Here are 10 of the Best Samples of Memphis Rap in 2018

And a quick dive into how one song in particular has reawakened hip hop’s interest in the city’s sound.

In collaboration with Riverside Drive

Blocboy JB’s summer ’17 viral smash “Shoot” was a Trojan horse of sorts. On the surface, it had the appearance of being another club banger coupled with a fly-by-night dance craze that infiltrated airwaves, football fields and maybe even your grandmother’s bones. But beneath the buck jumping, the song’s producer, 22-year-old Memphis newcomer Tay Keith was planting the seed for a rejuvenated interest in the Memphis sound for a younger, more contemporary crowd. And some of the most touted names in the industry wanted a piece.

Even as crunk music withered some 10 years ago, Memphis rap has maintained a healthy influence in an ever-changing, increasingly fickle hip hop culture — branch-swinging in full Donkey Kong fashion from crunk to snap to emo and into the current decade. A more recent and redolent example of Memphis’ impact is New York’s A$AP Mob: since the early 2010s, the repertoire of the set’s frontmen Rocky and Ferg has been a pastiche of Harlem flash and Three 6 Mafia’s southern grunge elements. And the Mafia virtually birthed the lo-fi, DIY rebelliousness of Soundcloud rap in spirit and practicality (particularly for the sprouting crop of South Florida acts).

For the end of the decade though, “Shoot” was a different beast. Of course, it wasn’t the artist and producer’s musical approach that was new — they were following the path laid out by early Memphis-rap architects. But the pair’s use of their musical forefathers’ blueprint as a viable appeal to a youthful audience definitely presented a fresh dynamic (as opposed to other Memphis acts like Moneybagg Yo and Young Dolph whose careers benefited more from the MemphAtlantic rap trade). Blocboy JB looked, sounded and danced like his targeted demo, as he should. In essence, “Shoot’s” sweeping and infectious energy was a manifestation of Three 6 Mafia’s “Tear Da Club Up ‘97” for a social media generation. And the song, along with the virality of the accompanying dance captured an emphatic Memphis spirit. The entire moment was a perfect storm for Memphis’ new wave. And as waves go, Blocboy JB and Tay Keith caught the attention of hip hop’s most successful surfer.

Three 6 Mafia on stage at the New Daisy, 1996. © Dan Ball, Vice

When Drake kicked off his 2018 trading verses with Blocboy JB on “Look Alive,” the reaction was favorable and swift. But the feature was also a gamble: the song was Drake’s first time rapping alongside a Memphis artist — he’s quietly skipped over several more-established hometown favorites throughout the years. That’s a surprising fact given his oft-mentioned familial Mid-South ties. But Drake is known for turning artists’ rolling starts into starring roles. And this particular dice roll hit pay dirt for all parties involved: Blocboy JB’s clout rose while Drake notched his first of many noteworthy 2018 moments. The biggest winner, though, was Tay Keith — and the Memphis sound.

BlocBoy JB / Instagram

As the most sought-after beatsmith of the year, Tay Keith packed the “Shoot” formula for a road trip across hip hop’s landscape. The racous beats, sometimes dipped in grainy, early-90s-underground-Memphis hooks became the industry’s hottest commodity, landed on projects ranging from the most-controversial to the most-respected artists. To cap the year, the young producer also nabbed a song-of-the-year Grammy nod for his three-way-split production duties on Travi$ Scott’s “Sicko Mode.”

The year 2018 proved to be a busy orbit for the Memphis sound. Outsiders chased it with varying success while local artists and producers continue to authenticate it. Now whether the momentum proves to be sustainable in 2019 remains to be seen. But if this newfound immersion into the Memphis palatal pool from industry heavyweights is even slightly indicative, what began with “Shoot” a year-and-half ago will more than likely end with a bang.