Hip-hop documentary ‘The South Got Something to Say’ premieres in Atlanta.
On Thursday night at Center Stage Theater in Atlanta, some of the city's hip-hop royalty gathered for the premiere of The South Got Something to Say.
The documentary is part of an Atlanta Journal Constitution "AJC Films" venture in which the newspaper spotlights key moments in Atlanta's history.
The screening is tied to a yearlong national cultural celebration, "50 Years of Hip-Hop."
Before the screening, AJC Editor-in-Chief Leroy Chapman Jr. and AJC enterprise reporter Ernie Suggs posed on a teal carpet in front of the theater along with early hip-hop pioneer MC Shy D and the documentary's filmmakers, Ryon and Tyson Horne.
This capped off a day of comprehensive panel discussions ranging from "Documenting the Movement" and "Hip-Hop Influences Everything" to "Where Are the Women Rappers?" and "The Next 50 Years."
Panelists included Dr. Courtney A. Hammonds, Rashan Ali, Mike Jordan, Shanti Das, Jacinta Howard, Amir Shaw, Jewel Wicker and GPB’s Sonia Murray, who had spent more than a decade at the AJC as its music critic in the 1990s and early 2000s. Current AJC reporter DeAsia Paige, along with Suggs, developed the story for the film.
Inside the packed theater, AJC publisher Andrew Morse spoke onstage to explain why the AJC made the film, saying Atlanta and its hip-hop music and culture are "forever intertwined."
Sen. Raphael Warnock also took the podium to draw a parallel between preachers and rappers throughout music history in America.
"We understand that the spirituals and the gospel and blues and jazz come from the same groups of subjugated people speaking to God in their own voice," he said. "And it's no mistake that the South is at the center of that story."
The feature-length documentary spanned from 1970s house parties to what it labeled present-day "COVID-1619," with interviews from Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Speech, T.I., the Dungeon Family, Goodie Mob, Killer Mike, Lil Yachty, Silk Tymes Leather, Baby Tate and others.
It also included commentary by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and his predecessors Keisha Lance Bottoms, Kasim Reed and Andrew Young, who said hip-hop music as the sound of an oppressed and marginalized people in the South made Atlanta's scene stand out from styles in New York and the West Coast.
The South Got Something to Say doesn’t include every player in the Georgia hip-hop movement, but the film is rich with historic footage and newspaper clippings — from Jocelyn Dorsey’s visit to a skating rink in 1979 to its climax in the May 2020 protests when then-Mayor Bottoms asked Killer Mike and T.I. to speak at a press conference to calm crowds who were destroying property at CNN and other locations in the city in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd — a moment Bottoms said demonstrated hip-hop music's social clutch on Atlanta. This was followed by coverage of the ongoing Young Thug YSL trial and finally, the group Goodie Mob, eyes closed in prayer, as member CeeLo recited a lengthy verse.
DeAsia Paige summed up the film's vibe best in her short personal essay for film premiere's commemorative booklet:
"My love for hip-hop is often complicated and intense," she wrote. "To fall in love with something indicates that you trusted it enough to know that it will catch you when you fall. As a Black woman, I’ve seen hip-hop abandon the landing too many times … but there are artists who made me fall in love with hip-hop more than I’ve fallen out of it.”
The documentary can be streamed for a limited time at ajc.com/hiphop.