The recent news that the Atlanta Police Department's infamous Red Dog police unit is no more seems to have the whole city feeling sentimental for pre-Olympics Atlanta, that bygone era when the South, particularly Atlanta, really was Dirty. When housing projects with imposing names like Techwood Homes, Hollywood Courts, Perry Homes, Capitol Homes, and Grady Homes (there were a lotta Homes, holmes) dotted the city landscape. When the crack game seemingly provided more upward mobility than the rap game. And when "them dirty Red Dogs" were immortalized in rhyme by the Dungeon Family.
The song and video for Goodie Mob's "Dirty South" — featuring Cool Breeze (the originator of the term "Dirty South") and Big Boi — opens with an enacted scene of the Red Dog squad busting in on a trap house after using a neighborhood junkie as a decoy, followed by the hook, delivered in a sinister whisper by Cool Breeze: "1 to the 2 the 3 the 4/them dirty Red Dogs done hit the door/and they got everybody on they hands and knees/and they ain't gonna leave until they find them keys."
"Keys," of course, being slang for kilos; Red Dog was an acronym for Running Every Drug Dealer Outta Georgia.
It feels like ancient history now, but another Dungeon Family song preceded "Dirty South" in name-dropping Red Dog. Besides serving as the world's intro to Cee-Lo, "Git Up, Git Out" (from OutKast's ’94 debut Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik) also featured a hyper-local, politically-fueled verse from the Mob's Big Gipp, in which he dissed former Atlanta Chief of Police Eldrin Bell (who instituted the Red Dog unit) and former Mayor Maynard Jackson at a time when much of the city was so hype about the financial fruits of the forthcoming ’96 Olympics that few were tuned into the disparate voices Gipp represented so well:
"... Keep your eyes peeled for the Cobra unit
’Cause they known for jumping out of black Chevy trucks and through the fog
Here come the Red Dogs
I'm bustin' out around the corner in my hog
Dippin' through the area, I'm scared
So one of these bitches might wind up dead
’Cause I have no time for jail
Fuck Clampett cops. Fuck Eldrin Bell
And crooked-ass Jackson got the whole country
Thinkin' that my city is the big lick for ’96
’94, Big Gipp, Goodie Mo, OutKast
A vision from the past..."
How times have changed. Like hip-hop-at-large, Atlanta MCs have gone from popping off at the mouth to popping bottles, from agitating politicians to advocating for them.
Last year the Atlanta Housing Authority finally finished tearing down the last of those antiquated housing projects, displacing many of the city's poor in the process, and now the ghetto police tactics long attributed to the Red Dogs may be a thing of the past, too. But hold on to your "R.I.P.s" for now. Just as there is still an underbelly to Atlanta, under-represented though it may be, the Red Dog unit may be dying in name only. As Mayor Kasim Reed can attest, it's hard to defend the bite of a unit with such a vicious bark for a handle. Whatever the name for the new "tactical crime fighting unit" APD Chief George Turner is instituting in its place, you can bet money it'll never sound as menacing as "Red Dog" did in a rap.
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