You could sum up 2003 hip-hop in two words: Lil Jon. (Okay, 50 Cent and Jay-Z had a good year, too.) While the Atlanta producer wasn't an unknown quantity -- in 2001, he released Put Yo Hood Up, with its controversial Confederate flag cover -- he exploded into the pop mainstream with his crunk music, from hits with The Eastside Boyz ("Get Low") to productions for Ying Yang Twins ("Salt Shaker") and Youngbloodz ("Damn"). He put the world on notice that the Dirty South was here to stay.
This was a problem for those of us who had previously dismissed Southern rap as simple and ignorant. Lil Jon was easy to ridicule as a novelty with his long dreadlocks, a "pimp cup" festooned with diamonds and jewels, a pair of sidemen named Sam and Bo (whose names Mos Def hilariously claimed were an unintentional amalgamation of the noxious Sambo racial stereotype), and the way he screamed "Yeahhh!" on every song. But Lil Jon had serious musical skills, too. The slam-dancing, elbow-swinging mashers he produced for protégés Trillville ("Neva Eva") and Lil Scrappy ("Head Bussa") drew plaudits from hip-hop aesthetes like DJ Shadow.
Then there was Bone Crusher, a massively overweight man who tore off his shirt and waved it like a rally towel on "Never Scared"; David Banner, who brilliantly intellectualized the crunk mentality on his acclaimed Mississippi: The Album; Juvenile, who scored his first No. 1 hit with the strip-club anthem "Slow Motion"; and T.I., whose breakout album, Trap Muzik, had industry observers calling him the next Jay-Z. And everyone likes OutKast, who dropped their biggest achievement to date, the 11-times-platinum Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. But you won't find any radio-baiting "Hey Ya" singles on this playlist. This is for the moments that made us accept the South in all its country beauty and raucous ugliness, whether we liked it or not.