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The Dirty South Weekend: Hip-hop Artist Conversation

Great Hall
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It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of hip-hop and music to southern Black culture and The Dirty South—even the exhibition’s name is inspired by southern hip-hop.

Join artist and scholar Dr. Fahamu Pecou, hip-hop artist Joi Gilliam, and professor of African American literature and Black public culture Dr. Scott Heath for a conversation exploring the connections between music, art, and culture. Come see for yourself just how this one genre has the power to shape the South.

Free, tickets required. Reserve your spot online or with Guest Services at (479) 657-2335 today.


A large structure of stacked black speakers, black megaphones and black cylinders towers next to a white wall
Nadine Robinson, Coronation Theme: Organon, 2008, speakers, sound system, and mixed media, 175 x 18 1/2 x 174 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, given by John F. Wieland, Jr. in memory of Marion Hill, 2008.175
Fahamu Pecou seated on a chair

About the Speakers

Dr. Fahamu Pecou

Dr. Fahamu Pecou received his BFA at the Atlanta College of Art in 1997 and a Ph.D. from Emory University in 2018. Dr. Pecou exhibits his art worldwide in addition to lectures and speaking engagements at colleges and universities. As an educator, Dr. Pecou has developed (ad)Vantage Point, a narrative-based arts curriculum focused on Black male youth. Dr. Pecou is also the founding Director of the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta (ADAMA).

Pecou’s work is featured in noted private and public national and international collections including; Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Societe Generale (Paris), Nasher Museum at Duke University, The High Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Paul R. Jones Collection, ROC Nation, Clark Atlanta University Art Collection and Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia.

In 2020, Pecou was one of 6 artists selected for Emory University’s groundbreaking Arts & Social Justice Fellowship. Additionally, Pecou was the Georgia awardee for the 2020 South Arts Prize. In 2017 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition “Miroirs de l’Homme” in Paris, France. A recipient of the 2016 Joan Mitchell Foundation “Painters and Sculptors” Award, his work also appears in several films and television shows including; HBO’s Between the World and Me, Blackish, and The Chi. Pecou’s work has also been featured on numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Hanif Abdurraqib’s poetry collection, A Fortune for Your Disaster and the award-winning collection of short stories by Rion Amilcar Scott, The World Doesn’t Require You.



hip-hop artist Joi Gilliam

Joi Gilliam

Change requires action. Either you sit by idly and let the world stay the same as it passes you by, or you get up and make your mark.

Iconic music trailblazer Joi Gilliam continues to leave a lasting impression—but she does so actively…

“I get excited to pull the machete out and clear my own path,” she smiles. “After all of these years, music is still a lifeline to sanity, memory, and inspiration for me. It’s the most powerful medium, for better or worse. I hope you feel what I’m doing.”

Millions have felt it ever since Joi first sent shockwaves through pop culture. Born and raised in Tennessee, she became synonymous with the burgeoning Atlanta scene in the early nineties after relocating. 1994 saw her release a classic in the form of The Pendulum Vibe. As signature single “Sunshine & The Rain” took off, she made history as “one of the first black models to appear in a major Calvin Klein ad campaign.” She became the Dungeon Family’s leading lady in the early nineties. Meanwhile, legendary filmmaker Mario Van Peebles chose to re-record her “Freedom” with the help of 60-plus vocalists, including Mary J. Blige, En Vogue, TLC, Aaliyah, and more. Backed by alternative luminaries Fishbone, she unleashed the oft-bootlegged Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome in 1997 followed by the epic 2002 offering Star Kitty’s Revenge. The latter yielded immortal smashes such as “Lick,” “Techno Pimp,” and “Jefferson St. Joe”–which paid homage to dad Joe Gilliam (the NFL’s first black starting quarterback). Next up, 2006’s Tennessee Slim is the Bomb marked her first independent salvo.

Along the way, Joi became a sought-after collaborator. Not only did she duet with OutKast on “Movin’ Cool (The After Party)” from the platinum-certified Big Boi and Dre Present… Outkast, but she also accompanied them on their 20th anniversary world tour in 2014. Captivated by that voice, longtime friend D’Angelo again sought her for 2015’s ‘The Vanguard’ European Tour.

Joi was featured in the documentary The Art of Organized Noize and lent her voice to Run The Jewels’ third opus, Run The Jewels 3, on “Down” as well as Big K.R.I.T.’s “Miss Georgiafornia.” She became a go-to backing vocalist for countless pop anthems produced by Max Martin and others and launched her teaching program Artisan Polishing. Simultaneously, her music has been heard everywhere from Lifetime’s With This Ring and Love By The 10th Date to Netflix’s Dear White People.

In many ways, it was all just a precursor to her fifth full-length album, S.I.R. Rebekkah Holylove. Recorded primarily in the artist’s own studio dubbed “the funky jewelry box” and alongside co-producer Brook D’Leau, each track vividly and vivaciously roars to life.

A rapturous collection of morphing soundscapes, airy beats, seductive essence, and vocal witchery, it represents a clear progression.

“Rebekkah Holylove is the current alias in a long line that I’ve taken over the years such as ‘Star Kitty’ and ‘Tennessee Slim’, but there’s more going on,” she explains. “The acronym S.I.R. stands for ‘Savage, Immortal, & Righteous’. It covers the spectrum of one’s highest self. It’s a self-recognition of being god in the flesh as a black woman, specifically. It’s a sexually liberated and free-thinking space. It’s an unapologetic dissection of my thoughts, actions, and interactions. S.I.R. turns the whole construct of patriarchy on its silly ass head to adopt an equally masculine and feminine approach. The woman gives life, period. It’s indisputable. This is what I’m talking about.”

As is always the case with the songstress, that heavy subject matter goes down with a groove. The acapella and electronic conjuration of “Ruler + Good Witch” juxtaposes a vocal warble with glitch-y production. Getting in the producer’s chair, her touch shines through a cybernetic bass bounce on “Berlin.” Another Joi production, “Kingless Queen” hinges on quirky piano emissions and gorgeous delivery as she coos, “I’m a kingless queen sitting on her throne…and I’m alone.”

The first single “Stare At Me” ignites a chantable refrain over a stark sonic backdrop. “Lyrically, it speaks on having your thoughts hijacked,” she reveals. “It’s about the deep desire to be seen and want to be on someone’s mind because of this social media and digital obsession we have. At the same time, it highlights the fleeting nature of the terabyte wasteland. This is the world we’re living in.”

Flaunting the same fire, ferocity, and focus that made her a legend in the first place, 2018 remains ripe and ready for Joi’s return.

“I believe the power of the timing is divine,” she leaves off. “It was finished when I was ready. This project is grown as hell and very female-centric. However, I think it puts men up on game, too. There’s no finger-pointing. It’s bumping, while examining situations and relationships. No matter who you are, I want to incite an honest and guttural reaction. We’ve become so accustomed to treating music as microwaveable morsels that we don’t live with music and let it permeate us in a real ass way. I’d ask you live with S.I.R. Whatever you get from doing so, I’m cool with.”


Dr. Scott Heath

Dr. Scott Heath specializes in African American literature and Black public culture, including sound studies and screen studies. He is the author of Head Theory: What Happens to Hip Hop, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His writing appears in PMLA, African American Review, Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts & Letters, and The New York Times. His next monograph is Automatic Black: Race, Love, and Tech. Dr. Heath is a professor in the Department of English and the director of the Program in Black Studies at Loyola University New Orleans. He was a 2020-2021 Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

About The Dirty South Weekend

For one weekend only, July 15 – 17, we’re bringing together hip-hop artists, poets, scholars, and more for a multi-day event designed to explore the themes of The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse like never before. Come immerse yourself in the sounds and stories of The Dirty South as we celebrate a century of southern Black culture.

Sponsored by: Harrison and Rhonda French Family | Ramsay, Jaquita and Sarah Ball | Catherine and Stephan Roche | Esther Silver-Parker | Deborah Wright. This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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