A lone echo of a drum, a slow, softly buried hand-clap, and the percussive chants, “yep”, from the vocalists. Introduce a loping, heavy thump and the sing-songy hook, layer a sharp-tight wrap of synthesizer; the elements cut in and out as the rappers take their turns spitting thick Dirty South verbiage. So begins “Oh I Think They Like Me”, the rare song to become a hit single twice—first in its initial form, then as a posse remix with the likes of Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, and Bow Wow. “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It”, their latest hit, is propelled by thin, delicate slurs of high synthesizer that cut mesmerizingly through the immaculate crunk buzzes like pinpricks of light through a cloud of smoke. “Lean wit it / Rock wit it / Lean wit it / Rock wit it”, hypnotically, and even the involuntary unconsciously obey.
This is snap music, and these are Dem Franchize Boyz, the self-proclaimed original kings of snap. Amidst a wave of similar acts capitalizing on the trend, most notably D4L (the much-maligned ring-tone connoisseurs behind ubiquitous single “Laffy Taffy”), Dem Franchize Boyz have maintained dominance in the snap scene by following a simple formula: release hit singles (check), follow up with albums that, if not reaching the same level as the singles, at least come close (check), assert cultural dominance through fashion and dance (check), and do more faster and better than your competition (a second album released not too long after other acts’ firsts, which it easily outsells - check).
“We the new breed in the South,” Franchize Boy rapper Jizzal Man declared over the phone recently. “We kings of snap music.” In a nation divided between the furious screams of crunk and the codeine crawl of screw, Dem Franchize Boyz combined the sounds of the South with the Houston attitude into a strikingly different “laid-back crunk”, the vocals unaltered but fueled by a new movement toward spare electronic minimalism. “It’s basically an adult vibe,” Jizzal Man explains. “It’s—it’s everybody vibin’ at once, but more of an adult vibe, where you can party, do your thang, movin’ to the beat, and still sip your [drink].”
In a sense, it seems that snap music was inevitable; it’s only a matter of time after any musical trend before the backlash, and the pristine, almost barren feel of snap can be seen as a direct response to the densely-produced walls of sound dominating hip-hop charts before. What people weren’t prepared for was the level of dominance snap has gained and the speed with which it has risen: “It’s something incredible that there’s started it,” Jizzal Man stated. “Everybody catchin’ on to it, they wonderin’ where it gon go, everybody likin’ it, jinglin’ it, feelin’ it, wonderin’ what’s gonna be the next move ... It’s gon be here forever, just like any other music.”
After the initial success of the single “White Tees”, however, it became clear that not everybody agreed. “We knew a lot of people was looking at us like one-hit wonders,” Jizzal Man concedes, “but at the same time, we was just laughin’ at em, because we had a gang of records but we didn’t release them because we didn’t have a powerful machine behind us.” Now that Dem Franchize Boyz have expanded their reach beyond the narrow confines of Bankhead—“The machine has changed, you know we got a hell of a machine, Jermaine’s the machine”—they seem poised on the crucial brink. With their sophomore LP, On Top of Our Game, having debuted at the fifth slot on the Billboard chart, they’re in place to either cement their position or fade back into hip-hop history, and where they go could depend in a huge way on the decisions they make now.
They’re already branching out with a record label (Dem Franchize Boyz Records) and an upcoming clothing line, their focus on business clear in more than just the word “Franchize” in their name. “See, other artists, they walk in the door with they manager, whatever, tryin’ to get a record deal,” said Jizzal Man. “Me an’ my brothers, we walked in the office with our briefcases and all sat down and pushed up to the table, to negotiate.” No strangers to igniting mass fashion trends, having already sparked the sales of waves of white tees, Dem Franchize Boyz are designing their own clothes for their line as well as prepping upcoming artists on their record label. Their goal is “a successful black-owned record company”, as Jizzal Man put it, and their first two upcoming artists, Peenut and Charlay, have already been featured on “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It”.
Key to their success could be the influence they already wield outside of purely musical circles. Their signature dance, “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” (the song of the same name is its official song), has already caught on far outside their homebase in Atlanta, visible everywhere from clubs to bar mitzvahs to even getting referenced on American Idol. “That was something that we’ve been doin’ for a long time, right, and people just now startin’ to catch on,” Jizzal Man elaborated. “Everybody want to know, you know, ‘What’s that called?’ or ‘What the hell y’all doin’?’ and the new single is actually to introduce them to what we’re doin’. It’s the name of the dance, it’s self-explanatory, ‘Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It’ ... If you ever seen us, heard of us, or anything of that nature, that’s what it is, and now we namin’ it, steppin’ it, lettin’ everybody know what the movement’s called.” When asked how he feels when he sees complete strangers doing the dance, Jizzal Man laughed. “I just start laughin’ and do it wit em and make it feel good.”
This, then, is the key to snap: feeling good. While the music has its fair share of detractors, most of them targeting the simplicity of the beats and rhymes or the flashy, hedonistic content, complexity and depth were never snap music’s primary goals. “Yeah, sometimes I be wantin’ to let people know what I been through and how this game be here, but sometimes I just want to let people know, ‘Fuck everybody, let me party,’ you know what I’m sayin’?” Jizzal Man answered when asked what message Dem Franchize Boyz were trying to get across. “Have a good time.” He describes a good writing process as “just playin’ around actin’ silly”; the music is more about the feel and the catchiness of the hook than more subtle considerations. “All of our songs that people know us on, that got us real money, like ‘White Tees’, ‘Oh I Think They Like Me’, ‘Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It’, it was somethin’ that we was just vibin’ on, wasn’t really even just serious about…”
In this sense, then, snap music can be seen as the anti-political political movement, the relatively carefree party-happy youth reaction to an overpoliticized age of indefinite war, sharply partisan politics, and “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. In a world of uncertainty, where Mr. Rogers is dead and gone and Public Enemy is fading into irrelevance, where millions of teenagers face poverty for college tuition and a future without Social Security, “Fuck everybody, let me party.” Either this or, truly, a stupid-simple, hypnotic collision of easy catchphrases and bouncy slow-crunk beats. Jizzal Man laughs, pauses. “All snap music’s hope.”