Love Thy Hip-Hop Neighbor

Despite close proximity and a lot of crossover culture, the hip-hop scenes of South Carolina and North Carolina still largely keep to themselves. Does it have to be this way?

Love Thy Hip-Hop Neighbor
Super Empty illustration © 2018

A couple of days ago, a homie tagged me under the picture of a Columbia, South Carolina-based rapper named Blacc Zacc. According to the Instagram photo I was tagged under, Blacc Zacc’s claim to fame is that apparently he considers himself the “richest rapper in South Carolina.” My friend then inquired as to whether I could confirm this claim to be true. It was obvious to me that he was joking but, nonetheless, it stirred a few thoughts within me.

First, when you think about it, how hard is it to be the “richest rapper in South Carolina?” (Answer: Not very hard.) It’s not like the Palmetto State is some kind of a hotbed of mainstream hip-hop talent. That is to say, no one will confuse us for being Atlanta. And unlike our neighbors to the north, we have no J. Coles or Rapsodys to call our own. We have no Southern hip-hop pioneers like 9th Wonder, Little Brother, or even a Petey Pablo to claim. The closest we had to a true “this guy could be a national star” artist was the late, great Speaker Knockerz. He tragically died of a heart attack in 2014, at the age 19, but his song “Freak Hoe” will live on forever.

In the absence of a dense analytical discussion where interested parties debate a methodology to define what “richest rapper” actually means, we don’t have anyone to point to as competition for Blacc Zacc. So since we have no way to refute the claim, my answer to the “is Blacc Zacc the richest rapper in South Carolina” question is... “I guess so.”

Secondly, if this is true, how on Earth was I caught unaware by his existence? I’m not going to pretend that I’m one of those guys that know everything about local South Carolina rap. But I am definitely plugged in enough to know about a dude who reportedly takes videos of himself sitting in a studio with shiny jewels around his neck and stacks of money on his stomach.

But the entire situation brings up a larger point: either I’m not as connected to the scene as I thought I was, or there is no reliable information infrastructure for Carolina-based hip-hop — and that needs to change.

Before I go any further let me say this: to anyone reading this who is doing the daily work of documenting hip-hop culture in either of the Carolinas, please understand that I am not trying to belittle your work. Quite the contrary, I’m saying your work needs to be seen, and the fact that I don’t know that you exist is a problem. It is my opinion that if the culture is to expand out of its current threshold, there needs to be a go-to source for the aggregation of hip-hop news and information.

Yes, it would be dope for there to be XXL equivalent, but at this point I’d take a Carolina-focused version of Complex; one where news, music and fashion are interwoven into digestible content. Allen Ginsberg said it best: “Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture." Without dedicated media outlets, hip-hop in the Carolinas will be relegated to permanent subculture status.

Realistically, I know that in order for publications like that to exist, a lot of things need to be in place. First, there needs to be a scene to cover. Next, you need interested consumers looking for said content. Lastly, and actually this should probably be first on the list, there needs to be streams (streams meaning “multiple sources”) of revenue to keep the entire enterprise afloat. Website development, hosting, and dedicated email accounts cost money. Not to mention the cost attributed with actually doing the work.

While the resources to create the next Complex may be lacking, all is not lost. I tend to look at things from a positive (yet realistic) perspective. As it stands, the fact that there is no “go-to” resource means that there’s a sea of potential for the person with the right combination of ideas, structure, and (you guessed it) resources.

For example, Concrete Magazine, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, has been covering hip-hop culture in the Volunteer state for over 10 years. From interviews with artists to their “Nashville 10” profiles of models, they’ve become a preeminent source for all things hip-hop in the great state of Tenn-a-key! Another great example is the popular entertainment and gossip blog, “Straight From The A.” While they benefit from being located in the Mecca of Southern hip-hop, their ability to produce a consistent stream of content and exclusives has made them one of the most respected publications in Georgia.

Shoot, maybe Super Empty could eventually become a respected point of reference for practitioners of hip-hop culture in both South and North Carolina. I guess time will tell. The point is, there are tangible examples of it happening elsewhere, so that gives me hope that it could happen in the Carolinas.

By the way Mr. Blacc Zacc, if you’re reading this, could you please let me have some of those stacks? Paying off my student loans would be a great way of proving to everyone that you really are the richest rapper in South Carolina.

I’m just saying.

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, KJ Kearney is the James Beard Award-winning founder of Black Food Fridays. Over the course of his illustrious career, he has also been a streetwear blogger, cultural curator, community organizer and South Carolina House of Reps candidate. You can follow him on IG at @kjbeenya.