Southern Hospitality interview: “If it’s dope, it’s dope.”

22.01.14 Words by: Anthony Walker

Southern Hospitality are London's premier hip hop promoters, and their monthly Players Ball is the best hip hop party in the city. Ahead of the Players Ball 3rd anniversary, we spoke to the founders of Southern Hospitality. You can read about their history in the interview below, and get some playlists of co-founder Rob Pursey's tips for hip hop and R&B in 2013 in a separate feature here.

Being really into rap music but living in the UK isn't always easy. Being so near yet so far from all of the most exciting movements going on across the Atlantic, the difficulties in getting a picture of what's really good, made with a local audience in mind, from major outlets makes the work of smaller, independent organisations like Southern Hospitality all the more valuable.

Formed by Rob Pursey, DJ Superix and David Sadeghi (better known as Davey Boy Smith) in 2004, Southern Hospitality are a blog, label, and DJ stable with a long-standing love of hip hop that goes back through the '90s and spreads to R&B, disco, ragga, bashment, and beyond. Their impressive collection of mixes covers subjects as lovingly treasured as Afrocentric rap, as maligned as Frat Boy rap, and as timely as cold-hearted Revenge'n'B, and they run a popular Hip Hop Karaoke in the capital. Their main focus, however, is Southern and West Coast street/party rap, and the jewel atop their cane is the Players Ball, a monthly event committed to playing the hardest new music from those areas and more to a loyal fanbase in London.

What started as a niche idea at its conception three years ago has now inadvertantly grown into an important place to gauge major shifts in the genre. Today, names like Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard, long supported at the Players Ball, are leading pop producers, and once-marginalised sub-scenes have become the new mainstream.

It goes to show that in these confused times, as regional biases and the old boundaries between underground and overground are further jumbled by the internet and increased accessibility, the most open and eager minds are still the ones you should trust. If Tim Westwood is still the DJ to look out for to hear what's big now, Southern Hospitality and the Players Ball is the place to look to hear what will be big soon.

We've linked up with Rob and Davey to chat a little about their upcoming birthday party, taking place at Plan B in Brixton this Friday (January 24th). We also have an exclusive third anniversary mix from the two, which looks back fondly at some of the defining hits of their time by firm Players Ball favourites, like HBK Gang, Travis Porter, and Beat King, with a heartfelt, teary-eyed ending courtesy of Lil B, 2 Chainz, and Big Sean.

Could you tell me a bit about the origins of Southern Hospitality and the Players Ball?

Rob Pursey: "Southern Hospitality was formed a few years back out of a shared love of music that we felt was a little under-represented in the UK, despite the love for traditional US hip hop in this country. As we were DJs and journalists already, starting the website and club events seemed like the next logical step, especially in the case of Players Ball, which was really myself and Davey creating the kind of party that we would actually want to go to, with a playlist and energy that represented both our own tastes and where we felt things should be. We soon found that there was a whole heap of people who’d been feeling the same and came to Players Ball every month to wild out."

What are your links to the scene in the US?

Davey Boy Smith: "Rob and I met through Hip-Hop Connection, which was the main rap mag in the UK for years. I think we first bonded over a shared appreciation of Thizz and Gangsta Boo, and I’m happy to say that several years later we’ve worked with them and many more of our favourite artists in some capacity.

"We’ve definitely had links to the US rap scene for many years, but since the advent of Twitter it’s just been that much easier to connect with people. In fact, it’s rare that we feature an artist on the site or in a mixtape and don’t then go on to build a working relationship with them. And now that we have an official showcase at SXSW every year, we get the opportunity to fly out to Texas, put on a dope party with our dream rap line-up and also let people put Twitter handles to faces. I think artists always appreciate it when DJs from another city or country become a fan before the locals, and that’s kind of been our legacy for the last few years. We’ve got strong links to the Bay Area, ATL, Texas and Alabama, but know at least a few artists in most major scenes across the US."

"I think artists always appreciate it when DJs from another city or country become a fan before the locals, and that’s kind of been our legacy for the last few years." – Davey Boy Smith, Southern Hospitality

You say that the styles you love were under-appreciated at the start but now, over the three years you’ve been running the event, have you noticed the rise of mainstream interest in the type of music the Players Ball specialises in?

Rob Pursey: "Yeah, things have changed massively since we started Players Ball, even down to DJs who were actively outspoken against the kind of music we were playing, jumping on it once the real stars of the scene became established. The energy and expression that stemmed from landmark releases like ‘Flockaveli’, ‘6 Kiss’ and even the back-end of the hyphy movement that was really fuelling the early Players Ball parties has been the dominant influence on the last few years of rap, from newcomers to established stars, so people have had no choice but to accept it."

Davey Boy Smith: "The London hip hop club scene was never as progressive or inclusive as me or Rob would have liked, and when we first started Players Ball there was no real precedent for a successful Southern-themed rap night. So when Claudio Lillo, who was programmer at The CAMP in Shoreditch, gave the idea a chance we definitely knew that if it was successful, we could potentially impact what people expected from a hip hop party in London. As Rob says, there were a lot of likeminded people, thankfully, and we’re now able to give people, and ourselves, the party they’d always wanted but didn’t have access to on a monthly basis. We call it that 'NYE in ATL in LDN' feeling, because that’s the experience we want to give people who get buck at Players Ball every month. We want to see people smiling, dancing and losing their minds to exciting rap and R&B. It’s really as simple as that."

"We want to see people smiling, dancing and losing their minds to exciting rap and R&B. It’s really as simple as that." – Davey Boy Smith, Southern Hospitality

I personally find it frustrating and just odd that a country removed from the local politics in the US is still so committed to very narrow, traditionalist values in rap music. With your experience, could you shed some light on why that is?

Rob Pursey: "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s a lot of people who are actually into music, and then there’s a whole raft of people who are just into being part of a scene or a moment. So, for example, a lot people who got into rap in the '90s also bought the clothes, the trainers, the whole identity of that time. Therefore when the music changes in terms of attitude and expression – which it should – I think it’s just too challenging for them to switch up all of these things, so they hang on to the scenes and experiences that they had, and you end up with these kind of parallel worlds. I personally love '90s rap and lived through a lot of it, week in, week out, but I know when something fresh comes along each time and I live for that buzz, to be honest."

"The huge US regional biases don’t exist over here. We get an opportunity to present the best of everything without having to pay attention to what will work in a certain market. If it's dope, it's dope." – Rob Pursey, Southern Hospitality

Do you see your role as directly representing what's going on in the States, or shaping it for a foreign audience?

Rob Pursey: "I think the latter, to a large extent, as the huge US regional biases don’t exist over here. We get an opportunity to present the best of everything in a more efficient way, without having to pay too much attention to what will work in a certain market. If it's dope, it's dope.

"Also, there’s inevitably going to be some music, particularly tempo-wise, that will always work better in London, just due to it being a faster paced, colder environment, and we like to think we know what that is. Also, I’ve spent my life in raves that play dancehall either exclusively or alongside rap and R&B, so it’s definitely natural for that to be part of what we do, and we pay attention to what’s hot and moves us."

Tracklist:

01. Throwed Off Intro
02. Waka Flocka Flame feat. YG Hootie, Papa Smirf & Slim Dunkin – Karma
03. Wiz Khalifa – Taylor Gang
04. Rick Ross feat. Diddy – Holy Ghost
05. Loverance feat. Iamsu! & Skipper – Up! 
06. New Boyz​ – Cricketz – New Boyz
07. HBK Gang – She Ready
08. $.n.a.c.k. – $waggin 2011
09. Who Kid Woody – Hit Yo Ricky
10. Lady – Twerk 
11. Dirty Money feat. Rick Ross & Biggie – Angels
12. Juicy J feat. Webbie & Project Pat – Ugh Ugh Ugh 
13. Yung Nation – Club Rock
14. Dorrough – Old School Nikes
15. Beat King feat. Chalie Boy & Just Brittany – Crush (Remix)
16. Young Jeezy feat. 2 Chainz – Supafreak
17. Soulja Boy – Pretty Boy Swag
18. Travis Porter – Make It Rain
19. DJ Chose – 3rd Level
20. DJ Drama feat. Future – Ain't No Way Around It
21. Trae The Truth feat. Wiz Khalifa – Gettin Paid
22. Big Boi feat. Jamie Foxx – Hustle Blood
23. Kendrick Lamar feat. Schoolboy Q – The Spiteful Chant
24. Jeremih feat. 50 Cent – Down On Me
25. Omarian & Wale – M.I.A.
26. Ty Dolla $ign – My Cabana
27. Kirko Bangz – What Yo Name Iz 
28. Aka Frank – (My D*** Ain't) Racist
29. Lil B – Myspace
30. 2 Chainz feat. Big Sean – KO

Southern Hospitality's Players Ball 3rd Anniversary takes place at Plan B in Brixton, London, on Friday January 24th 2014 – more information here. Rob Pursey also selected his tips for hip hop and R&B in 2013 – read those here.