“An event like SoundClash says there are no limits to the genre of the culture. We don’t have to stay in one box,” The Suffers lead singer Kam Franklin told CassiusLife.
The South doesn’t just have something to say; they have a diverse mix of voices speaking. Lil Nas X’s genreless domination, Chloe Bailey’s sensual dynamism, Leon Bridges retro soul, and Jack Harlow’s personable bravado dominated popular culture with sounds uniquely their own yet all with origins in the South. The South hasn’t dominated the music industry for decades thanks to any monolithic sound, but by being expansive enough to foster a bevy of music scenes that not only co-existed but went on to influence each other and music scenes around the world.
That is what made Red Bull SoundClash an impressive reminder of the South’s musical supremacy. Red Bull SoundClash is a live music competition where two artists battle it out by performing songs under an assortment of rules in different rounds. For the Cover round, artists put their spin on a popular song. Each artist performs their own song in a style utterly divergent from their usual sound for The Clash round. For the Takeover round, the two competing artists perform each other’s songs together by one artist starting and the other performing the rest of the song midway through. The final round, The Wild Card, is where artists get to bring out a special guest.
CassiusLife traveled to Atlanta to watch R&B crooner Shelley go against Compton rapper Westside Boogie in Atlanta. Days later, we spent time in Houston as hometown soulful heroes The Suffers and New Orleans’ Grammy-nominated jazz fusion band Tank and the Bangas sonically duked it out.
Held at the newly opened spacious venue The Eastern on November 30, Shelley and Westside Boogie performed on a bifurcated stage with a runway lit with a crimson red light on the right side of the stage and one emanating blue light on the left. Shelley rocked on the blue side while Boogie performed on the red sed. Neither one is from Atlanta, and nothing about the stage production uniquely represents Atlanta’s music culture. But, as has been the case for Atlanta over the last 20 years, the culture’s influence is unmistakable once the music starts.
For the Cover round, Shelley, a Virginia native who spent time in Los Angeles before moving to Atlanta, covered Outkast’s heartfelt banger “Roses” with the magnetic temerity of a man who’s had the Atlanta classic embedded in his mind and heart for years. He was able to transform the delivery of the song because the sound is second nature to him. His cover of Andre 3000’s conversational crooning came after he ran through his own catalog, including “Cash Machine,” “Get It Myself,” and “Rich and Famous.” Transitioning from his own music to covering a southern hip-hop classic shows how inextricable the southern hip-hop legend is to Shelley’s brand of R&B. Shelley told CassiusLife that Atlanta is a “direct source” for inspiration due to its diverse creative community of Black visionaries, a point his special guest performer elaborated on deeper.
“If I didn’t live in Atlanta, I would be trying to sound like I live in Atlanta because so many people are influenced by the Atlanta sound even if sometimes they don’t know it’s the Atlanta sound because it’s coming from somebody not even from here,” Baby Tate told CassiusLife. “It’s so real, raw, honest, and true to self. Atlanta is a unique place as far as what is allowed here. This is one of the biggest melting pots of society. So being here, I got all of the beautiful juices and gravy mixed in.”
Shelley brought Tate out to perform her hit single “I AM” during the Wild Card round and sent the packed Atlanta crowd into a frenzy. Boogie, a traditionally cerebral lyricist who you’ll find deep in his feelings before you find him down on the dance floor, admitted to CassiusLife “that [Atlanta] vibe makes me want to make club songs. Atlanta has influenced me in that sense.” He brought out East Atlanta savior 6lack to the crowd’s enthusiastic surprise and performed “PRBLMS,” a song about a man going through the problems of his life. Even with a song as dark as “PRBLMS,” he brought unbridled joy from the crowd, a testament to the diversity of the type of Atlanta artists that can start a party.
While the structure of the Red Bull SoundClash Atlanta and Red Bull SoundClash Houston events were similar, they celebrated the diversity of Black music in the South in distinctly different manners. The Atlanta show felt more like a traditional concert with Atlanta as the headliner. For SoundClash Houston, The Suffers and Tank and the Bangs sonic jostling took place on stages that properly celebrated each of their region’s respective cultures. Tank and the Bangas had its lead singer Tarriona “Tank” Ball wailing about TSA confiscating her items and emotions (“TSA”) while her band shredded on electric guitars and threw Mardi Gras beads into the crowd while performing in front of a makeshift creole cottage that looks like they took it right off the French Quarters. On the other side of the massive Bayou Music Center was soul/funk seven-person band The Suffers mixing a big band sound with lead singer Kam Franklin’s powerful voice singing about making her way to the good times (“Take Me To The Good Times”) while flanked by two decked out cars known as “Slabs” in Houston with a huge chrome rim usually reserved for the wheels towering over them. There was a large gathering of fans in between the two stages and only had to turn their head left or right to get two distinctly southern sounds usually separated by hundreds of miles but united by an imperceptible bond.
“There’s a family connection for a lot of Texans and Louisianans. There’s always a familiar connection. My godmother’s entire family is from Opelousas, LA. You can go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night and catch a bus to Lake Charles to go gamble. When Hurricane Katrina came, a lot of people in New Orleans relocated to Texas, but they were already here,” Houston rap legend Paul Wall told CassiusLife. “We already had a huge Louisiana influence. Other than Screwed Up Click, my favorite group growing up was The Hot Boys. Those are the concerts Chamillionaire, and I was going to growing up. Houston is more bluesy and laid back at a slower pace. New Orleans got that bounce. They’re polar opposites.”
Wall co-hosted the event from The Suffers side with New Orleans [bounce] legend Big Freedia emceeing from Tank and the Bangas side. Wall’s astute observation about the cultural intermingling resulting from decades of southerners migrating between cities was saliently obvious during SoundClash. During The Takeover round, Tank and the Bangas and The Suffers covered each other’s songs, transitioning between each respective song’s original act and the covering act in the middle of the performances. When The Suffers got midway through bathing the crowd in the retro soul of their song “Peanuts,” Tank and the Bangas picked up right where they left off so seamlessly you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking it was originally a collaboration between the two groups. For Ball, the southern sound is as diverse as they demonstrated at Red Bull SoundClash because of the myriad of styles that can coexist in any one city without anyone knowing.
“We come from an underground, underbelly part of New Orleans that’s often not shown. We’re always influenced. We’re going to Second Line when Second Line come through. And we’re going to go to the Urban Mayfield Jazz Club. But, we are not like that. We made our own sound,” Ball told CassiusLife.
By the end of both of the SoundClash events, it was clear southern musicians are as boundless as they are diverse in their talents. A jazz fusion band from New Orleans can unlock the immutable soul of a grunge rock classic like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and a Houston funk band put their spin on Bonny Tyler’s power ballad “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which Tank and the Bangas and The Suffers did during the Cover round, respectively. According to Franklin, those covers are “showing some left-field stuff from artists we respect that is completely far removed from what we do,” while still able to make them their own. Whether it’s out-of-towners infusing their music with Atlanta’s music lineage or products of Houston and New Orleans’s influential sounds, Red Bull SoundClash was further proof the South has everything to say and every way to say it all.
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