Wonderbread-white New Jersey cultural reporter Ben Westhoff embarked upon a journey into the heart of Dixie to extract stories that illuminate the precipitous rise of Southern Hip Hop. Not precisely a cultural critic, Westhoff employed candid interviews and embedded observation to attempt a description of the lives and worlds from which the genre emerged. The result is Dirty South: Outkast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, recently out from Chicago Review Press, which he will be discussing at Garden District Books on Monday, May 2 at 6 p.m.
Armed with a Hyundai and a digital recorder, Westhoff traveled through the rough turf of Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami, tracking down the likes of Scarface, Trae, Big Boi, Juvenile, Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Luke Campbell, former 2 Live Crew provocateur and recent candidate for mayor of Miami (Westhoff pens an editorial of support for Campell’s campaign here). A St. Louis native, Westhoff cut his teeth doing rap reporting for the Riverfront Times during the renaissance there that included Nelly and J-Kwonn. He has written for the Village Voice, Oxford American, Pitchfork, the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, and NPR, and has won awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Missouri Press Association, and Religion Newswriters Association.
As a friend noted, given the venue, this event may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear old white ladies debate West Coast rapper Ice-T’s claim that Soulja Boy “single-handedly” killed hip hop.