When you think of Atlanta or ATL as a city, many things may come to mind, many refer to the city as a black metropolis with almost half of the city's population being classed as Black or African American (49.79%), according to their most recent census. For some people, cultural events and points in time may come to mind e.g. 'Freaknik' - an annual spring break festival that began in Atlanta in 1983 and was mainly attended by students and alumni from HBCU's. For those of you who aren't from the US or have never heard the term, this stands for Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Although for the majority when thinking about Atlanta, would point to their long-lasting and ever-evolving hip-hop scene.
The Origins of Hip-Hop in Atlanta
Atlanta has been detrimental to Hip Hop and ultimately black culture since the late 80's/early 90s. The likes of Outkast, Goodie mob & TLC burst onto the scene during the 90s and with all groups being at the top of their game and arguably their genres lanes. In 1994, both 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" & 'Crazysexycool' dropped, my favourite projects from both groups. The two albums solidified their legendary status in Hip Hop and R&B respectively. Notice how both album names are presented as one word, probably a southern thing back then, which feeds perfectly into the overarching basis of this blog. Atlanta has always been different and done what they have wanted to do, in its own way and with its own styles, each generation has had a set of pioneers that tend to be at the top of the game.
TLC & Outkast
The 2000's, Crunk Era & Trap Music
Let's now progress into the 2000s. This decade we witnessed the rise of the crunk and dance era, you had the likes of Lil Jon taking over with hits like 'Snap Yo Fingers' & 'Get Low', as well as Ciara (not from Atlanta, but the South) with exciting and well-choreographed music videos like Goodies & 1,2 Step. This sound carried on throughout the 2000s but slowly began to fizzle out later in the decade. However this created room for what became one of the greatest sub-genres of hip hop to make an entrance - trap music. The three trap rappers that most would point to as pioneers of the sound are TI, Jeezy & Gucci Mane. All three brought different qualities to the genre, which at the time made it a refreshing and diverse sound, even though it was a new sound to many ears. TI would be deemed the most commercial out of the three, he had a smooth flowing approach over trap beats but also knew how to rap over slower and traditional rap beats, TI didn't mind experimenting and would sometimes even sing his hooks on songs like 'Whatever You Like'. In my opinion, TI had the most star appeal and made some of the biggest songs of that era. With Jeezy, everyone loved his gritty trap persona and how his raspy voice added to the picture he was trying to paint. One thing about Jeezy is that he always delivered on features, a few examples include Akon's 'I'm So Paid', Rihanna's 'Hard' & my personal favourite Usher's 'Love In This Club'. Finally, Gucci Mane, my no.1 out of the three. Growing up listening to US rap, Gucci just seemed so gutter and one of the few that actually lived what he rapped about. Gucci was known for pushing out a multitude of mixtapes frequently, and growing up during the Datpiff era, a new Gucci or 1017 Brick Squad tape was always something to look forward to. Gucci has still maintained strong relevance up until today and seems to be an OG that is heavily appreciated and respected by the younger artists within the ATL Rap scene today, frequently collaborating with them in recent years. Trap music is still popping and has evolved, with many artists of today, especially from ATL having heavy trap influence and trap-infused beats. A recommendation for everyone, especially those who like to delve deep into the stories of key figures is Gucci Mane's Autobiography, which goes into detail about his upbringing and moving to Atlanta at a young age. It also includes many interesting stories as he grows into his late teens and early adulthood and how he helped the scene to grow, helping to curate some of our favourite artists and giving them studio time when they needed it.
T.I., Jeezy & Gucci Mane
The Early 2010's & ATL running the rap game
Moving onto the 2010s, we begin to see the likes of Future, Young Thug & The Migos take centre stage and heavily define the sound of Hip Hop. I could go on forever if I had to name the number of ANTHEMS that have been produced by the above artists, I think this wave of Atlanta artists is when many began to accept that Atlanta may actually be running the rap game, yes you had the likes of Kendrick, Drake & Cole all doing their thing and being seen as the head's of Hip Hop, but concerning a scene as a whole, or even which city boasted the most talent, at this time no one could even debate that it wasn't ATL. In addition to 'ATLiens', the second studio album by the earlier mentioned Outkast and another that I will name later, I think two mixtapes that really shook up the culture and Hip Hop for the better were Migos - YRN & Young Thug's 'Slime Season 2', classic tapes! If you haven't listened to either of them you better add them to your listen-to later list! The Early 2010s marked a time in which Atlanta as a city truly reigned and was a forced to be reckoned with.
Young Thug - Pull Up On a Kid / off of Slime Season 2, one of the standouts from the tape.
Migos - Hannah Montana / Off of the YRN tape, this ANTHEM used to absolutely go off in the club and had the streets in a choke hold too.
The Mid 2010's, Mumble Rap & Atlanta's Producers
I bet you guys know who comes next! The likes of Playboi Carti, Gunna & Lil Baby enter the chat, with their high energies, fashion influence and what a time was deemed mumble rap but in my eyes, something many people just weren't ready for at the time. Playboi Carti's self-titled album for me changed the game completely, his use of catchy sounds, spacy beats matched with hi-hats and catchy ad-libs made for a great moment in time. Producer, Pierre Bourne although not from ATL also had a part to play in the unique sound that began to merge, which is an important point as it's not just Atlanta's artists that are killing it, we need to talk about the producers too! Atlanta has some of the best producers Hip-Hop and even R&B boast right now - Mike Will Made it, ATL Jacob, London On Da Track, Southside, Metro Boomin, the list could go on and I'm confident that there will be many more to come in the next few years.
How ATL's Scene has made Hip-Hop more creative
The final point I want to make before closing off is how Atlanta has indirectly encouraged creativity in not only the hip hop and the rap game, but everything that comes with it, namely artwork and music videos. Some of my favourite artwork concepts over the last few years include Playboi Carti's Die Lit (a picture of him backflipping into a crowd) - which reminds me, that a lot of ATL rappers made the whole rap rockstar thing a trend, just in case you didn't know! As well as Gunna's DS4EVER & Young Thug's Punk. If we're talking music videos, I don't want this blog to be a case of me constantly listing things, but type in a few of the artists listed above and I'm confident you'll find a collection of art and really cool videos, Gunna - 9 Times Outta 10 is one that immediately comes to mind, but I'll leave it at that!
If you've gotten this far you're a real one and I hope you enjoyed the read! As you can see there are a plethora of reasons why Atlanta has been key to Hip Hop's growth and why the scene has been on top for decades now. Artists and producers from the city are constantly evolving their sounds, whilst being experimental and settings trends for the masses to get with! The moral of the story, when you're talking Hip Hop & Rap music, don't forget to mention ATL.
Take a listen to my ATL Vibes Playlist - https://open.spotify.com/playlist/31a5mpmYiwHaMsCO1dFcBZ?si=mPIG078TRGKm4kgFf3AWrg&nd=1
Written by Toren - Founder of 99Piece