Southside grew up in a musical family-- his father was a producer who used to work with Organized Noize, his uncle Pookie was an aspiring rapper, and his stepdad Trey was friends with Jermaine Dupri. Legal issues also plagued his surroundings, though, with his father going to prison before Outkast blew up and his other uncle Scrilla still serving time to this day. The producer's introduction to beatmaking reflected both aspects of his background, as his first experience with the production program Fruity Loops came via a laptop stolen by his uncle: "He gave it to me, was like, ‘Learn how to make beats.’ I was 12, 13 years old… And we’ve been gold ever since then. So I owe my uncles for that, they really put me in music."
Back then, he was mainly into Three 6 Mafia and anyone else who was making "some demonic, crunk shit." When Jeezy dropped the Streets Iz Watchin tape in 2006, Southside became obsessed with the new trap sound. "I knew that shit front to back, word for word," he says. "I used to have my little CD player, the six disc player, and I would just be blasting it the whole day. My mom would be like, ‘Cut that shit off!’” After honing his skills and immersing himself in Atlanta's quickly-evolving music scene, Southside started taking things seriously when he met future Brick Squad artist Wooh Da Kid: "Wooh was the first person that ever really gave me a shot on music. Seriously like, ‘Bro, you gon’ be my producer.' That’s my best friend to this day still.” Southside was also hanging out with a rowdy dude calling himself Waka Flocka.
"I ain’t meet Waka on no ‘Hey, let’s make beats' shit,” he recalls, but soon enough, they decided to pursue music: "I made Waka’s first beat ever. It was called 'We On The Way,' back in ’08. We made that shit in the garage in the wintertime, no heat, no nothing." At that point, things seemed pretty bleak for them, but Southside credits their persistence to Waka’s optimistic encouragement: "He was like, ‘You know you can get rich off of this. You might end up being richer than me, because producers last a long time.’ And I was like (shrugs) ‘Alright.’ After I started seeing little checks for $40,000, I’m like, ‘Okay, I can really do something with this shit.’"
Music provided an outlet for their whole crew’s aggression— as it turns out, the Southside-produced Flockaveli track “Fuck The Club Up” was no tall tale. "We was wild as kids,” he explains. “It was a mission for us as kids to go to the club and beat the whole club up. We’d go to club 40 deep and beat the whole security team up, and it got to the point where the club owners were just like ‘Yo, our security can’t hold y’all— just rock with us. Just stop doing that.’” The turning point came when Waka made a small batch of tracks that included “O Let’s Do It.” “[Waka] played 'O Let’s Do It,’” Southside recalls, “He was like, ‘It ain’t it, that shit aight.’ And I was like, ‘Nigga, that shit is a hit. You fuckin’ crazy.’” The next time they hit the club, they brought the track with them. “We went to the club 80 deep, so if 80 people in the club moving to this song, what is the rest of the club gonna do? Jump around and be wild the same way.”
Flockaveli, Waka’s breakout 2010 project, soon followed, and suddenly 808 Mafia was in-demand across the country. "I thank Waka and Wooh for that," says Southside, speaking to his rapid breakout, "They really showed me that I could be something in this.” Placements on projects by Gucci Mane, Meek Mill and others soon followed, and by the end of 2011, Southside had even scored a credit on Watch The Throne bonus track “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” Kanye West had requested a pack of beats from Lex Luger (one of which would eventually become “H.A.M.”), but as is the 808 Mafia way, Luger gave his crewmates some shine by also throwing in a few of their instrumentals, and Ye ended up loving one of Southside’s. Soon enough, the two connected: "Kanye was one of the first people to ever tell me ‘Yo, you, so-and-so, so-and-so and so-and-so are gonna be me in the next five years.’ Although Southside’s hasn’t yet had quite the foray into rapping that Kanye has, his current dominance in the industry is certainly on-par with West’s production run in the early 2000s.
Soon working with artists from locales as far-flung as Detroit (Big Sean), Cleveland (Machine Gun Kelly) and Chicago (SD), Southside was a key player in the nationwide popularization of the sound that started in Atlanta. Some may have had their hangups about outsiders adopting trap posturing and sonics, but with world domination as the goal, he saw no problem with working with Northern rappers who wanted Southern sounds: “It just told me our sound was growing and that Atlanta was about to take over for a little while.” Almost without a doubt, that takeover’s still in full effect.