Until D4L's ubiquitous No. 1 hit "Laffy Taffy" piped out of cell phones and pop radio stations last winter, most people, not even dedicated Atlanta hip-hop fans, had ever heard snap music. And what is snap music, anyway?
Technically, the first snap record to have a national impact was Dem Franchize Boyz's "White Tee" in 2004. But at the time, most people assumed the song celebrated a hip-hop fashion icon and nothing more. D4L's "Laffy Taffy," however, sounded unmistakably different, from its hypnotic chorus ("Shake that Laffy Taffy") to its simple keyboard arpeggio and skittering snare drum. Sonically, it resembles the spare, percussive, menacing sound of Miami and West Coast bass music (Too Short's "Freaky Tales," Gucci Crew's "Sally, That Girl" and 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy").
"It's like snapping your fingers," says D4L's Fabo.
Around the same time "Laffy Taffy" blew up, Dem Franchize Boyz -- who, after the "White Tee" hit, signed with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label -- released "I Think They Like Me." A pumped-up version of a previous single ("Oh I Think Dey Like Me," from DFB's 2004 self-titled debut and co-starring Dupri, Bow Wow and Da Brat), "I Think They Like Me" smashed the urban music charts and confirmed industry watchers' beliefs that snap music was the next big trend. Since then, Dem Franchize Boyz scored another hit, "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," and saw their second album, On Top of Our Game, debut in the Billboard Top 10.
Snap music emerged from Bankhead, a working-class neighborhood in Atlanta pocked with large, sprawling apartment buildings. Many of the area's rappers and producers coalesced around the Poole Palace Cafe, a local bar and nightclub. Since the sound came from such a tightly knit music scene, it is difficult to point to a particular stylistic originator (although ATL producer Mr. Collipark is credited). Many snap music songs are organized around repetitive catchphrases such as "do it," "do your dance" and "rock your body." There is even a snap music dance, in which the dancer leans back and sways her shoulders from side to side. It's called "doin' it."
"It's a west side vibe," says Parlae of Dem Franchize Boyz, referring to an area of metropolitan Atlanta. "When everybody from the west side of Atlanta make they music, it's damn near gonna sound almost the same, 'cause everybody's living condition is the same. We do the same things, go to the same clubs, and like the same music. That's why we call it a west side vibe, aka snap music for the nation."
In Atlanta, radio stations and mix-tape DJs play the latest snap music hits alongside major-label hip-hop records. Even established artists such as Killer Mike ("Body Rock") and Lil Jon ("Snap Ya Finger") are offering their takes on the snap phenomenon.
As a result, major labels and production companies are snatching up the top snap music stars. Trap Squad's eerie "What's Happenin'" bubbled in Atlanta nightclubs for nearly two years before the group signed a deal with Asylum Records in January. And some say K-Rab is the next big star, since he produced D4L's "Laffy Taffy" and has recorded his own regional hits, such as "Do the Poole Palace" and "Bubble Gum." K-Rab and his group BHI signed a deal with Lil Jon's BME label in February. If all goes well, snap music could be the biggest dance movement to come out of the ATL since booty bass in the mid-1990s, or even crunk.
For Your Ears (and Eyes)
• Dem Franchise Boyz: On Top of Our Game (So So Def/Virgin)
• D4L: Down for Life (Atlantic)
• Trap Boiz: Mind on the Prize (Ninth World) (former incarnation of Trap Squad; disc includes hit "What's Happenin'")