As soon as I found out about the death of Shawty Lo — the 40-year-old Atlanta rapper who died in a car crash on September 21 — I got out of bed and ran in place, in tribute. While fans saluted Lo on Twitter and offline, by playing 2007’s Bankhead anthem “Dey Know” and going through tracks from his dense back catalog like “Dunn Dunn” and “Foolish,” during my salutatory jog, my mind went to snap music’s mid-aughts zenith, and a personal favorite from that time: “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me.”
A founding member of D4L, Shawty Lo was most aware of his position within the group. “Basically my role was like that of Baby from Cash Money,” he told Billboard in 2007. “I got some street finances and made the group and the label happen, I put a verse down here and there, but that was it.”
So it was. Even on “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me” — a seesawing, riot of a song — you don’t hear Shawty Lo until about three minutes in, and even there, he merely reiterates his position, rapping, They know I’m Lo, I’m CEO/ Got stacks on deck/ I pop, I roll.
Fabo, ever charismatic, rightfully garnered the most attention from D4L during that period, but if not for Shawty Lo’s money, this track, which served as the group’s debut single, would have never solidified the snap movement. Though the foursome went on to chart mainstream success with “Laffy Taffy,” it was “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me” that earned them an audience early on.
Now, looking back on Lo and the snap era he helped engineer, there’s often mention of the pushback that the movement faced then. Frankly, in the South, most of us weren’t paying the criticism much mind. There are certain stigmas about the role of southern rap in hip-hop and whether or not the crunk era or the snap movement soiled its history. Much of that comes from non-southerners who hold a purist, snooty view of the culture. Of course, everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, but those opinions don’t need to be awarded more value and focus than they deserve.
Southern rap has long proven its diversity. The Geto Boys are not Outkast. Eightball & MJG are not the same as Lil Jon and The Eastside Boyz. The Hot Boys don’t sound like Dem Franchize Boyz. Three Six Mafia ain’t on the same wave as Goodie Mob. Tru has very little in common with D4L. If anyone still fails to grapple that in the South, we can dance and convey depth without our heads falling off or choking on a rib, that’s on them. That’s a lesson I hope newcomers like Lil Yachty take to heart. Some folk will never get it; focus on those who do.
Suffice to say, when I think back to the snap movement, my immediate entry point isn’t on debating its merits or its detractors. What conjures up in my mind is being in my early 20s, at Howard University — a historically black college — surrounded by black ass people dancing our asses off, all while collectively rapping:
On my grandmama potna, all haters go to hell
I can't stand drama shawty ain’t no stories I can't tell
Betcha can't do it like me, can’t break no bank
Every time they try they fail, come on
Others have echoed these exact sentiments, boasting about having the time of their lives leanin’ and rockin’. In places like Houston, New Orleans’s 9th Ward, or Bankhead, where Lo was from, men — both gay and straight — are too busy being country and emulating Fabo than subjecting themselves to debates about whether or not the music from their home region has any value. The value was already substantiated in our joy, our laughter, and our fellowship — cause we’re in the club lit.
For me, it’s just been different in other parts of the country. In New York City, you have non-dancing dance tracks like “Lean Back,” a song released the year before “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me” that revels in men not wanting to bop in the club. The snap movement promoted the polar opposite feeling. Shawty Lo was very much a street dude, but he was also someone fun who wanted to give people a good time.
That’s what snap music was to me, and whenever I reflect, I’m transported to a sweaty, crowded club, dancing and having an unforgettable time. When discussing his legacy, Fabo recently referred to Shawty Lo as a “hero.” Someone who was thoughtful, playful, and a person who wanted to push people to be better than they often realized they could be on their own.
Fans didn’t know him on that personal level, but we do know how his music made us feel. For me, he helped me to better understand what it means to be present in the moment. I’m grateful to anyone that can.