Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (2022)

Memphis hip-hop was so ahead of its time that the world is only ready for it now, 30 years later.

In the first of this two-part series, we’re taking a deep dive into the beginning of Memphis hip-hop and some of the most influential artists.

Many Memphis hip-hop legends still do not have Wikipedia pages – the entire genre gets only two paragraphs. Up until recently, you couldn’t find their music online either; it existed only on old cassette tapes, recorded in its 90’s heyday.

If you do scour the internet, you can patch together the history of the genre. Despite being underrated and unknown, its outsized influence can be heard throughout modern hip-hop and trap music. You just need to turn on the radio.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (1)

Recent releases from A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, 21 Savage, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B reveal how influential these Memphis artists are today.

For example, in August A$AP Rocky released Babushka Boi which directly samples Memphis rap group Da Crime Click.

But A$AP’s track is undeniably in the vibe of Tommy Wright III, one of his influences and a Memphis icon. In the track below you can hear fast-paced syncopated cowbells leaning heavily on electronic drum sounds. This is one of the defining features of Memphis hip-hop production. While the two coasts relied on Motown and soul samples for their boom-bap beats, Memphis was all about the drum machine.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (2)

At the end of the ’80s, young people were tired of the upbeat electro-funk tunes that had defined the decade so far. The music of their parents’ generation was out of sync with reality in Memphis. Pioneers like DJ Spanish Fly, an electro DJ playing at clubs in Memphis, wanted that gritty reality represented in the music.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (3)

These early mixtapes created by DJ Spanish Fly inspired local artists to grasp hold of this new style. The resulting sound quickly evolved into something different; mind-bending, bleak, and incredibly creative.

Memphis rap has a triplet flow that lends itself to a halftime beat. This triplet flow has become popular in modern hip-hop with artists including Migos, Yo Gotti, Lil Uzi Vert, Kanye West, and many more.

Repetitive vocal hooks are warped and distorted to create a hypnotic, otherworldly atmosphere. And the lyrics are uniquely morbid and graphic. This is not your mom’s Zapp and Roger record.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (4)

Early recordings were made in bedroom studios using 4-tracks and drum machines, forcing producers to experiment and push the limits of their equipment. This DIY attitude and aesthetic created an independent and underground local music scene. This genre was more punk rock than major label hip-hop, able to evolve on its own creative terms. However, this lead to the genre remaining intensely local and ignored on the two coasts.

(Video) Boy Accidentally Frees the Most Dangerous Ancient Monster and Now Subject to His Holy Spear (1)

Another way in which production style diverged in Memphis was its preference for programmed drums, usually in halftime. DJ Spanish Fly introduced the booming sub-bass and synthetic sound of the iconic TR-808. While the 808 wasn’t the only drum machine used, elements like the cowbell, syncopated rhythms, powerful sub-bass, and sharp digital snares became the backbone of Memphis production style.

Memphis producers didn’t abide by common ‘rules’ around sampling. They preferred to loop rather than chop their samples and found inspiration in unusual places – like film scenes and horror soundtracks. Producers were not afraid to use the same samples or to sample each other’s tracks.

Once an album or a mixtape was completed, producers and rappers would swing by local car stereo shops to sell their cassette tapes in bulk. Cassette tapes were also sold at clubs and schools. Few tapes made it out of the Tennessee-Arkansas-Mississippi tri-state area. The tapes that are left today sometimes show up in marketplaces such as Discogs. They are extremely rare, in a degraded condition, and fetch high prices among collectors.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (5)

Memphis Hip-Hop Heroes

Here are the key players in early Memphis hip-hop, gangster rap and horrorcore.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (6)

Without a doubt, DJ Spanish Fly is the Godfather of Memphis hip-hop.

In the late ’80s, Fly got into music and dropped out of high school to became an electro DJ. At that time, local clubs were packed, but they were playing tracks likeSet it Off, disco, and R&B chart-toppers.

But times and tastes were changing in the transition between the ’80s and ’90s. DJ Spanish Fly wanted people to get buck in the club to grittier music; literally buckin, jookin, choppin, gangsta walkin were alldance stylesthat emerged in Memphis at this time. He started putting his own music into the club mixes and creating mixtapes to sell to his fans.

DJ Spanish Fly embodies the transition between the ’80s electro-funk and the grit of ’90s hip-hop. His tracks have an ominous, otherworldly atmosphere pierced by thumping 808s. He quickly became a Memphis icon, inspiring younger artists to follow in his footsteps.

Fly also pioneered the Triggerman Beat which is one of the most important hip-hop breaks ever. According to WhoSampled it’s been sampled hundreds of times, including recent tracks by Drake (Nice for What and In My Feelings), Gucci Mane, Kanye West, T.I., Lil Wayne, Death Grips, and many more…

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (7)

Gangsta Pat’s father was a drummer with many famous bands, including Isaac Hayes’ The Movement. His early life was tumultuous with family drama, his parents’ divorce, and running afoul of the law.

At 18, he released #1 Suspect, the first Memphis rap record issued by a major label. Although he was dropped by the label, he released nine more albums and became a regional icon.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (8)

A native of Orange Mound, DJ Squeeky grew up playing drums at church. He was surrounded by friends, family and neighbors making music in all forms. But the person he really looked up to was DJ Spanish Fly.

(Video) VFTB 10/2/22: Kings of the East (Audio only)

DJ Squeeky wanted to start making mixtapes like Fly. Since all his friends wanted to rap, he decided to get into the production side. He set up a small studio in his bedroom; a mic, 4-track, and drum machine. His sharp signature sound attracted all the local rappers to his bedroom studio. For a while, DJ Squeeky was the go-to producer in Memphis.

(Good luck ever getting this song out your head.)

In an interview, DJ Squeeky was asked how long it takes to produce a track:

A few minutes. It all depends on what level I’m on. If I’m on a good level and got some good cheeba, it’s going to be a couple seconds. I know a few musical notes, but my music is based off feel, how I’m feeling at that moment, what I’m on at that moment.

DJ Squeeky interviewed for the Memphis Flyer

More recently, DJ Squeeky has produced for Young Dolph, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (9)

Also from Orange Mound, DJ Zirk grew up near DJ Squeeky and collaborated with him many times.

DJ Zirk has made some of the most influential and most sampled tracks in the Memphis scene, but there’s virtually no info on him online. We hope to change this by interviewing DJ Zirk soon.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (10)

Inspired by listening to local artists like Gangsta Pat and Spanish Fly on the radio, Skinny Pimp went to work early, writing out his first raps in school. When DJ Squeeky pulled him into the studio in 1993 for the track Lookin For Tha Chewin, he was more than ready to start his career.

“When I went over to Squeeky’s house […] we weren’t really worried about no money. We was just doing it just cause we love it.”

Skinny Pimp in an interview with Hot 1079

Skinny Pimp became a local sensation doing club performances all over Memphis with DJ Paul, Juicy J (both original members of Triple 6 Mafia), and DJ Squeeky. His relationship with his first producer, DJ Squeeky, abruptly ended when they got into a fight at Club Memphis. After that, the scene split in two with DJ Squeeky and DJ Zirk on one side and Skinny Pimp, Juicy J, and DJ Paul on the other, exchanging diss tracks.

Despite going through tumultuous times, all these artists continued to put out some of their best work. Skinny Pimp’s 1996 album, King of Da Playaz Ball, is a masterpiece.

Skinny Pimp’s most apparent legacy is the popularity of his never-ending double-time flow, not only with younger Memphis rappers but throughout contemporary hip-hop. However, he regrets that many artists today who are influenced by his style neglect the origins, not only Skinny Pimp himself but the influential artists that came before him like DJ Ren.

(Video) Xavi The Destroyer - My Underground (Audio)

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (11)

Al Kapone’s 1994 release captures the spooky horrorcore sound unique to Memphis in the early 90’s.

He had some more mainstream success later in his career creating tracks for the films Hustle and Flow and Stomp the Yard.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (12)

Tommy Wright III is a pioneer of the fast paced flow that influenced Gangsta Rap, Crunk, and Trap.

When he decided to record his first album at the age of 15 he literally broke his piggy bank to get it done, recording all 8 songs for the album in one day.

I just went ahead and took a piggy bank full of nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies to [local producers] Lyrical Dope and Herbert Young,” he says. “They laughed at me when I cracked it open, but I told them I was serious and I needed to do some songs… I distributedMemphis Massacreby way of taking a backpack to school and selling them [there].

Tommy Wright III interviewed by Red Bull Music Academy

He had many run-ins with the law as a young teen, and his next album Runnin-N-Gunnin was released two years later in 1994 featuring his mugshot on the cover.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (13)

Tommy Wright III is a one-man gangsta rap machine, releasing five self-produced solo albums in only eight years and countless collaborations.

In 2001, his streak ended when he went to prison for four years. When he was released, he faced immense hardship after losing everything, which was in sharp contrast with his rising cult status on the internet. Recently, Tommy has experienced a surge in popularity amongst a new generation of fans, with sold-out shows all over the U.S. and Europe.

Future Audio Workshop | Underground & Infamous: Part I (14)

They started as a horrorcore style hip-hop group. Out of all the early 90’s Memphis rappers and producers, Triple 6 Mafia has achieved the most commercial success, including two platinum albums.

Juicy J has become particularly mainstream. He was signed with Columbia Records, featured on a Katy Perry track, had a chart-topper with Bandz A Make Her Dance, and has recently worked with Megan Thee Stallion, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, and the $uicideboy$.

Some of the members of Triple 6 Mafia also had successful and influential solo careers, including Koopsta Knicca. His 1994 solo album Da Devil’s Playground shows off pretty much all the elements we talked about earlier – ethereal vocals, hypnotic repeated hooks, spooky samples, and the triplet flow characteristic of Memphis hip-hop.

(Video) JoeyStarr - Underground UP (Audio)

We love the darkly hypnotic sounds of these artists and we hope you do too.

In Part II, we’re going to interview some Memphis legends and talk about production.

If you’re curious to find out more about Memphis hip-hop and listen to some music I’ve included links to articles, interviews, playlists, and a short documentary that I used to put this article together.


Fu, Eddie.How Megan Thee Stallion Pays Tribute To Three 6 Mafia On Her Debut Album ‘Fever.’2019, genius.com/a/all-the-three-6-mafia-samples-on-megan-thee-stallion-s-fever

Goggans, Louis.Q & A with DJ Squeeky. 2012, memphisflyer.com/CallingtheBluff/archives/2012/12/13/q-and-a-with-dj-squeeky

Hebblethwaite, Phil. “808 State Of Mind: Proto-Crunk Originator DJ Spanish Fly.”The Quietus, 2011, thequietus.com/articles/05588-dj-spanish-fly-interview

MacAdams, Torii.Still Runnin-N-Gunnin: The Rebirth of Memphis Rap Legend Tommy Wright III. 2018, daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2018/11/tommy-wright-iii

MacAdams, Torii.The Unsung Heroes of Early Memphis Rap. 2017, daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2017/08/memphis-rappers

Meadows-Ingram, Benjamin.Loop History: The Showboys “Drag Rap,” AKA Triggerman. 2018, daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2018/06/loop-history-triggerman

NTS Radio.DJ Spanish Fly. nts.live/shows/dj-spanish-fly

Real Memphis Juntz (Pimp Shyt & Devil Shyt). ugtapes.blogspot.com/

(Video) French Montana - Unforgettable ft. Swae Lee

The Good Ol’Dayz. thegoodoldayz.com/

Turismo.WELCOME TO HELL: The History and Influence of MEMPHIS RAP (Documentary). 2018, youtu.be/u4gzwTgXrvk


Who was the first rapper out of Memphis? ›

Without a doubt, DJ Spanish Fly is the Godfather of Memphis hip-hop. In the late '80s, Fly got into music and dropped out of high school to became an electro DJ. At that time, local clubs were packed, but they were playing tracks like Set it Off, disco, and R&B chart-toppers.

Where did Memphis rap come from? ›

Memphis rap, also known as Memphis hip hop or Memphis horrorcore, is a regional subgenre of hip hop music that originated in Memphis, Tennessee in the early 1990s.

What does Anna mean in Memphis? ›

(Paul's centrality in “ana” – local slang for “animosity” – is a recurring theme in Memphis rap's diffuse oral history.)

Who is the biggest rapper out of Memphis? ›

26 Best Rappers from Memphis
  • Juicy J.
  • Young Dolph.
  • Key Glock.
  • Pooh Shiesty.
  • Big Scarr.
  • Duke Deuce.
  • Big Moochie Grape.
  • Big30.
1 Jul 2022

What drum machine did DJ Paul use? ›

The vast majority of DJ Paul and DJ Squeeky Productions during the 90s featured the SP-1200.

What is a trap artist? ›

Fans and critics started to refer to rappers whose primary lyrical topic was drug dealing, as “trap rappers.” David Drake of Complex wrote that “the trap in the early 2000s wasn't a genre, it was a real place”, and the term was later adopted to describe the “music made about that place.”

What rappers have documentaries on Netflix? ›

Groundbreaking artists share their life stories in this vibrant documentary series that captures hip-hop's impact on global culture.
  • LOGIC: Gray Matters. ...
  • NAS & DAVE EAST: The Bridge. ...
  • T.I.: Taking a Stand. ...
  • G-EAZY: Worldwide Amplified. ...
  • 2 CHAINZ: Sleep When U Die. ...
  • RAPSODY: Raising the Bars. ...
  • JUST BLAZE: It's Lit!

What is Ana slang? ›

What does ANA stand for?
Rank Abbr.Meaning
ANAAnaheim Angels (baseball team)
ANAAmerican National Anthem
ANAAnother New Acronym

What is the meaning of Anna in Bible? ›

In Biblical Names the meaning of the name Anna is: Gracious; one who gives.

What does Anna mean in Hebrew? ›

The name Anna comes to us from the Hebrew word חַנָּה (Ḥannāh or ‎Chanah), meaning “grace” or “favor.” The ancient Romans also used Anna as a name meaning “the year's cycle.”

Who is the king of Memphis rap? ›

Young Dolph

What is Memphis known for? ›

The name Memphis means Established and Beautiful. Known worldwide as the "Home of the Blues & Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll - not to mention gospel, jazz, R&B, rap and soul. Close to 20 percent of the earliest inductees (24 of the 97) in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame have come from within a 100-mile radius of Memphis.

How did producers make beats in the 90s? ›

Since this was the '90s, music was made outside of the computer using standalone grooveboxes, such as the Akai MPC-60, for beat production with final mixes from 2-inch tape machines routed through large mixing consoles. Such an environment is hard to find these days and, usually, prohibitively expensive.

Who is the God of trap music? ›

The modern trap sound was popularized by producer Lex Luger, who produced the influential Waka Flocka Flame album Flockaveli in 2010, and cofounded the prolific hip-hop production team 808 Mafia.

Who is king of trap? ›

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, arguably the home of original trap music, T.I. is often referred to as The King of Trap in the music world.

Who started mumble rap? ›

The term "mumble rap" was first used in 2014 by VladTV battle rap journalist Michael Hughes, in an interview with battle rapper Loaded Lux about the style's emergence in mainstream hip hop.

What streaming service has the best music documentaries? ›

The 19 Best Music Documentaries
  • Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé (2019) Netflix. ...
  • Jazz On A Summer's Day (1959) kinolorber. ...
  • Monatge of Heck (2015) TVCine. ...
  • Miss Americana (2020) Taylor Swift. ...
  • Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. HBO. ...
  • Amy (2015) A24. ...
  • Jeen-Yus : A Kanye Trilogy (2022) Netflix. ...
  • Blackpink: Light Up The Sky (2020)
6 Jun 2022

Is Hip-Hop Evolution coming back? ›

Hip-Hop Evolution, the music documentary series centered around the history of hip-hop, will be returning with its fourth season this Friday (January 17).

What singer has a Netflix documentary? ›

From Nashville newcomer to international icon, singer Shania Twain transcends genres across borders amid triumphs and setbacks in this documentary.

Who is the best rapper in Memphis Tennessee? ›

Ibn Young (aka Playa Fly) is among the most respected names in Memphis rap. He made a name for himself while still a member of the Three 6 Mafia with Gangsta Boo, Juicy J, Project Pat, and Indo G.

What are the names of 5 famous musicians or singers past or present from Memphis? ›

Learn more about Memphis' music legends and find out where you can trace their roots in town to more deeply understand their impact on the world.
  • Al Green. ...
  • B.B. KING. ...
  • BOOKER T. ...
  • JOHNNY CASH. ...

What is Memphis known for? ›

The name Memphis means Established and Beautiful. Known worldwide as the "Home of the Blues & Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll - not to mention gospel, jazz, R&B, rap and soul. Close to 20 percent of the earliest inductees (24 of the 97) in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame have come from within a 100-mile radius of Memphis.

What rappers are from Orange Mound Memphis? ›

Orange Mound hosts a growing underground rap scene as well as national hip-hop stars. The hit rap duo 8 Ball & MJG (Premro Smith and Marlon Jermain Goodwin) grew up in Orange Mound.

Who is the king of Memphis rap? ›

Young Dolph

Where did little babies originate? ›

Who is in South Memphis? ›

List of people from South Memphis
  • Pooh Shiesty - rapper.
  • Big30 - rapper and childhood friend of fellow rapper Pooh Shiesty.
  • Carla Thomas- singer.
  • Key Glock- rapper.
  • Marion Barry- mayor of Washington D.C. from 1979 to 1990 and from 1995 to 1999.

Who was the most famous rock & roll artist to come out of Memphis TN? ›

None had greater success than Elvis Presley, who had moved to Memphis from Tupelo, Mississippi, at the age of 13. Presley's break came in 1954.

What kind of music is Memphis known for? ›

Gospel, jazz, blues, soul, and rockabilly have combined to create the distinctive Memphis music tradition, a legacy still savored by music lovers across the nation. The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and the Center for Southern Folklore celebrate that rich legacy today with exhibits and programs.

Where did Elvis hang out in Memphis? ›

THE Arcade Restaurant

The Arcade is not only the oldest diner in Memphis, it has been a local favorite for years. Elvis loved The Arcade and regularly ordered their fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. In his honor, there is an Elvis booth decorated with pictures of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

What famous people live in Memphis TN? ›

Some—but by no means all—of the famous people who have at one point have called Memphis home include:
  • Elvis Presley, whose Graceland mansion is still a major Memphis tourist attraction to this day.
  • Morgan Freeman.
  • Justin Timberlake.
  • Cybill Shepherd.
  • Elise Neal.
  • Kathy Bates.

Is Memphis a good place to live? ›

Then Memphis might be the perfect place for you! Not only is the second largest city in Tennessee the birthplace of rock and roll, but it also has affordable housing, great schools, some of the best barbecue, and much more.

What is the crime rate in Memphis Tennessee? ›

Memphis Annual Crimes
Number of Crimes15,31851,856
Crime Rate (per 1,000 residents)24.2081.91

Why is it called Orange Mound? ›

The neighborhood of Orange Mound (population 5,814) is a historic African American community located in Memphis, Tennessee, about 6 miles east of the city center. Its name comes from the Osage Orange shrubs on the grounds of the former John Deaderick Plantation (c.

What's the population of Orange Mound Tennessee? ›

What is the population of Orange Mound?
Y-o-Y Change
Total Population13,275-4.9%
Male Population6,289-1.5%
Female Population6,986-7.7%

Where is lecrae from? ›


1. DJ SPINALL - On A Low (Audio Video) ft. YCee
2. MOTHXR - Underground (audio)
3. The Velvet Underground - I Can't Stand It (2014 Mix / Audio)
(The Velvet Underground)
4. Bugle - Bread Winner (Official Audio)
( Bugle An9ted Official)
5. Samantha Jade, Cyrus Villanueva - Hurt Anymore (Audio)
(Samantha Jade)
6. Gilberto Santa Rosa - En La Oscuridad (Cover Audio)
(Gilberto Santa Rosa)

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