Seven days a week, from early morning till closing time, the air outside Rodney Scott’s Barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina, is filled with two things: rich, savory smoke and funky tunes. Its proprietor, Rodney Scott, was practically born into barbecue: For a near half-century, his family has smoked whole hog at Scott’s Bar-B-Que in tiny Hemingway, South Carolina. After watching Charlestonians make the eighty-mile trek for a taste, Scott decided to bring the barbecue to the big city. When the restaurant turned one in February, he celebrated with a month-long “funkfest” complete with a disco ball and DJ (a James Beard award nomination announced the next month was just good timing). As he does it all, there’s one constant: music. Songs ground him—but they also make him want to party. He shares his barbecue playlist, a mix of hip-hop classics and tunes that get you on your feet.
Did you always know you wanted to carry the barbecue torch?
I grew up around the pit—I was 11 when I smoked my first hog. But my first passion was actually body work and cars. I’m still interested in that a lot, mostly trucks, but I decided to stick with food.
What did you decide to do differently in Charleston versus Hemingway?
We went to all-metal pits, because our plan was to be here seven days a week. Cinderblock pits wouldn’t be here as long. And instead of burning in a bin outside we created a burn box. We also increased the menu; there are lot more options here. We’ve got everything from banana pudding to mac and cheese to greens and baked beans. And there’s fried catfish and the rib-eye sandwich. In Hemingway it’s mostly just pulled pork, chicken, beans, and slaw.
Do you eat at the restaurant a lot? What’s your order?
I just ate here earlier today. I did an off-menu order: pulled chicken that I threw on the flat top and then put some cheese on top. I like playing with the food.
What’s your favorite side?
That’s tough—but mac and cheese.
Music is always playing at Rodney Scott’s—even before it opens in the morning. What are your go-tos?
Always have it on. I like the old-school R&B, old-school hip-hop. Not anything too slow, because I try to transfer a positive feel and a good energy when I’m cooking. I’ve been to events where my playlist is going and people just start dancing. Or they say, “Oh, I remember when I heard that song. I used to party to that.” You’ve got those songs that bring back the good memories.
So is music always part of your barbecue experience?
For me it’s necessary. When I’m cooking for an event I travel with my little speaker and music plays from the time I start cooking till the time I’m done. One of the requirements I lay out is that I need a 110 outlet, and I travel with a one-hundred-foot extension cord. So as long as I have an outlet within one hundred feet, I can party.
Why is it so important for you to have tunes when you cook at events, specifically?
Before every event, there’s the nervousness of making sure the food’s right. Music is the way I calm my nerves before I serve the first four to five people. And I just dance through it, and it rolls from there. It’s a great feeling. I told my general manager, Brian, I think I’m addicted to music. It’s an inspiration. It’s a healer. And it passes the time in the best way.
Tell us about being nominated for Best Chef: South by the James Beard Foundation.
It’s crazy, the song “Outstanding” was stuck in my mind. And the Anthony Hamilton song—my favorite—“Best of Me.” I thought, “That’s outstanding. They see the best of me.” I sat in a booth for thirty minutes in a shock when I saw the finalist list.
Gap Band IV (1982)
“This song reminds me of the first time I ever saw the Gap Band on Soul Train,” Scott says. “I was amazed that they played the bongos and performed in cowboy hats.”
While this is another pit staple, it’s also one of Scott’s favorites for flying. “It relaxes me as I party through the airport terminals.”
Ship Ahoy (1973)
“I’ve always loved the O’Jays,” Scott says. When he hears this song’s iconic, funky bass line, his feet start moving in a near- Pavlovian response. “It makes me want to dance like I’m on a stage!”
Above the Rim (1994)
Scott’s a big fan of this rap classic, which dominated the pop charts two decades ago—and is said to have changed the game for West Coast hip-hop.
24K Magic (2016)
Bruno Mars reminds Scott to have fun wherever he is. “If you’re watching Bruno Mars and you don’t feel energetic, something’s wrong with you,” he laughs.
Sugarhill Gang (1980)
The first hip-hop song to make Billboard’s Top 40, “Rapper’s Delight” is one of the earliest rap songs Scott remembers hearing. “Back in the seventies you didn’t hear a lot of rap music,” he says. “When you heard this it was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to hear that again.’ It was one of those groundbreaking songs.”
Life After Death (1997)
“Hypnotize” topped the charts weeks after Biggie Small’s March 1997 murder. “The song came on when they had his funeral procession on the news,” Scott says, “and everyone started dancing. It went from the saddest mood to a party.”
Time for a Change (2007)
“Cupid Shuffle” is a catchy tune that spawned a line dance à la “Cha Cha Slide.” “It captivates me to just watch everybody dance to it at the same time,” Scott says. “I love to see people party to this song.”
All Eyez on Me (1996)
Scott considers this monster hit the quintessential song for heading out to the West Coast. “It sets the mood for that California sunshine.”
Naughty by Nature (1991)
“This song takes me back to my early twenties when I drove a two-seater and thought I was the coolest kid on the block.”
This Is How We Do It (1994)
Montell Jordan’s debut single stormed the charts in the spring of 1995, and is another tune that was always on repeat in Scott’s two-seater. “It was one of the best songs to ride around with.”
This wedding and party favorite comes with its own body-rolling dance. Scott says it’s one of the best line dance songs ever made.
When Scott was a high school junior, he played this song over and over. “Yes, I wanted a red jacket with zippers, but Mom said no,” he laughs.
Hot Shot (2000)
An all-time favorite, “It Wasn’t Me” reminds Scott of music’s ability to ground us in a moment. “You put it on and everyone starts singing; everyone wants to dance. It’s that moment of relaxation in a world that’s so crazy.”