Codie G’s Curation of Rap Regionalism

Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (@danielmondon)

Green Cottenham was a slave more than forty years after the system of slavery had been abolished. Born the child of freed slaves in Alabama, he was jailed in 1908 on account of “vagrancy”—a trumped-up charge enforced throughout the southern states. After his sentencing, he was sold to U.S. Steel by the sheriff and put to work in the Birmingham mines alongside black men placed in the same situation. He died later that year, diseased from the harsh conditions in the mines and broken by the abuses of his new masters. By the end of 1908, almost sixty men had died alongside him. Their graves were unmarked. Their stories were, by and large, unrecorded and unacknowledged.

Codie G is the manager to much of Alabama’s cultish hip-hop scene, in particular the recently reunited duo G-Side and still-bubbling space-rave producers Block Beattaz. In-between releases from his acts, he has been one of the voices driving the blog Original Mattress and the curator of compilations like last year’s Young Guns. Like that earlier compilation, The Greene Cottenham Project is a collection of fourteen rappers—each one credited alongside the regional scene they represent—working on their craft and strengthening their voices. Some of these songs are very good and bolstered by strong performances: J NICS, a former DJ Burn One collaborator from Miami, concocts a particularly brutal slab of messy emotion with “Seasons.” Some of these songs aren’t successful, as they stall the tape’s momentum with a number of embryonic Cole and K.R.I.T. impressions in the latter half. Yet many of the songs share similar traits mid-tempo beats, mournful horns, and stories of incarceration and dead friends. These tracks, good or bad, are meant to compliment one another.

The interim cover art to this compilation is a selfie of Codie G with a cotton field sprawled out behind him for what seems like miles. An arresting image, one that doesn’t immediately connect with the music presented one that feels like an empty posture at first. On reflection, it’s a challenge from Codie G—once you learn about Cottenham’s struggle and the era he lived in, the allegiances drawn are made clearer. He stated on Twitter that the title was a metaphor towards the overlooked, that the artists presented are important voices stifled by the powers that be. A little digging goes deeper than this industry-based concept: the fourteen artists presenting their tracks are assembled from across Nashville, Oakland, Huntsville and Miami, all areas affected by the post-Civil War network of neo-slavery. The selfie puts a fine point on this lineage: the under-represented and unadvantageous American past is the under-represented and unadvantageous American present.

A couple of tracks are distinctive for being a lot less recent than the bulk of the tape. “Diamonds” from Oakland spitter Young Gully’s HM5 resurfaces here, a reminder of his skillful rapping. (Go and listen to 2011’s “The Go In,” his finest moment.) The other oldie comes from G-Side affiliate Kristmas’ 2011 album W2 Boy, an overlooked and charming album. On many guest appearances and on his own records, he has a bonafide regular-dude charm, depicting a long-time worker bee looking to indulge in the trappings of life as a rapper and hold down a full-time job. W2 Boy’s finale resurfaces here, a downtempo track appropriately titled ‘”Slavin.” Pissed off at the lack of opportunities given to ex-cons, he stresses and rages, a million miles from his otherwise agreeable personality. Puffed out, he confesses: “I been working for these crackas six years, my nigga, and ain’t gave me no raises yet.” A sample of a chain gang’s singing accompanies his words. The track’s confession closes out the compilation, its inclusion making Codie’s final point: free or not, post-slavery or no, people of the South are still held down and meant to accept their diminished societal roles. Codie G politicizes these songs and gives them historical relevance, regardless as to whether they are stoned or horny or forlorn or furious. They are all recordings of the Black American experience, an experience Cottenham was denied to share with future generations. In their own way, these songs are to be vicariously lived by the past.

Link: The Greene Cottenham Project 

The greatness of Jackie Chain

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Jackie Chain – “Diamonds & Cadillacs” (via BLVD ST )
Jackie Chain – “Alabama Dodgers” (via DGB)

Jackie’s perfected this style of rap that is super direct and determined and where there are no wasted words and every line is like a very pointed statement of purpose. I get the sense that he writes every rhyme two lines at a time and then connects them together for verses because all of his songs are about cars, drugs and girls, but it yields amazing results where his songs are just full of incredible couplets that are basically like mottos. Here are my favorites from “Diamonds & Cadillacs”, in random order and in all caps cuz Jackie is a very urgent rapper:

ALL ABOUT MY MAHNEY
SUNGLASSES ARMANI
BOUT TO HOLLER AT THIS BITCH THAT LOOK LIKE GWEN STEFANI

AC BLOWIN
WHOLE TRUNK BOOMIN
BIG BOY SHIT
CHROME GRILL AND WOMAN

LOBES ARE CAVALLI, RC DIAMONDS STUDDED
CADILLAC IS CUSTOM WITH THE INTERIOR GUTTED

CADILLAC PIMPIN, AINT NOTHIN LIKE IT
PUT THE TOP UP SO I CAN WATCH THESE HOES DYKE IT

etc.

He reminds me of Paul Wall (only partly cuz both are light-skinned) in how he shows that simple couplets about material shit can yield great rap if you’re to-the-point, you know what you’re talking about and you realize that words like “studded” and “gutted” make a dope rhyme.

“Alabama Dodgers” is great in its own right:

I BASE MY WEED PRICES ON EXCHANGE RATES
WE CROSS THE BORDER SWITCH CARS AND THEN CHANGE PLATES
I DONT UNDERSTAND MY PLUG, HE GOT THAT FUNNY TALK
AND I DONT SPEAK HIS LANGUAGE, I JUST LET MY MONEY TALK

This is just total chest-thump shit to me and I think it’s the best. Jackie is one of my five favorite rappers right now and he needs to put out an album immediately.