Many first heard it, barely, over the scratchy airwaves broadcast live from the Sans Souci nightclub on WAOK-AM.
Mojo was the name.
And every Saturday night he would talk over whatever keyboard-generated funk song was hot back in the '80s. His signature line: "Let Mo-jo handle it! Yeah-yuh!"
And that, ladies and gentleman, was local rap music.
Meanwhile, just down the street from the Sans Souci on Campbellton Road in Southwest Atlanta, a teenager by the name of Jermaine Dupri was recording his first group.
A rap female group, even. (Remember them?)
Decades later, that same Dupri would see the R&B singer he produced the first No. 1 hit for (Usher), the rapper he passed on, (Ludacris) and the rapper-producer he once employed to find new acts (Lil Jon) come up with a smash together.
The hook from that hit? "Yeah-yeah!"
Somewhere between Mojo rapping on the local radio, to Usher, Ludacris and Lil Jon having the biggest song on the radio nationwide, to now, Atlanta has become enough of a rap city to lure arguably the best-known awards show for this genre -- The BET Hip-Hop Awards. Three years straight.
"The BET Awards is kind of big and flashy," Stephen G. Hill, BET executive vice president for entertainment and music programming, said when the cable network decided to come here. "And you never know what's going to come at you --- it's huge. This one, size is not as important, but credibility is crucial --- which is why we wanted to involve the people who are really the ones doing hip-hop right now."
With the ceremony taking place tonight at the Atlanta Civic Center (and airing Thursday on BET), it's a good time to look at how this city got here.
Here are 25 Important Moments In Hip-Hop, In Atlanta:
• 1991. Motown comes down south -- literally -- and with an assist from M.D. Collins High School classmates Kevin Wales (manager) and Dallas Austin (producer), releases the first kid rap group of note: Atlanta's Another Bad Creation.
• Feb. 1992. "Ooooooohhh...On The TLC Tip" is the first release from two singers (Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas) and a rapper (Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes) who would go on to be one of the best-selling female groups ever. (Both Austin and Dupri have a hand in the production).
• March 1992. Dupri has discovered two stylish kids in Greenbriar Mall -- just off Campbellton Road -- and they make their debut as Kris Kross. The first single from their "Totally Krossed Out" album, "Jump," became the fastest-selling single in 15 years. It held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks and made Dupri a millionaire before he could legally drink.
• March 1992. That same month, Dupri's father Michael Mauldin (also a music industry veteran) steers another type of group to the forefront -- Arrested Development. As the west coast was just starting to have its way with the charts, with its often-profane gangster rap, this southern ensemble in bare feet and overalls talked to God ("Tennessee"), and about respecting women ("People Everyday"). It was won the best new artist Grammy, and another for best rap performance by a duo or group.
July 1993. Duo Tag Team's "Whoomp! There It Is" album hits stores and the title track/soon-to-be sports anthem becomes the biggest-selling single in rap music (at the time).
• 1994. Dupri strikes again with a heavy-lidded, female version of gangster rap sensation Snoop Doggy Dogg. Her name is Da Brat. And her debut, "Funkdafied," is the first album by a female rapper to sell a million copies.
• April 1994. After firmly establishing themselves as soul men in the industry -- producing lush R&B for Whitney Houston and the like -- Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds release their first rap group on their Atlanta-based LaFace imprint: OutKast.
• July 1995. WHTA-FM, the city's first full-time hip-hop station, starts broadcasting on 97.5 from a trailer in the middle of a field. Until this time, rap was rarely heard after 6 p.m. on top station V-103. (Much less on any other station). But when V-103's Ryan Cameron left to join 97.5, he was replaced in the evening spot by Texas radio personality Greg Street. And V-103 -- and Atlanta radio -- hasn't sounded the same since.
• Nov. 1995. Rap group number two on LaFace makes its bow: Goodie Mob. And its first CD "Soul Food" -- a combination of Arrested Development's thoughtfulness and OutKast's soulful thump -- becomes, arguably, the first classic Southern hip-hop album. (And guess what gets name-checked on the title track? JJ's Rib Shack -- on Campbellton Road).
• June 1996. Dupri's "So So Def Bass All-Stars" is released, paying tribute to local mixtape pioneer Edward J (on the intro and outro); plus it had a few hits ("My Boo," by Ghost Town DJs).
• Aug. 1996. The singles "Elevators (Me and You)" and "Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac)" merited attention in their own right, but people still look to the title of OutKast's CD "ATLiens" as the launch of a still-enduring nickname for this city ("ATL") and its residents.
• April 1997. Courtesy of music impresario Tony Mercedes and his group B-Rock & the Bizz, more local lingo becomes mainstream fodder. The phrase/hit single? "MyBabyDaddy".
• March 1999. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks sues OutKast, claiming it used her name (in the title of a song) without her permission. Six years later the battle ended with a settlement.
• Oct. 2000. After starting out as an intern and radio personality on Hot-97.5 (now Hot-107.9), and establishing himself regionally with his independent disc, "Incognegro," Chris "Ludacris" Bridges makes his multimillion-selling, major label debut on "Back For The First Time." (Get the joke?)
• April 25, 2002. Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes is killed in a car accident during a working vacation in Honduras.
• Sept. 2003. OutKast releases the double-CD "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" -- the first hip-hop CD to win Grammy's top prize, album of the year.
• Nov. 2003. The Source magazine -- then the New York-based bible of hip-hop -- names Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz group of the year. That officially made the often-belittled sub-genre called "crunk," major.
• Dec. 2005. MTV2 comes to town to shoot "My Block: Atlanta," a series about how a city played a part in a hip-hop act's life and music. In front of the Gilbert House in southwest Atlanta, it recreates Art Kane's classic jazz portrait "Great Day In Harlem" by assembling Dupri, T.I., Ludacris, Young Jeezy, Organized Noize, Killer Mike, Bone Crusher, The Ying Yang Twins and others for a photo.
• March 2006. T.I. and Big Boi make their motion picture debut in the locally-shot "ATL."
• Oct. 2006. In a rather showy announcement atop the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Black Entertainment Television announces it will launch its BET Hip-Hop Awards here, at the Fox Theatre.
• Jan. 2007. Prominent mixtape DJs Drama and Don Cannon are arrested for illegally selling recorded music materials. (The matter is still unresolved).
• Feb. 11, 2007. Ludacris wins his first solo Grammy for best rap album, walks up to the podium and announces: "Atlanta, Ga., I'm bringing this home to you!"
• Oct. 2, 2007. Teen rapper (and MySpace sensation) Soulja Boy releases his debut, "Souljaboytellem.com," which includes the iTunes record-breaker for downloads, "Crank That (Soulja Boy)".
• Oct. 13, 2007. On the way to the BET Hip-Hop Awards, top nominee T.I. stops at a Walgreen's blocks away from the venue, and the convicted felon is arrested for buying machine guns. In March 2008, he pled guilty. Part of his plea deal requires him to perform at least 1,000 hours of community service before being sentenced next March.
• June 2008. Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid (now a New Yorker), names Shakir Stewart executive vice president of Def Jam Recordings. This basically puts the Morehouse graduate in charge of the day-to-day operations of the most revered imprint in hip-hop.
• Oct. 8, 2008. T.I. scores the No. 1 album, and single in the country, with "Paper Trail" and "Live Your Life" (featuring Rihanna).
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