Thanks to the amped up beef between the West Coast and East Coast rappers in the room, tensions were already running high at the 1995 Source Awards held in New York City. And then, in the upset of the evening, Atlanta’s OutKast took home the award for Best New Rap Group. As they strode to the microphone to accept the award, Big Boi and André 3000 were booed. Attempting to talk over the crowd and annoyed by the disrespect, André 3000 gave voice to all of the unheard Southern hip-hop artists when he told the room, “The South got something to say.” The moment immediately put the South and Atlanta on the hip-hop map. Filmmakers the Horne Brothers wisely use this dramatic tension to open their instantly engrossing new documentary of the same name, the inaugural project from AJC Films.
The 90-minute feature film, directed by Ryon and Tyson Horne and written by AJC journalists Ernie Suggs and DeAsia Paige, had its world premiere Thursday night at Center Stage theater in Midtown and began streaming on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website on Friday. The doc features exclusive interviews with T.I.; Jermaine Dupri; Arrested Development; Goodie Mob; DMC of Run DMC; Lil Yachty; Atlanta mayors Andrew Young, Kasim Reed, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Andre Dickens (who acknowledges that Dupri, the owner of So So Def Recordings, is indeed the real mayor of Atlanta); Sleepy Brown; DJ Toomp; and many others. Among the film’s archival surprises? Footage of 1984’s Fresh Fest, largely acknowledged as the first national hip-hip tour featuring a 12-year-old DJ named Jermaine Dupri.
This week, Ryon and Tyson Horne sat down with Atlanta to discuss their latest film, the music from their childhood that influenced the project, and the art of interviewing your idols.
Who came up with this idea and how long did it take to make?
Ryon Horne: With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, there were a lot of different thoughts about how we might approach it. When [new AJC publisher] Andrew Morse came in, it was one of the first things he wanted to do. Of course, with him being from New York, the first people he thought of were DJ Kool Herc. We said, “Um, we’re in Atlanta. We gotta tell the Atlanta story.” And once Leroy Chapman was announced as the new AJC editor-in-chief, Tyson and I looked at each other and said, “Oh, we’re definitely doing this now!” We came up with the idea of the approach and presented that to Andrew and Leroy and they told us, “Go!” We got started on the film in May. We spent the entire summer doing the interviews.
Everyone has an entry point for this music from their childhood. Tyson. Who were some of the artists who had an impact on you?
Tyson Horne: I’m from Patterson, New Jersey. So I would stay up late listening to the radio. They didn’t play hip-hop until 11 o’clock at night back then. We grew up between New Jersey and Miami, the North and the South. At a young age, I was able to hear the differences between the two sounds. It was a completely different vibe. I was also a young rapper, trying to make it into the industry. I grew up idolizing these artists from the golden age of hip-hop—Run DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy. Our lives are definitely shaped by this music. This is the music that was in our tape deck as kids.
Ryon, you were a teenager when you first heard Arrested Development, right?
Ryon Horne: Yeah, I was in middle school and a teacher let me borrow the album. I didn’t have a radio, so Tyson let me borrow his. I would stay up listening to that album. It was just so different. I loved the album so much. The rapping kind of reminded me of Tyson and he kinda looked like Speech from Arrested Development at the time, too!
Tyson Horne: Speech is in the film. We first met him in 1996. I remember the first thing I said to him was, “I never used to like you.” (laughs) There weren’t a lot of positive rappers at the time, and I was shopping a demo. All I heard was, “This is a positive vibe like Arrested Development.” They wanted gangsta rap. It’s funny now, here we are, and Speech is in our film.
Everybody is in this doc—Speech, DMC, Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupri, Goodie Mob, Lil Yachty. Was there anyone you asked who didn’t participate?
Ryon Horne: The unicorns, themselves, OutKast. But honestly? Just knowing André 3000 and Big Boi signed off on us using their music was huge. I’m good. Of course, we wanted to include them. But it was a little like asking Prince for an interview.
Tyson Horne: There were reasons they couldn’t participate at the time, and we’re cool with that. Because it’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, there were also a lot of artists who were on tour, off performing in London or wherever. It just came down to scheduling and timing.
When did you know you were going to opening the film with André 3000’s now-iconic speech?
Ryon Horne: Pretty much from the beginning. We debated about it a little bit. But the 1995 Source Awards were such a pivotal moment in hip-hop history, period. It just made sense. It was a night when two coasts were battling for dominance and while this was all brewing, here come these two kids from the South. OutKast was getting booed that night by everyone in that audience. That is the moment in time that is regarded as the start of Atlanta hip-hop. While we use that moment as the title of the film, we also have an opportunity to say through this doc that there was a whole lot going on before that moment as well.
I love that this film weaves together all the societal and political elements happening in Atlanta 30 and even 50 years ago that ended up making Southern hip-hop so unique. Everything from Maynard Jackson’s election in 1973 and his subsequent creation of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to Atlanta Police’s Red Dogs drug squad. How did you go about creating that tapestry for the doc?
Ryon Horne: Tyson and I like to go after the interviews and who can speak on the subject. But when we get into post-production, our middle brother Byron creates this massive outline for us to follow. He’ll hand us the outline, I’ll look at it and realize, we didn’t get any of this! Byron helps us construct the storyline. And then you have AJC reporters like Ernie Suggs and DeAsia Paige to help with all of the other details we might have missed. That’s the beauty of this project. It was a collaboration.
There are so many terrific moments in this film but I think one of my favorites is T.I.’s story from his childhood. Everyone who watches this movie is going to have a visual of little Tip Harris talking his grandma into buying the 2 Live Crew As Nasty as They Wanna Be cassette for him, right?
Tyson Horne: Exactly! A lot of these artists tell these stories a lot to a lot of different interviewers. They repeat them over and over. But that was different. It was an opportunity for T.I. to show his personality. You were seeing behind the veil. And we could totally relate too. We were like that too, where you were trying to manipulate your grandmother into letting you watch something that you’re not supposed to be watching. We knew we had a great moment.