Despite his obvious current infatuation with the genre-defining sounds of 70s Funkadelic, lovingly captured on his newest Childish Gambino record, Atlanta star Donald Glover has a strong connection to the sound of modern recordings. He absolutely meant it when he declared Migos’ Bad And Boujee as the ‘best song ever‘ during his own acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globes awards.
Migos are the latest in a very long line of hip hop and r&b stars who went from obscurity to absolutely conquer the mainstream American pop mainstream. Following Glover declaring his love for Migos on national television, Migos went to the top of the Billboard charts.
Glover's passion for hip-hop is absolutely authentic, with the sound and texture of the Atlanta scene permeating through his new TV series. In the show, Glover stars as the Manager (and cousin) of up-and-coming star Paper Boi, a rapper whose sudden success is not that far removed from the rapid rise of Migos.
When Donald Glover and his co-writer brother were developing Paper Boi, the quintessential rags-to-riches rapper archetype, surely artist Gucci Mane was in the forefront of their mind.
Gucci’s independent rise from selling mixtapes on the streets of Atlanta to becoming the father of trap music is the story – but it’s obviously not just Gucci or Paper Boi’s story – it’s the story of basically every rapper ever (middle class actors-turned-rappers like Glover and Drake excluded). Paper Boi’s story does not try to be the definitive telling of this story, but it serves as a well-trod story arc for Glover to pin his own observations, politics, and humour to.
Paper Boi’s breakthrough self titled hit is a pastiche of Gucci’s trap beats. The show’s theme song borrows from these elements and flips them into a more traditional cinematic soundtrack reworking .
Evident from the first track featured on the show, Gucci’s crony Oj Da Juiceman’s No Hook, it’s clear that Glover is putting the music at the front of the show. A real-world incident which could be seen as inspiring the story-line from the first episode, resulting in the quick spike in Paper Boi’s popularity, Oj himself was involved in a shoot up, receiving 8 bullet holes and still performing a show in the same week. The show must go on!
While Atlanta doesn’t stick exclusively to music from its location namesake, it’s obviously dipping heavily into that very vast pool. Not hard to do really considering the increasing presence of Atlanta artists seeping into the global world of pop music over the last 20 years, since Outkast drew attention to the importance of their hometown on ATLiens, it’s title suggesting alienation and the kind of isolation necessary for truly unique musical forces to germinate.
Artists from Atlanta have changed the course of popular music time and time again. Lil Jon’s crunk insanity, LaFace records, and TLC made girl groups cool as hell. Gold robot monster Cee Lo Green crossed into white boy indie popularity with Gnarls Barkley in the wake of Outkast taking over the world on the back of massive hits Miss Jackson and Hey Ya, after doing his time rising from the underground as a singer for the extended Atlanta posse Dungeon Family. On the surface and taken individually, these might seem like blips on the radar - but the ripples of these hits resulted in massive shifts in popular trends in mainstream pop music.
What really makes the music of Atlanta stand out is the way that it is used in the show. It serves a different function than in other shows where the music is front and centre. You can look at shows like HBO’s devastating Treme, about New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, and it is quickly evident at how different Atlanta's relationship with music is. In Treme, the use of the music was in part educational, revealing the history of the people and culture of the city. Here in Atlanta, it’s a snap shot of the scene as it is right now. It’s there and it’s loud because it exists everywhere.
If Glover’s Atlanta provides further exposure to the distinct music that defines the city, giving it the credit it deserves, then that’s another massive win for a TV show that every episode manages to do something innovative, defying expectations.
Explore the world of Atlanta. The entire first season is streaming now on SBS On Demand: