While "country" is oft-times a pejorative term meant to denote someone's greenness, lack of sophistication, or backwardness, black southerners have long used country to describe an existence rooted in dirt and power, and the ability to survive and maneuver through a world that would rather them not. Still, in its use as an insult, "country" reflects black Americans' discomfort with southern blackness and its linkages to historical anxieties about the trauma of slavery, black male emasculation, the dehumanizing violence of Jim Crow, and the continued anti-modernity of the (rural) South. Whether the players are Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry, or Ice-T and Soulja Boy, as I argue in This Ain't Chicago, in the aggregate drama of black representation, black folks would rather excise all country niggas–who are seen as reminders of a past of subjugation–from the narrative of the race.
As a genre conspicuously about place and place affiliation, hip-hop has become an explicit site where conversations about race, space, and representation happen in the black public sphere. Nas, whose father Olu Dara has a song called "Okra," declared hip-hop dead because Lil' Jon encouraged us, and rightly so, to snap our fingers and do our steps. In a 2007 Urb Magazine interview, The RZA said southern folks don't have hip-hop in their blood, despite the fact that the sonic blood and sinew for the Wu-Tang Clan's classic song "C.R.E.A.M." came from a Charmel's song made by Stax Records artists in country ass Memphis, Tennessee. In an egregious instance of a pot calling a kettle black, 50 Cent said southerners' were ruining hip-hop with their inattention to lyrical content and corporeal obsession with bass, rehearsing the hierarchal dichotomy between mind and body that undergirds respectability politics. While these and other such narratives were brought on by the rapid proliferation of southern artists in mainstream hip-hop beginning in the early 2000s, they are merely a continuation of a century of conversations in the black public sphere about Old Negroes and New Negroes, country and cosmopolitan, South and North, rural and urban, femininity and masculinity, staying and migrating, and subjugation and freedom. Southern hip-hop artists, including Outkast, David Banner, and Lil' Wayne, have often snapped and clapped back at this discourse, focusing their attention on east and west coast artists and the industry writ large. Outkast's ATLiens, Banner's Mississippi: The Album and most everything Lil' Wayne ever does ever, including responding directly to Nas's assertion about the death of hip-hop, constitute a southern snapback that challenges the continued marginalization of southern hip-hop.