Stakes are higher now for the YoungBloodz, Atlanta's latest dynamic hip-hop duo. Back in 1999, when Sean Paul and J-Bo released their LaFace/Arista debut, Against da Grain, OutKast had only recently scored its first cover of hip-hop bible The Source, after five years of platinum-selling records. Back then, top Southern artists like Master P, Eightball & MJG and UGK sold well in the South, but remained outsiders in hip-hop's New York-centric universe.
This year, however, Atlanta artists like Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz and Bone Crusher have raised the bar with crunk music, a unique Atlanta club sound that has been embraced nationally -- even in New York. With Southern hip-hop all over the charts, interest in rappers below the Mason-Dixon Line is rising as well. At this year's Atlantis Music Conference, for instance, even producer Rodney Jerkins (Michael Jackson, Brandy) noted that he was looking for a "hot, dirty South rapper."
And so it is that the reception for Drankin' Patnaz, Youngbloodz's sophomore album released by Arista last week, feels so critical to the duo.
"You got Bone Crusher and David Banner on the countdown [BET's 106 and Park]," Sean Paul says. "We got to keep it moving right now, you know what I'm sayin'. It can't be no pause, you know what I mean. If the pause comes, it's gon' go back to that same way."
To Sean Paul, "that same way" means limited airplay and underground status for Southern acts. YoungBloodz know how that feels, having experienced some early East Coast hostility when they followed OutKast as part of a second wave of Southern rap ambassadors.
"We did our thang back in '98, '99 and 2000. All the youngsters, they see a whole new game," says J-Bo. "It wasn't the same thang when we were playing ball. They accept Down South music more. That's what changed."
While YoungBloodz claim their sound is something that hasn't changed since the first time, when the duo score regional hits with "85" and "U-Way," that may not be altogether true. They're still keeping it Atlanta-focused, but hot producers Jazze Pha and Lil Jon appear in addition to Mark Twayne, from their Attic Crew clique. The lead single, the Lil Jon-produced "Damn," plays off the current crunk craze, meshing gritty and hyperactive production with J-Bo and Sean Paul's distinctively Southern and laid-back vocals. It has been rocking the airwaves since June, steadily picking up steam. At a recent in-store appearance at popular College Park record store DBS Sounds, at least 200 people crowded outside the shop.
Against the Grain failed to even go gold (500,000 sold) in a climate where platinum (1 million sold) is the mark of success. A repeat of those sales figures, however, is not an option this time around. This second album has to hit, Sean Paul says, "after that, you may not have another chance."
An early single, "Cadillac Pimpin," got significant radio play but never turned into much of a hit. Following "Damn," the next single will be "Lean Low," produced by St. Louis' Tha Trackboyz. Its similarity to the Lil Jon/Ying Yang Twins hit "Get Low" will either kill it or boost it. Like "Get Low," the song is strip-club friendly and, here, the stripper even gets a few words in on the chorus.
But after that, finding another definitive hit may be hard. "Drankin' Patnaz" and "Tequila" explore themes of friendship and relationships, but the theme of alcohol gets tiresome, especially on "Tequila," where a woman is likened to liquor.
Now that going platinum is more of a requirement than an anomaly for Southern rappers, Sean Paul and J-Bo have their work cut out if they're going to "keep it moving." Whether these "drankin' patnaz" will be sipping Cristal or downing discount beer depends upon it.
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