That might be a cold-blooded accusation to level at a town dripping with so much black cultural currency. But the hip-hop capital has gained more than it’s ever contributed to its greatest export.
Like music to capitalism’s ears, these are the signs of a sonic identity 20 years in the making. Meanwhile, the city continues to reinvent itself for the sake of outward appearances. Now it’s the Hollywood of the South. Next it’s the Silicon Valley of the South. But the one thing Atlanta has consistently been, the hip-hop pedigree that’s kept its international flame perennially lit, still gets the shaft on the low.
Thinking about Bitty liking not just pop music, but hip hop. He grew up close enough to Atlanta (suburbs, Madison) that he could always get the Atlanta radio stations, and while he may have started listening to these fun, upbeat songs with some of the other figure skaters at practices and impromptu hotel room dance parties while at competitions, he started listening for himself because it was a nice, personal escape from the country music his parents always had on in the car.
(How he cherished his first pair of truly quality over-ear headphones. “No, Mama, you don’t need to change the station, I just need to listen to my program piece a few more times.” And she never knew the difference.)
But Eric Bittle was also a closeted gay boy growing up in the South. Who was the son of the local football coach. He started listening to the music because it made him feel happier, but then he started actually following the Atlanta hip hop scene, and while he definitely does NOT believe he has an inner sassy black girl, you can’t tell me he doesn’t identify with a genre of music about fighting back against systemic oppression, that addresses the need to find strength in the face of constant adversity, that sometimes angrily grabs a moment to just tell everyone to fuck off and let the singer speak. These songs are not speaking about his struggle specifically, but he feels them nonetheless.*
(And they kept him aware of the other daily fights the people around him were fighting during high school, so he tried to use his status as the football coach’s son by hanging out around the kids who got picked on by the bullies on the football team, because they knew Eric would tell his father if he saw them doing something blatant. But Eric knew to stay in his own lane, so he never made a big deal about it. And when he could, he’d bake stuff for the Multicultural Student Alliance bake sale, but funnel it through his friends on the cheerleading squad. He didn’t need the attention.)
He’s so used to hiding the depth of his musical knowledge and opinions by the time he gets to Samwell, though, that he doesn’t really ever talk about it, except in a general pop culture trivia kind of way, until one day Nursey and Chowder start a debate about East Coast vs. West Coast rap in his kitchen, and NURSEY IS JUST WRONG. Well, okay, not wrong, but it’s Nursey, he thinks the East Coast stops somewhere north of Maryland. And that’s how Eric Richard Bittle, our tiny blonde Georgia peach of a baker, ends up giving an hour-long lecture on the history of the Atlanta hip hop scene. Nursey actually learns something.
(*Where did this headcanon come from? Hearing my husband correct a coworker who told him he was too white to listen to rap. He may have gone to high school in Ann Arbor, but he vividly remembers growing up a block off of 8 Mile in Detroit, where the neighbors got angry at his mother because she dared to paint her house and raise the property taxes for the whole street. The Detroit rap scene does not exactly represent his life, but he doesn’t appreciate being told that his enjoyment of it must be ironic.)
I am on book tour. I forgot my coat and in every city, every building is chilled. My fingertips are cold.
This is what I know:
1. Independent bookstores are amazing.
2. The credit card machines in ALL the cabs are “broken.”
3. Hotel room temp controls are the most unreliable of things.
4. I have received two patterned tiny elephants, a tiny elephant creamer, and a print on luxe paper of a tiny elephant. I also got chocolate covered fruit in NYC and a letter from a reader that I will keep forever.
5. I lost my hair brush in my hotel room and couldn’t find it and I was sad and then last night, in Washington DC, there was a CVS next to the bookstore where I read so I got a new hair brush. I was mad about spending $7.29.
5a. I also bought a bottle of water.
6. Travel is expensive.
7. I was lying on my bed (clothed, awake) and this man let himself into my hotel room and I did not like that. It was a mix up on the hotel’s part, no problem. In the movies, Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are tennis stars who meet in this way and they fall in love and win tennis tournaments and have babies and live happily ever after. That totally did not happen.
8. I do read the reviews, good or bad, so long as they will make me a better writer or make me feel like my chest will explode. Sometimes, I read the reviews two or three lines at a time, between my fingers. I am a delicate flower.
9. My mom saw me read at McNally Jackson in NYC. She is busting with pride. It is nice to make your parents proud. She took lots of pictures with her huge camera and also forgot to mute her phone so every time she got an e-mail, her phone tinkled.
9a. On Sunday, we’re going to buy all the copies of the New York Times in South Florida.
10. We shared a hotel room and it was totally fine. Turns out she’s kind of an expert on Maury Povich and Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.
11. All the interviews.
12.My youngest brother blabbed about my book so now my family knows and it’s weird, not in a bad way, just weird, because I am a compartmentalizer.
13. I don’t know what to say here but I am feeling a great many things.
Family and friends of people killed by police in metro Atlanta will hold a People’s Tribunal, telling the true stories of how their loved ones were killed by police and demanding justice from the police departments and the judicial system. They will be joined by community activists and students at a public event to be held in the gazebo at the south end of Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. The event will also include performances by hip hop artists/activists Jasiri X and Zayd Malik, and will be followed by a march through the streets of downtown.
VH1 investigates the rich, complex untold story of Atlanta’s fascinating rise to the top of the rap industry, which created a major fore within American music. Featuring interviews from Ludacris, Usher, T.I., Lil Jon and more.
VH1 is streaming the full ATL documentary on it’s site so for those of you like me who don’t give money to cable companies who don’t provide content the way you want it at a price you want it you can watch it there just like I did an hour and a half ago. It’s pretty good and covers more than hashtags led me to believe it would. I do have issues with it though but for the most part in the too small catalog that is regional rap documentaries I would say it’s a welcome addition to explaining a history of this music. Yeah there is no mention of snap music, rich homie quan gets a profile, no mention of Gucci or D4L, but Jeezy talks a decent amount and Killer Mike has plenty to say about the city.
One thing I take issue in this though is that the term The South is not interchangeable with Atlanta. It could be the way it’s edited but it happened more than enough to bother me because it discredits the contributions from the rest of the south. You can’t lump yourself in as the entire south and then say nothing happened nationally until Outkast. You’re disregarding the legacy of Rap-A-Lot and the Geto Boys. Yes Outkast was huge and the argument can be made they they are the greatest hip-hop duo ever but Atlanta wouldn’t be what it is without the contibutions of the rest of the south. I know this documentary is about atlanta and I don’t expect them to spend the time telling people about J Prince starting a label in a used car lot but just tip the hat to the history of the region. They did mention Memphis if even for a split second.
During the section about Outkast Goodie Mob gets some shine but I feel like their impact wasn’t emphasized enough. Yes I’m a fan but that record was big, Cell Therapy was a quotable in The Source, Soul Food was big when that video hit. They are given credit and yeah there are time constraints but when you consider the people watching this most likely have no idea of the time and the impact it had it’d be nice to just give it another 30 seconds at least.
Regardless of my disdain for Arrested Development that part was way too long and gave a group that most people had no idea was from Atlanta too much credit for it’s effect on it’s rise to prominence. I don’t agree with trying to push a group modeled after Native Tongues with a PM Dawn aesthetic who all came before them as a kind of hip hop conscious renaissance for Atlanta. Success-N-Effect was getting cosigned by Chuck D when Arrested Development was pushing Mr. Wendal. That’s like me trying to say Mass Influence changed the ATL hiphop scene forever.
For the most part the documentary spends a lot of time exploring the NYC would never play us and LA didn’t care about us bit. Which is true but I think was true for every region that wasn’t considered a major. The bay area had that issue but I think because of it’s proximity to LA and things like the Gavin Convention those gatekeepers fucked with it more than say music coming from Atlanta, Memphis, or New Orleans. This wasn’t a struggle unique to Atlanta although Outkast’s moment at The Source awards was huge and a defining moment. It’s a struggle that UGK knew, Hypnotized Minds knew, No Limit knew, Rap-A-Lot knew.
Regardless of my issues with this I’m glad they made it because the history of regional music should be documented. Tell the story of Flint Michigan, of Memphis, of Chicago, of Dallas, of Houston, of Miami, of Baltimore, of D.C., of Cleveland, of Los Angles, of Oakland, of Kansas City, of St Louis, of Gary Indiana, of all these cities. For too long has the story of hip-hop only ever been told through the history of what happened in New York and as great as that is it is not the whole story. There are contributors to this culture everywhere.
Can someone just make a westcoast electro documentary already?