2007 | Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’) by T-Pain Featuring Yung JocFrom the Collection: Songs of the Summer
Southern hip hop takes center-stage
By Regina N. Bradley
I was heading home to Georgia and I couldn’t wait to turn on the radio. It was the summer of 2007. For the last year, I’d been living in Bloomington, Indiana, where I was attending graduate school for African American and African Diaspora Studies. Bloomington didn’t have an urban radio station, and the one in Indianapolis was too far away to pick up without static. I was tired of my old mixes; I wanted to know what was new. This, paired with Bloomington’s lack of a PopEye’s Chicken restaurant, had me more than eager to hop on a plane and head back South.
It did not take long for me to hear what I’d been missing. Sprinting through the Atlanta airport towards baggage claim, I caught snatches of new hip hop coming from the various speakers in entertainment kiosks. After renting my car, I hopped on Interstate 75. Soon, my head was nodding to radio station V-103’s mix of hip hop and R&B. That drive to Albany was the first time I heard T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” featuring Yung Joc — a song emblematic of southern hip hop’s full transition onto a national stage, while maintaining its regional roots.
Before I’d left Georgia, Atlanta was beginning to revel in its status as a renowned hip hop city and a hub for popular culture. It hadn’t always been that way. In the early- to mid-1990s, hip hop had been dominated by bi-coastal artists and aesthetics. Atlanta rappers rhymed outside the national spotlight. That began to change when groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob came onto the scene. With the help of Atlanta’s premier production team Organized Noize, they described Atlanta as a grimy, funky, and continuing work-in-progress after the Civil Rights Movement. Their lyrics were honest, and at times brutal, about Atlanta’s socio-political landscape. But while OutKast — with their growing popularity outside of the South — pushed Atlanta past the binaries of hip hop regionalism, Goodie Mob focused their music on what made Atlanta part of the “Dirty” South.
The “Dirty” South was a place that existed in the margins — where illicit economies flourished and inhabitants did not always behave respectably. It would be memorialized again and again with successive renderings of the Atlanta sound. “Trap” music, the dark storytelling of street life and drug culture accompanied by heavy synthesizers and rattling basslines, was headlined by acts like T.I., Jeezy, and Gucci Mane. “Crunk” music, pioneered by acts like Memphis rap group 3-6 Mafia and Atlanta’s Lil Jon, used an intentionally simplistic formula of drum machines and call-and-response that made you want to dance — or fight.
By 2007, we had entered the age of “snap” rap. Snap borrowed crunk’s synthesizer-laden beats, but traded its full-bodied percussion for the finger snap. Snap was lighter and more upbeat than its predecessors. Its practitioners had come of age in an Atlanta transformed, a bustling international city with a legitimate hip hop scene and a reputation for sonic and cultural experimentation. America had opened its eyes to Atlanta, and now Atlanta returned the attention: while trap and crunk intentionally represented Atlanta as a unique southern space, snap offered up the city as a cosmopolitan destination available to those outside its city limits and outside the South in general.
“Buy U a Drank,” featuring Atlanta rapper Yung Joc, epitomized “Snap&B,” a hybrid of snap rap and R&B. T-Pain (short for Tallahassee Pain) had become a regional success with his group Nappy Headz. As a solo artist, he was an apostle of auto-tune — the audio device created to correct off-key vocals, whose distinct distortion produces a smooth, glossy sound — and it worked for him. With his signature singsong whine, Pain waxed lyrical about southern club life: falling in love with strippers, dancing until your hair sweated out, and drinking (or “dranking”) into oblivion.
“Buy U a Drank” was no exception, mapping the overlap of flirtation, alcohol, and sex in southern club and party scenes of the mid-2000s. The song takes place in the club, where T-Pain and Yung Joc “spit game” to women by offering free drinks with hopes of a one-night stand. Yung Joc’s voice, low and seductive, sounds slightly drunk as he beckons for his love interest to meet him at the bar and take shots, all the while boasting of his wealth. Auto-tuned T-Pain harmony floats above a light, infectious combination of synthesizers, snares, and finger snaps.
In addition to women in the club, the “shawty” in the song title and lyrics is a stand-in for the listener. Women’s physical participation in the song was vital: in club-happy Atlanta, if a song wasn’t “danceable,” it was deemed unworthy of being a hit. This was especially true in Atlanta strip clubs, which increasingly had the power to “break” (or popularize) music to specific audiences. Sites of the (hyper)sexualization of black women (and the men who gazed upon them), strip clubs had always been part of the southern hip hop aesthetic. As Atlanta hip hop took over the national charts, strip club imagery went mainstream. The emergence of strip club culture as a platform for southern hip hop marked yet another reason why the contemporary black South was “dirty." It contested the narrative of black respectability that marked older generations — and representations — of the southern black experience. The tug and pull between dirty and respectable narratives continues in Atlanta today.
After my visit home, I took T-Pain back with me to Indiana. Of course by then, "Buy U a Drank" had gone national, climbing to number five on the Billboard chart that summer. And even though I was returning to my position of being southern-adjacent, the music breathed fresh air into my mixes, as well as my spirit. As I had grown and changed, so had my home. Tracks like “Buy U a Drank” reflected yet another transition in the contemporary black South: the possibility of cosmopolitanism, its music pulled from multiple sets of experiences to create a unique and accessible cultural aesthetic.
Listen to the complete top ten from the summer of 2007 on Spotify.
Regina N. Bradley is an Assistant Professor of English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. Her snap game is legendary. She can be reached at www.redclayscholar.com.