AJC documentary at intersection of hip-hop and academia

‘The South Got Something to Say’ screens at AUC’s Woodruff Library as part of the institution’s efforts to show culture’s educational impact.
On screen, the AJC’s Ryon Horne (left) and Tyson Horne deliver a prerecorded message to viewers following a screening of their film, the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say,” at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The panel onstage is the Maroon Tiger's Auzzy Byrdsell (from left) and AJC staffers Ernie Suggs, DeAsia Paige and Mike Jordan.
Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

On screen, the AJC’s Ryon Horne (left) and Tyson Horne deliver a prerecorded message to viewers following a screening of their film, the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say,” at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The panel onstage is the Maroon Tiger's Auzzy Byrdsell (from left) and AJC staffers Ernie Suggs, DeAsia Paige and Mike Jordan. Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mahli Slaughter is serious about his love for Atlanta history and hip-hop culture. That much was evident during a Thursday night screening of the AJC Film “The South Got Something to Say,” at the Atlanta University Center’s Robert W. Woodruff Library. Slaughter mouthed the words to lyrics, bouncing in his seat during a segment about Lil Jon, Crime Mob and the crunk music era.

Clark Atlanta University graduate student Mahli Slaughter voices his thoughts following a screening of the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say" at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. 
Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

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Credit: Bita Honarvar

“It’s important that Atlanta story is taught with such truth and authority,” said the Atlanta native and graduate student in African American studies at Clark Atlanta University. “It is important that people have the proper history of Atlanta rap and its foundations.”

The screening was followed by an introduction from Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editor-in-Chief Leroy Chapman and a panel discussion with reporters DeAsia Paige and Ernie Suggs, who also wrote and helped produce the documentary, and Black culture senior editor Mike Jordan. The conversation was led by Auzzy Byrdsell, editor-in-chief of Morehouse College’s student news organization the Maroon Tiger (and an AJC intern).

The discussion, inspired by the documentary, explored the city’s rise, run, and reckoning with its identity since hip-hop’s inception 50 years ago. “You had a lot of people who influenced the world and they did it with the technology that was available for them of the day. They were disruptors, they were innovators, they created jobs,” Chapman said before introducing the panel.

Leroy Chapman, editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, addresses the audience after a screening of the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say" at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. 
Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

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Credit: Bita Honarvar

From the diversity of voices in the documentary, and the current impact of women in rap music, to lessons learned by the filmmakers and reporters making “The South Got Something to Say,” it was fitting that the setting for the event was a resource center of knowledge — the fifth element of hip-hop — shared by multiple historically Black colleges and universities.

“Our students love hip-hop, and so we want to provide an opportunity for them, to see hip-hop, to hear hip-hop, to take it and try and relate it to their other studies,” said the library’s director and CEO Loretta Parham.

Parham and the library are no strangers to bringing hip-hop history into the curriculum. In 2009, the Woodruff Library obtained an archive of poems, lyrics, and diary entries from Tupac Shakur. The collection was given to the library by his mother, Afeni Shakur. Parham remembers a student being so taken aback by the collection it inspired them to explore what others gems lay in the archives, which at that time also included major papers from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Maynard Jackson. “What are the lessons that they can take from hip-hop, whether it’s entrepreneurship or the creative side of creating lyrics and creating music, whether it’s about the marketing strategies,” Parham said.

Viewers enjoy a screening of the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say" at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. 
Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

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Credit: Bita Honarvar

Donovann Rimpsey, Woodruff’s coordinator of student communications and outreach hopes that screening a film about hip-hop culture continues to push institutions of higher learning toward acknowledging its value. “Hip-hop is African American studies. It is academia, it is educational, whether it is trap, whether it is backpack rap — all of that,” he said.

“I find sometimes institutionally we push against hip-hop,” said Rimpsey, who added that before Thursday’s event the library also hosted a screening of “Def Poetry Jam,” which included live performances from AUC students. “The kids walking around with headphones, they’re listening to rap. The way they dress, it’s from [hip-hop]. It’s not a trend, it’s not a fad. It’s us.”

Rimpsey is a native of Washington, D.C., who grew up listening to and still is a fan of Jay-Z, but loves Atlanta rapper Deante’ Hitchcock. For him, what stood out about watching “The South Got Something to Say” is how the story of the city’s impact on hip-hop includes voices of producers, music executives, and even local politicians. The intentionality that went into finding the right people to tell a uniquely Atlanta story is something that Paige says simply came from her and Suggs’ instincts as reporters.

From left, Morehouse College student and AJC intern Auzzy Byrdsell, senior reporter Ernie Suggs, AJC culture reporter DeAsia Paige and AJC senior editor Mike Jordan participate in a panel discussion following a screening of the AJC's hip-hop documentary "The South Got Something to Say" at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. 
Bita Honarvar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Bita Honarvar

icon to expand image

Credit: Bita Honarvar

“This is a love letter to Atlanta hip-hop, but it’s also a love letter to Atlanta as a city itself,” she said. “I think we need to include as many voices as possible to tell that story.”

When asked what is something the staff learned throughout the process of making the film, Suggs broke down how other interview subjects kept bringing up Atlanta’s first rapper, Mojo. Those mentions ultimately led to the rapper’s inclusion in the film. Paige explained how the team (and most of Atlanta) were not aware of Jermaine Dupri’s pre-Kris Kross success with the all-girl group, Silk Tymes Leather until the producer and self-proclaimed “Mayor of Atlanta” dropped their name in an interview.

With so much information packed into just over 90 minutes, Slaughter, also an aspiring artist, spent the duration of the screening and afterward taking notes.

He was writing down important names, dates, and bits of information that were new to him. What’s not lost on him is his hometown’s continuing influence. “I hope that people who are not so aware of Atlanta’s culture, especially surrounding hip-hop and rap culture, I pray that they see the validity,” he said.

To view “The South Got Something to Say,” visit ajc.com/hiphop.

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