We often connect to music because of the feeling it gives us. More than the lyrics themselves, it asserts a certain vibe. We fall in love with beats and melodies and sometimes forget to dig into the lyrics themselves. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
This takes me to the time where I was a lil nappy headed youth at my grandmother’s house back in 95. My cousin arrived, fresh from the music store with a new cassette in hand. The album was Goodie Mob-Soul Food. We huddled around our grandma’s very modest cassette player to listen to this album as if it was a Fireside Chat from FDR.
The one song that stood out to me instantly (and still remains my favorite song today) was “Dirty South”. There are so many reasons why this song is awesome. First, it coins the phrase “dirty south”. That phrase is iconic now, all thanks to Cool Breeze. The beat is FIYAH. Brief but dope verse from Big Boi. Simple yet catchy hook.
But who knew, a decade and some change later, this song would have greater significance.
Before we even get started, we gotta preface this. It starts way before 1995. Way before the 80s even. To begin this story, we gotta go back to June 18, 1971. Ol Tricky Dick Nixon held a press conference where he uttered the famous words “war on drugs”. He stated that drug abusers were public enemy #1 and every measure would be taken to fight this war. After this point, no knock warrants and mandatory sentencing were implemented. The DEA was born not shortly after in 1973.
I hate to brush over Jimmy Carter, who is lowkey an underrated president, but his attempts to decriminalize drugs were smashed by Senate committees. This snowball of drug hysteria would turn into an avalanche.
Richard and Nancy Reagan echoed Nixon’s sentiments that drug abusers were public enemy #1. Cocaine remained the drug of affluence but there was a new player in the 80s: Crack cocaine. This lead to campaigns such as “Just Say No” and DARE.
Dare did give us a cool logo and hipster apparel though. Sure every time you see this shirt now it’s accompanied by a blue jean jacket, a cigarette and a PBR tall boy.
Nah, seriously, the DARE lion is swaggy though. This guy has a t shirt on but no one even ahem dared to ask him why in the hell he doesn’t have pants on. Like we never noticed this. We never cared. Pantless while wearing a t-shirt is basically me everyday after I get home from work. He looks like he knows where the party is at. I mess with the DARE lion heavy.
Anyway. Fast forward to 1992. The father of former Yale cheerleader, George W. Bush, was up for re-election. His opponent? Arkansas governor William Clinton. The Bill Clinton we know today was a very different man in 1992. While his opponents wanted to slam the gavel of justice down on drug users/abusers, Bill’s views weren’t quite as harsh. He thought medical marijuana was reasonable (of course he did). He wanted to leave recreational use up to the states. While he did acknowledge that drugs shouldn’t be legal, he did wanted to take a road less traveled when dealing with these issues. During a debate vs Bush and random ass Ross Perot, Bill had this to say:
Like Mr. Perot, I have held crack babies in my arms. But I know more about this, I think, than anybody else up here because I have a brother who’s a recovering drug addict. I’m very proud of him. But I can tell you this: If drugs were legal, I don’t think he’d be alive today. I am adamantly opposed to legalizing drugs. He is alive today because of the criminal justice system. What should we do? First, we ought to prevent more of this on the street. We need 100,000 more police on the street. I have a plan for that. Secondly, we ought to have treatment on demand. Thirdly, we ought to have boot camps for first-time nonviolent offenders.
As you can tell from this quote, Bill had one foot going in one direction but the other foot prepared to pivot in another. He’s had to deal with drugs firsthand. His brother was arrested for drug possession and Bill later shows remorse for “not seeing the signs sooner so he could get him help”. However, after Bill won the presidency, he soon took that pivot foot and ran in that opposite direction.
“I get nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime”. I was barely a toddler in the early 90s, but being “soft on crime” was pretty much that era’s version of “show me your birth certificate”. In 1994, The Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act went into effect. This legislation included assault rifle bans, mandatory sentencing, expansion of the death penalty, and stiffer penalties for being a drug dealer or gang affiliate. This bill also created the good ol “3 strikes” felony system that we’ve all grown to know and love. Most importantly, this bill allocated 9 billion for prison construction and 8 billion for the expansion of police forces.
And if you build all of those prisons, you need to fill them, right?
Fast forward 1996, where Hilary Rodham Clinton makes her famous speech that will come back to bite her in the ass twenty years later.
Oh boy, if only hindsight were 20/20…
Although Soul Food was released in 1995, “Dirty South” wasn’t released as an official single until the following year. The timing was perfect.
What I love about “Dirty South” the most is that it’s the perfect response to the notion that these drug dealers are “super predators with no conscious”. Cool Breeze serves as the voice of these guys.
Now if dirty Bill Clinton fronted me some weight
Told me to keep two, bring him back eight
And I only brought him five and stuck his ass for three
Do you think that Clampett will sick his goons on me?
See Martel Homes, that’s my claim to fame
That’s where I learned my slickest trick in the dope-d-game
Like my favorite, I call it “Lemonhead Delight”
That’s when you lick off all the yellow and you sell the white.
-Cool Breeze [first verse]
[Sidenote: Calling Bill Clinton “Jed Clampett” because of this Arkansas dialect will never not be funny to me]
What I love most about Cool Breeze’s opening verse is that he asks the question we’ve all been asking for ages: Yes we sell the drugs, but how did the drugs get in the hood in the first place?
And even though he’s not speaking to Bill directly, Cool Breeze is attacking the establishment from Nixon on up. We can argue all day about whether or not drugs being flooded into black communities was by design or just coincidental, but you have to admit that private prisons sure did pop up at a very opportunistic time.
Cool Breeze is saying that if he tries to keep a bit and make some profit for himself, that’s when the government’s goons will come knocking. He puts a bit of separation between the average, everyday drug dealer and the cartel that these super predators are allegedly linked to directly.
See in the 3rd grade this is what you told
You was bought, you was sold
Now they sayin’ Juice left some heads cracked
I betcha Jedd Clampett want his money back
-Cool Breeze [second verse]
Since The People vs. OJ just wrapped up last week, these bars are kinda funny to me now. “Now they saying Juice left some heads cracked”. Donald Glover’s brilliant promo for his new show Atlanta where fellow costar Keith Stanfield asks “So…he just got off? That seems like a weird ending”
Donald Glover then says “That actually happened” and Keith responds “Oooooh, so that’s why cops are so mad”.
There’s no way to really measure this, but one could assume that the LA riots paired with gang activity definitely helped influence a lot of these laws. Crime rates were through the roof and the “enemy” was now very easy to identify.
Two very insightful parts of the song also come from the intro “One, the two, the three the four, them dirty red dogs done hit the door” and Gipp’s verse, which closes the song.
Now that Cobras got tha boys on Delowe on they back
Gipp holler at Miss Ann she said they didn’t get the trap
Behind tha black, behind green, behind tha red tint
Dealers breakin off that blow up for those woodchips
A lot of faces ain’t around, a lot of folks got shot
Scatta Mack droppin’ G’s while that Cristal pop
Been on tha grind with Cool Breeze, droppin’ pounds with B
Eric Neal is tha coolest from my century
Mack town keeps growing, old school like Charles
Stankin’ like dem Lincolns in Piedmont Park
Perry Homes to Herndon Homes, to all tha Homes
Adamsville to Poole Creek, shit just don’t sleep in tha Dirty South
Story time: I remember being at a family BBQ and my (possibly drunk) uncle was sharing an anecdote. Long story short, an associate of his was at the wrong place at the worst time possible. One part of his story that always stood out to me was “Man, them red dogs beat the crease out that nigga’s pants!!!”.
Everyone laughed, because of the animated way he was telling the story, but I was confused.
Even though I heard this song by then, I still didn’t know what the hell this meant. Just in case you haven’t noticed by now, the “Red Dogs” aren’t dogs. Also, the Cobras that Gipp speaks of aren’t venomous snakes.
The Red Dogs were a tactical unit founded in the late 1980s. It stood for “Run Every Drug Dealer Out of Atlanta”. That acronym was created because this seven word title doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as you’re kicking in the door of a trap house. This unit was notorious for those no-knock warrants and searches granted by Clinton’s legislation.They were pretty much given the green light to operate as they pleased. People in this unit operated in plain clothes and their vehicles were unmarked. For kicks and jiggles, you should Google them to see how ruthless their methods were. But ultimately, this unit was disbanded in 2011 for doing a public cavity search of two men they pulled over. Yes, you read that correctly.
The COBRA unit stands for Command Operation Briefings to Revitalize Atlanta and is still in operation. They respond to any and every crime trend in Atlanta whether it’s trafficking or a rash or carjackings.
These two units were empowered by the “Super predators” rhetoric used by Hilary Clinton. Cops were allowed to roam the streets with autonomy to take down these predators. “Dirty South” is so important because Gipp and Cool Breeze are showing that these are real people and the lives of everyone around them are affected. Now is drug dealing an ideal occupation? No, surely not. Having the Red Dogs knock at your door is just one of many occupational hazards. This is why Cool Breeze’s reference to slavery stands out to me so much now. When one race is driven to one area and they’re all living in poverty, there’s not very many options. They don’t see drug dealing and crime as a bad thing necessarily, it’s a means of survival.
This song is also the first reference (as far as I know) to the word “trap”. Both the noun and verb versions of this slang word.
Needless to say, the members of Goodie Mob know all too many people who have had their lives claimed by The Trap (as highlighted in Gipp’s verse above). They don’t see these people as super predators with no conscious. They see people trying to find a way out.
(Please watch this interview if you have time. They’re “woke” but it’s quite insightful)
Now am I excusing drug trafficking and abuse? Of course not. But I do think some half measures were taken to fight this “drug war”. The war was fought on the ground level and as a result, millions of lives were ruined. Billions were put into a drug war while education hasn’t been addressed enough. The mass incarceration numbers for drug offenses in this country are astronomical. For homework, watch President Obama’s Vice News special.
So what the hell is the point of this post? Basically, everything comes full circle. Now whether or not the Clintons have any remorse for this, I can’t answer. I’ll leave that to you to speculate. But through this simple song, we have a time capsule of how Hilary’s statements affected the country and how they’re still relevant today. Also through this song, the landscape of Southern Hip-Hop was changed forever. Putting slang into rap is nothing new, but I’m sure these guys had no clue they would impact the culture like this. We’re forever known as the Dirty South.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.