Top 40 charts in the early 2000s were filled with artists from the South like Lil Wayne, Waka Flocka Flame, T-Pain, Ciara, Rick Ross, and Lil Jon, serving up a steady stream of high-energy hits. Superstar producers Lex Luger, Southside, and their 808 Mafia were seemingly unrivaled.
So how did the chiller, minimalist style of Plugg emerge from Atlanta eventually to wind up in France in 2021?
New sound in the South
Xavier Dotson, the godfather of trap, was born in Frankfurt, Germany. His father was a pastor and worked in the U.S. Military; his mother was a choir director. In his youth, Xavier moved frequently, played organ and piano in church, and seemed destined to become a gospel musician. Although he’d never heard of trap until he moved to Atlanta in 2000, Xavier got into hip-hop after listening to a cassette single of “Dre Day” by Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg.
In the late ’90s, while still in high school in the Bay Area, he started producing and selling beats as Zaytoven. After graduating, he relocated to Atlanta to enroll in barber school and set up a music studio in his parents’ basement. He met Gucci Mane through barbering, and the pair spent the early 2000s working on music nonstop, selling mixtapes out of their car.
Southern hip-hop tracks that reached the mainstream were often over-the-top like the stream of Crunk hits in the early 2000s, which emerged from both Memphis hop-hip and New Orleans bounce. Zaytoven made his now iconic mark by introducing a minimalist and chilled-out style of production. His signature melodic piano riffs, organs, and knocking 808s with otherwise sparse drum arrangements, played in a laid-back halftime feel, left plenty of space for the rappers’ presence.
Zaytoven’s production chops quickly earned him a reputation. In 2010 he teamed up with Usher on the Grammy-winning album Raymond v. Raymond. Zaytoven may have brought a fresh, West-Coast influenced style to Atlanta, but he strongly credits creative collaboration with his success:
A lot of people want to blow up as a producer, but what helps you blow up as a producer is an artist that matches well with your music.
Zaytoven in an interview with Complex
Rappers immediately appreciated this new sound, and producers took note. As a result, a more spacious and melancholy, minimalist yet full-bodied production style emerged, changing the southern sound and hip-hop at large.
Plugg: BeatPluggz collective
On a mission to create their own brand of hip-hop, Atlanta producers MexikoDro and StoopidXool founded the BeatPluggz collective in 2013. BeatPluggz took the laidback, atmospheric, and spacey sound to another level, pioneering what is now known as Plugg due to their infamous “Plug!” tag. Playboi Carti was one of the first rappers to jump on the sound, releasing early Plugg hits like “Broke Boi,” “Money Counter,” and “Don’t Tell Nobody.”
MexikoDro grew up on the sounds of Gucci Mane and D4L, playing video games, and first started producing at 10. He got FL Studio 7 and learned about production from YouTube. He cites Memphis icons Project Pat and Juicy J as his primary influences. The soft synth melodies and chords are inspired by Nintendo games like Paper Mario.
Thanks to the nascent success of streaming services like SoundCloud, this hazy aesthetic took hip-hop by storm. Although there was a time when “SoundCloud Rapper” could be considered the ultimate insult, a generation of artists took control of their careers through SoundCloud. Initially written off as a fad, their success became undeniable as their popularity outpaced the traditional music industry.
After a run of mainstream success, artists like Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, and Playboi Carti began to move onto different producers. New rappers and production styles emerged, so many Plugg producers evolved as tastes changed. It seemed that Plugg may be pushed out the side forever in favor of new sounds.
Plugg in France
Meanwhile, Plugg is going on strong for the past 8 years with a small but loyal core fanbase. Plugg tracks have been circulating online reaching new audiences, featuring in skate videos, and influencing fashion trends. Now, the genre is gaining traction in Europe; most notably, French artist Serane is making his own brand of Plugg. Turns out the laidback, hazy atmosphere blends well with French je ne sais quo.
Hip-hop is quickly gaining popularity across Europe, but is currently dominated by drill. Serane, along with some producer friends, is interested in popularizing a different style of hip-hop.
I really started fucking with Plugg music when I first heard Playboi Carti’s singles produced by MexikoDro. […] That shit is legendary bruh! Those songs really changed my life and influenced my music heavily. […] After listening to those songs I really got into MexikoDro, StoopidXool, Hugo Joe, Diego Money, FLEE, and Kodak Black among other Plugg artists.
Serane interviewed by Sabukaru Online
Serane first started rapping and releasing music on SoundCloud in 2019 alongside a group of rappers, producers, and photographers. With his crew, he set out to create an aesthetic that meshes his love of Plugg and passion for archive Japanese designer wear.
In France they say that I’ve got “drip auditif,” which translates to drip you can hear and “drip visuel,” which is drip you can see.
Serane interviewed by Sabukaru Online
After releasing a few songs on SoundCloud, Serane began to reach out to Atlanta Plugg producers, and, to his surprise, they were into his sound and wanted to collaborate. After working with US-based producers like Cashcache and Dylvinci, Plugg pioneers MexikoDro and StoopidXool reached out to Serane wanting to produce for him.
Serane’s chilled-out vibe, almost whispered flow, and fashion sense has won over Plugg producers and their fans. And many young French Plugg artists are emerging on the scene, like Southlove, Kasper!, and Prince K.
Plugg’s new wave
Before the Internet, niche genres could appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. However, nearly ten years since its emergence, Plugg has proven that it has legs. On May 1, 2020, Drake released the Dark Lane Demos mixtape, which contained leaks and outtakes from his album Certified Lover Boy. On this mixtape, Drake collaborated with MexikoDro on the Plugg track, “From Florida with Love.” Never shy to jump on the trends, Drake’s adaptation of Plugg in 2020 shows that the subgenre is alive and well.
Now, a new generation of rappers, like Tony Shhnow, BoofPaxkMooky, and 10k Dunkin, who grew up listening to Plugg is stepping to the plate. Alongside producers like CashCache and Cash Cobain, the new wave is here.
A hybrid mashup of Plugg and R&B, known as Pluggnb, has also emerged. One Pluggnb track, “SWISH/USE 2” by New York Plugg artist FLEE featuring Brent Faiyaz, recently gained viral success.
Plugg has arguably changed hip-hop forever; the airy, minimal production style, the visual aesthetic, the astronomical success of the SoundCloud rapper and the bedroom producer. Even as production styles evolve, even if the “Plug!” tag fades from memory, the impact is undeniable.
That’s our primer on Plugg – thanks for reading.
If there’s a genre or subgenre that you’d like us to write about, drop a comment 👇
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