Keeping up with Atlanta hip-hop is like jogging beside the idling car of a superstar and trying to see what’s inside. You’re going to need a lot of energy and dedication to get a peek at what’s behind those tinted windows.
Atlanta has always defied my expectations. How can a city that birthed Outkast and the Dungeon Family universe also produce the likes of Gucci Mane and trap music? Always a step ahead of pop, and crystallised in places like the Magic City strip club, or Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) offbeat series Atlanta, it seems like the city has something special in the water. Often compared to Mo-Town era Detroit, Atlanta has been able to splice its eccentricities into the mainstream for some time, and the new era shows no signs of slowing down.
Gucci Mane, T.I., Ludacris, and Jeezy reigned long but the torch has been passed to a new breed of Atlanta rappers who’ve adopted a more eccentric and sensitive style that’s been nurtured and respected by their predecessors. Spearheaded by Young Thug and Future whose fearless delivery, unintelligible ad-libs, gender-bending fashion, and undefinable sound, brought the Atlanta scene a new aesthetic which broke categories and garnered intrigue. Meanwhile Migos’ 2017 Culture solidified Atlanta as the Mecca of trap, and thwarted any doubts hip-hop might have had about the Yung Rich Nation trio.
And now Young Thug, Future, and Migos have taken on the role of mentor to a fresh line-up of rappers, blessing them with features and exposure to help Atlanta continue to blossom. It seems like there’s always a ‘Lil’ or ‘Young’ waiting around the corner for his chance at the spotlight, testing the waters between melody and trap and rarely compromising to any standard that might have been set before them.
It’s a city where biting prefixes is embraced and not shunned, where lude lyrics mix with an agamous fashion, and trap killas speak of loneliness and depression. That’s what I love about Atlanta and the continued new wave, its apparent indifference to convention. An indifference which always seems to make its way to the mainstream. Young Thug inspires a Soundcloud generation of offbeat vocalists, Migos bring the triplet front and center for hip-hop, Future rubber-stamps the dark and tortured… all the while these artists maintain the integrity and power of hip-hop which need not be High Art nor overtly commercial.
So who will break the next wave in the young pack? Is there an opus on par with Barter 6 being cooked up somewhere in a 1017 Brick Squad studio? A new clapper making it rain at Magic City? Surely there is, but you have to keep your ear to the ground of the Atlanta scene unless you want to wait and hear its inevitable imitations from stars with bigger platforms. So get in touch with the embryonic resonances of pop’s future via the young icons in this playlist, and we’ll do our best to update it as the Atlanta scene continues to evolve.