luke, Rick Ross, and Trick Daddy, and newcomers like Rod Wave, Lil Poppa and YNW Melly, who is currently on trial for double-murder.


Atlanta, Georgia speaks for itself, having mega rap stars like Future, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, and many more. Atlanta is arguably the United States’ music capital, having rappers that continuously pass on the torch and expand outwards of the city as well. Some of those artists include but are not limited to Lil Baby, Gunna, 21 Savage, and more. Virginia as well, which lies above North Carolina, is similarly tied to a number of sounds and artists. The Old Dominion State has spawned OG rappers like Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Pharell, and more recently, Pusha T.


South Coast Music Group (SCMG), the first major-label out of the Carolinas, serves as home to DaBaby, Blacc Zacc, and Toosii. Similarly, DaBaby’s Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment, an imprint under Interscope, holds a roster of buzzing artists like Stunna 4 Vegas and 704Chop. Other Carolina artists like Shawn Scrilla, PG Ra, Big Mali, and NGeeYL are also on the rise. From the looks of it, the Carolinas are susceptible to follow the same route as their competitors and spawn its own buzz.