In The Dirty South producer and director Wills Felin follows four strippers and a host of hip-hoppers on a musical-sexual romp around three infamous cities: Daytona Beach, Atlanta, and Miami. Against a backdrop of blue sky and blue water, blazing sun and blazing weed, bikini-clad booties jiggle to the boomin' bass of Southern-style rap. In the opening scene of the film, which debuted on BET Action Pay Per View last summer and has been distributed by Slip 'N Slide Records since January 2001, three women on top of a green SUV perform cunnilingus and hump one another from behind while shaking their asses to the beat. A tiny black man with a conched-out ponytail, so petite he parades up and down the roof as if he were onstage at Carnegie Hall, slaps the women's asses and yells, "Dirty South" to the male audience in a frenzied cat-call and response. Dozens of horny men surround the vehicle, jumping up with disposable cameras in the hope of getting the perfect crotch shot. The movie camera plays coy, making it impossible to tell whether all this action in broad Daytona Beach daylight is feigned or for real.
As the camera pans the beach, the voice of notorious stripper Freaky Red, of Miami's Club Rolex, defines the Dirty South as pure sex: "Tongue, dick sucking, ass shakin', ass humpin', pussy poppin', everything -- practice makes perfect!" A person interviewed on the street offers a broader definition: "Black folk from the country." Favoring Freaky Red's view, the camera cuts back to booties bouncing, lingering on the backside of a woman struggling to keep five pairs of hands from pulling down her panties. Marilyn, a half-Colombian, half-Cuban member of the film's wil'n foursome, straddles the hood of a car and then does a spread eagle. The camera zooms in on her crotch, her narrow bikini bottom exposing her outer labia. If the thug mentality of gangsta rap could be summed up in a battle over who's got the biggest glock/cock, the global triumph of the hip-hop lifestyle documented in The Dirty South is displayed by some good ol' Southern pussy.
Regardless of their geography, almost every hip-hop powerhouse of late has had to acknowledge the South from the perspective of Wyclef, Snoop Dog, Timbaland, Ludacris, and Sisqó, whose summer anthem, "Thong Song," rips the style right off South Beach. Southern rappers finally have gained the position in the hip-hop game that historically has excluded them, owing in part to the East Coast-West Coast thug wars of past as well as to the region's unique dialect and cadence. Southern rap also is a direct descendant of bass music, which has always been hip-hop's bastard child.
The filmmakers were convinced the Dirty South was a subculture that had not been represented by any of the other hip-hop documentaries. A native New Yorker, Felin confesses he had to warm up to the form when he moved down to work as a production manager for the music television channel The Box. "At first I hated the Dirty South, but then I became intrigued by it," he says in a recent interview. "Coming from New York, I couldn't get used to the music; it's just so different. The videos are what pulled me in and intrigued me. I wanted to show why it was like that and where it came from: the strippers, the music."
Taking the viewer on a thumping joy ride and sexually explicit freak fest, The Dirty South leaves no room for doubt that the term dirty is no exaggeration. The film lays out a musical path and loops the story around the trajectory of our own First Amendment Svengali, Luther Campbell, of 2 Live Crew fame. Also known as Uncle Luke, Campbell pioneered the musical sex game that made Miami a mecca of loose booty-shakin' bass and orgiastic concert events. "The music was wild already," considers Felin, "but Luke took it to another level. He took it to the media. College kids will be studying his case at Harvard."
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In the movie Uncle Luke credits Atlanta-based hip-hop group the Goodie Mob with coining the phrase "Dirty South" on a track by that title on Goodie's 1995 Soul Food. Both that song and Goodie Mob's onscreen interview present a political definition that describes the reality of the South as "dirty" because the dirty hand of racism still prevails. "It's still the old prune-face ass-white folk running the ATL," explains rapper Khujo. "That what dirty' about it." Speaking by phone from his Atlanta home last week, Khujo adds, "The South has always been dirty to the people they brought over here from somewhere else." For African Americans, argues Khujo, both the social and meteorological climate led to an explicitly sexual culture disdained by mainstream white America. To suggest that such hostility continues today, the film juxtaposes the Goodie Mob interview with footage of police on horseback keeping a tight eye on an Atlanta black college event known as "Freaknik."
From his office on South Beach last week, Luke discusses the Dirty South from a music-industry perspective. "We in the South are a bunch of outcasts; nobody really respects us," he points out. "We speak a different language in the South, and it's not a black-white thing; it's South versus New York or California." Dealing with the major record labels from New York and Los Angeles also has been a dirty game, as Luke attributes their ignorance of Southern culture to the silencing of many fine Southern hip-hop groups. "Record labels destroy Southern artists as in the example of the 69 Boys," he says indignantly. "We're still underground; [labels] don't have a marketing plan, because they don't understand the product." Luke, who in the early years sold his CDs out of the trunk of his car, attributes the current boom in Southern rap to the persistence of the region's groups in producing and promoting their own product for years. "Master P spend his own money," Campbell says of the New Orleans-based music mogul. "Cash Money has been successful since before. New Orleans has a huge rap market. They have they own style and brand. They strictly New Orleans." Pausing to look out the window of his spacious office, he continues, "Take [New Orleans native] Mystikal. If anyone deserves what they getting now is that kid -- he's been opening up for years!"
Homegrown Uncle Luke events had a major impact in preparing the market for the strip-club aesthetic of contemporary Southern rappers like Ludacris, Trick Daddy, Trina, and even critical darlings Outkast. "I created it," asserts Luke. "I remember the first event I did at Crandon Park in 1975 when I was a DJ, called the Splash Down. I had bikini contests, and it started from there." Luke took the bikini from the beaches to hip-hop video. "As a rapper I wasn't going to go to New York to make a video and look like I'm from somewhere else," explains Luke. "I wanted to be the Dolomite version of rap."
Dolomite indeed. Like the quintessential pimp in the blaxploitation films of the Seventies, Luke has instigated and inspired the artists and the players of the game for nearly three decades now. The film closes at the now-defunct Friday-night Uncle Luke Show on 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1). The radio booth is packed with guest rappers freestyling on the mike. Goaded by Luke, Freaky Red kisses and tongues Gloria, one of the four featured Daytona girls. A honey-brown girl is lifted up on a table and begins gyrating and taking off her clothes while a posse of men eggs her on. In slow motion the camera catches Freaky Red grabbing Gloria's crotch beneath her Lycra catsuit. Shortly afterward, in the parking lot outside the radio station, Freaky Red and the honey-brown stripper get into a catfight, which eventually is broken up by large men. Hoarse from screaming, Freaky Red accuses the stripper from the rival club, Black Gold, of wearing "Ten-dollar shoes from Traffic" and having "stretch marks." To better her rival, Freaky Red unsnaps her skirt and reveals a very fuzzy pubis. In response the other stripper pulls down her panties to reveal a tattoo that reads "delicious." Someone off camera yells, "No more! no more!" The picture fades.