Cultural phenomena never truly come out of nowhere or pop up out of the ether without proper warning. There’s always some sort of grassroots movement that precedes the mainstream tidal wave that follows … unless, of course, the movement is manufactured in a boardroom, a la the Whip/Nae Nae. But this isn’t about that. No, this is about Hip-Hop, and a region that exploded onto the national scene to dominate rap culture for more than a decade.
And it all started thanks to an exhibition basketball game.
The 2003 NBA All-Star Weekend in Atlanta was one of the league’s most memorable showcases. Jason Richardson capped off Saturday’s Slam Dunk Competition with an insane alley-oop reverse between-the-leg dunk that’s still never really been duplicated. And the next night, for Michael Jordan’s final All-Star Game, the GOAT nailed a clutch fadeaway over the outstretched arms of elite defender Shawn Marion to send the game to double overtime. The West finally pulled away to a 155-145 final, however, behind Kevin Garnett’s 37 points and nine rebound MVP effort. Bonus: Mariah Carey’s halftime Wizards jersey-dress. Yes, Phillips Arena was rocking all weekend, but it was the cultural awakening happening outside of the stadium that left the most permanent lasting impact.
As is typical for most All-Star Weekend cities, Atlanta was booming with parties on almost every block and those parties attract DJs, record execs, and artists from all over the country. And what those movers and shakers heard in Atlanta was a musical movement that has always been revered regionally, and was begging to get national attention.
“The city was on fire,” remembers DJ and former A&R Wally Sparks, who came down to Atlanta from Tennessee for All-Star Weekend in 2003. “If Cash Money and No Limit were the foundation for southern rap dominance, then All-Star Weekend 2003 was the second coming that really solidified it.”