The Southern hip hop explosion is something of a misnomer. While sub-Mason Dixon rappers have dominated the airwaves for much of the 21st century their ascension was less a big bang and more a slow leak, with disparate regions, from Atlanta to New Orleans to Houston to Miami, gradually blowing up one at a time. And, more telling than the national success stories, is the number of creative southern outposts that remain untapped. Alabama’s Slow Motion Soundz camp comprises one such pocket and, quiet as kept, they dropped one of the year’s strongest collections of country rap tunes in G-Side‘s Starshipz & Rockets.

Emcees Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz draw heavily on the UGK [click to read] and OutKast pedigree here, but the closest point of comparison is probably 8Ball & MJG [click to read], with whom the duo share certain a subdued chemistry. Their raps are thoughtfully understated, more about conversation than braggadocio or punchlines. It’s panoramic rap and it requires repeat listening. When they tell you that “Slow Motion is better than no motion,” you can’t help but wonder if they’re not talking about their sounds, but their message.

Sure, taking rap to the cosmos isn’t exactly groundbreaking, especially in The Year of The Wayne, but G-Side stands out in how earthly their theme is. Like Ball, G & ATLiens-era OutKast, they use outer space not as an excuse for oddity or a vehicle for experimentation but as an analog to the space around them: “We on the block, we ain’t never seen an astronaut / so I look up to the niggas with the fattest knots.”

Space is an aesthetic distinction as well. In house production trio the Block Beataz traffic in just-strange-enough ethereal beats. They clearly owe a debt to the Organized Noizes and Pimp Cs of the world but are never consciously throwback, equal parts southern soul and new school arpeggiated electro. The blippy “Rubba Bandz” could easily find its way onto any post-snap playlist, but it also possesses a certain warmth that, say, “My Dougie” lacks.

And that may be the record’s greatest strength – a willingness to acknowledge the past without disdain for the present. It would be too easy to write the group off as empty nostalgists, the Little Brother [click to read] to Ball & G‘s Tribe Called Quest [click to read]. But Clova and ST are decidedly modern rappers. They can talk candy cars and money stacks with the best of them and could have probably already created a dance craze if they were at all interested in dance crazes. But they’re not, because they’re old souls. Which is to say that their connection to their past is ideological more than anything else. Unlike so many of their peers, G-Side is actually concerned with such antiquated concepts like album cohesion and, more importantly, humility. Starshipz succeeds by staying down to earth.