Jelly oozed enthusiasm and Hip Hop, downloading music on his apple computer while joking and laughing around with us. Various other folks occasionally dropped into our conversation, including fans, well wishers, and another ATL legendary DJ, DJ Shabazz. Originally from
, Jelly has been on the map for nearly the last two decades. Citing Biz Markie as an influence of including CD Jaying in his own style, Jelly moved from St. Louis to St. Louis in the late 1980s. From his first gig at Atlanta in 1990 to the present, Jelly lives by the creed he teaches to his mentees – “you gotta get in the trenches.” Magic City
Those trenches shifted since he’s been in the game. And a legendary DJ understands the factors behind those changes.
Jelly reminisced about 1990s
and its music scene. “There was a sense of community here, but it wasn’t about Hip Hop at first. It was bass music out of Atlanta and R&B. LaFace was running things with acts like TLC. When I got a gig over at V103, we had an hour to showcase Hip Hop music. I got in a few years before OutKast and them got on the map,” Jelly reflects. His first intro to a then unknown OutKast was the single “Playa’s Ball” on the A LaFace Family Christmas compilation album in 1993. Jelly was not overly impressed. “I wasn’t really feeling the single like that. It was good, but I wasn’t like ‘damn!’” His mind changed after watching OutKast’s first video and watching Big Boi and Andre 3000 in action – “they had a presence,” Jelly remembers – and that appreciation escalated when Jelly got involved with Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family (comprised of OutKast, Goodie Mob, Backbone, and other Atlanta area emcees). Florida
Jelly credits Organized Noize with bringing a new dimension of Hip Hop to
. “Ray (Murray), Ric (Wade), and Sleepy Brown had a vision. They didn’t want to be just southern rap. They wanted to bring Hip Hop to the next level. And they did. The lyricism and creation of the music they made was brilliant. Not everyone can be Organized Noize or ‘Kast. In today’s music climate, though, they don’t want to be and don’t need to be.” Our conversation shifted to how Jelly viewed today’s music scene and the illusive “1% percenters.” Atlanta
He defined those one percenters as emcees with nearly impeccable lyricism and genius that is missing in today’s rap music. Very few dwell here but include OutKast, Goodie Mob, Jay-Z, and Cee-Lo Green. Andre 3000’s lyricism is especially mystifying, disappearing for extended amounts of time and returning as a guest lyricist and murdering nearly every emcee in the game with only 16 bars. “That’s Dre,” Jelly remarks. “That’s why he’s in that one percent. He’s a genuine artist – always thinking, marinating, over thinking. One of the coolest cats you’d ever meet, but this cat’s the truth. He’s deadly.”
And relevant. Even in this latest decade of new southern-dom. Artists like Lil’ Jon, T.I., and David Banner ushered in “the New South” in the early 2000s. Along with a shift in sound (minus the likes of Organized Noize) there was also a shift in content. The consciousness and spirituality raised by groups like Goodie Mob got pushed to the background of strip club anthems like Ying Yang Twins’ “Get Low” or the hardcore street musings of Pastor Troy, Baby D, and Young Jeezy. There was no room for a balanced representation of the southern experience. The lack of complexity returned southern rap back to the restrictive spaces “street” and “booty.” Lyricism became unnecessary. “As a Hip Hop (especially southern rap) enthusiast, I appreciate the music for what it is,” Jelly says. “But I miss it for the wide spectrum it used to have. I enjoyed the lyricism, the dance songs, the bass music, because all of them were represented. That’s missing today. There’s no variety.”
So, where do we go from here? Jelly cites
native Yelawolf and Alabama ’s B.O.B. and Pill as a resuscitation of lyricism in southern rap music. “They got potential, they just need to stay in the trenches, kiss the babies, dap up the people on and in the streets who will have their back.” He credits much of Gucci Mane and Waka Flaka Flam’s success to their trench work. “They stay in the hearts and minds of their fans. They’ve built the foundation. People might not think much of Gucci lyrically, but he’s put in work,” Jelly states. Atlanta
The constant shift in what’s hot – bass and “stripper music,” social consciousness, crunk, snap, and the latest dance era engulfing Atlanta’s music scene – currently suggests a loss of connection with southern music’s origins. Jelly argues there’s a multi-branched reason for that: “The music is produced for the youth. The youth don’t give a fuck about the past. The past isn’t relevant. And that’s a problem because what they are seeing as ‘new’ has been around for a minute. There’s a generation gap.” When the spotlight and Hip Hop community began to focus on Atlanta, the sense of community dissolved. “It’s deeper than a lack of presence in music,” Jelly points out. “Old and new artists didn’t connect, selfishness took over. We need to reconnect and pay our respects to how this shit got started in the first place.”
Radio and DJ culture further troubled the relationship between music and a sense of community. The constant need to stay relevant (read: trendy) overshadows the need to search for good music and connect the past with the present, which Jelly prides himself in with his own craft. “I use technology. I stay up on what’s current. But I’m still old school. I still spin, I work on my craft,” he says. Mentorship is also important for Atlanta’s Hip Hop legacy. Jelly points out that lack of mentorship as problematic: “we need to re-develop a sense of mentorship between DJs and artists. DJs need to know their role and understand they are the liaison between their [young] audience and music.” Jelly prides himself in doing just that. “My focus is developing artists. I’m on the hunt for talent,” he asserts. Jelly’s blog and website As the World Spins and upcoming television show Rising reflect his intentions, focusing on the discovery and development of such lyrical diamonds and deejays in the rough.
Stayin’ in the trenches. Respect.