On the outside looking in, #NewAtlanta may seem like a clique of young rappers, fighting for attention and acceptance from anybody who's paying attention, and that's only partially true. There is a lot of light to be shed throughout this movement, and the music is just the tip of the iceberg. Producer Jeron Ward of the Flush Music, the Grammy-nominated unit responsible for Big Boi's "Royal Flush" (feat. Raekwon and Andre 3000), along with a handful of songs from Big's latest solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors explains that #NewAtlanta is a culture that's been brewing here for quite some time. "It's not a clique, its not Wu-Tang, its a collective, unified energy. It's about positive growth."
The people down with this positive growth are mostly an early-to-mid 20s, purposefully egoless bunch ranging from rappers, DJs, singers, and producers to painters, poets, and tattoo artists. Community activists, writers, bloggers, and even Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward has hopped in on the conversation via Twitter. "When we say #NewAtlanta, what we're building is a culture," offers GreedmontPark writer Steve "Steve-O" Dingle, who is, perhaps the most vocal proponent of the movement.
Unlike other major U.S. cities, Atlanta knows what it feels like to have something "new" take shape every three to four years. It's one of the ways our city remains culturally relevant. But will the #NewAtlanta renaissance be any different from Atlanta's trends of the past?
No one is quick to take credit for getting #NewAtlanta started, but it all began sometime around March 2012, during SXSW, and the following September, and while the telltale hashtag and the players behind it may be new, the aesthetic is not. Atlanta has long bustled with diverse talent: Even the clubs and restaurants that sit along Sweet Auburn Ave. have been graced by everyone from Ray Charles to Jimi Hendrix when they started their careers decades ago. But it wasn't until the last 20 years that Atlanta came to be heavily been defined by the popularity of its own wide-ranging music scene.
In the late'80s and early '90s Bobby Brown, Curtis Mayfield, L.A. Reid, and Babyface set up shop here. Within the next five years Arrested Development, Dallas Austin, TLC, Kris Kross, Jermaine Dupri, and Toni Braxton followed. Then came the Dungeon Family-era that brought in Outkast and Goodie Mob, accompanied by Usher in the R&B world and Ghetto Mafia and Big Oomp Records in the underworld. Then came Lil Jon, Pastor Troy, and Youngbloodz, followed by the T.I. / Ludacris / Young Jeezy trifecta. Along the way photographer Shannon McCollum, clothing entrepreneur Kenlo, and graphic artist DL Warfield played their parts in lending a visual aesthetic to the music. Snap music came and went, but it's not-so-playful cousin trap music has stuck around longer than expected with Gucci Mane and different variations of his character popping up.
Since 2005 Atlanta has fostered a subculture that never identified itself as anti-pop, but alternative. Birthed from parties and shows organized by Fadia Kader, Caleb Gague, Ian Ford, City of Ink, and more, the "Otherground Atlanta" wave included artists like Proton, Jaspects, Señor Kaos, and Gripplyaz and eventual breakouts, such as Yelawolf, B.o.B, Pill, and Janelle Monae. Other entities like Chilly-O's self-titled clothing line aided in giving it an identity with it's highly popular "ATLien" T-shirt and accessory line. All of that energy seemed to be on its way to being the next thing, but it didn't quite pan out.
"... It seemed like there was a lot of unfriendly competition on that scene, but I never got that," says singer/songwriter Spree Wilson. "Everybody kind of looked the same, knew the same people."
Rapper and producer Go Dreamer, a former member of that era's poster boys Hollyweerd, and now one-third of the Flush shares Wilson's sentiments. "[This is all] a progression of what was going on in 2006," he says. "The difference is that was trial and error back then and everybody wasn't receptive of it either. People are more open now. Back then we had Broke & Boujee, Sloppy Seconds, and SugarHill. But now we are where we're going to be for a while, so we have to proclaim a movement."
A Twitter search for the #NewAtlanta hashtag offers a roll call of recognizable names such as Two-9, Wilson, and Sean Falyon. Other names associated with the movement, including Marian Mereba, Mach Five, Scotty, RaRa, and Earthgang will ring a bell if you snoop around on CL's website enough. A Google search for names like Miloh Smith, Rome Fortune, Money Makin Nique, ForteBowie, and other newcomers leads to their respective Bandcamp pages and boastful Tweets. But in terms of a cohesive sound, the music of #NewAtlanta doesn't come along with a dance and it isn't defined by a particular drum pattern. Spree Wilson's "Right Girl, Wrong Time" is a throwback to mid-90's bootyshake while EarthGang recalls mid '90s Dungeon Family. ForteBowie's rapping/singing combos sample everything from Future to Freddie Jackson while Mereba relies on acoustic guitar. And where RaRa gives you something to ride to, Mach Five and Two-9 give you a soundtrack for the party.
There's a broad swathe of non-musical contributors surrounding #NewAtlanta as well: Painters and tattoo artists Corey Davis and Paper Frank, clothing lines like Kreemo, and community event organizers Creative Revolution Union (CRUx) are all part of the scene where synergy is designed for people to pool their talents. If you rap and need a beat, ask Go Dreamer. If you need a flyer designed for a show, ask Paper Frank. Want some gear, hit Kreemo. No word on if Heyward is giving away Braves tickets though.
Participants have organized food and clothing drives for the homeless and thrown concerts where the price of admission is a canned food item to be donated at local shelters. And with all of these efforts to showcase the new art, music, and fashion getting notice, the most recognizable name of the bunch is hip-hop's favorite topic of discussion at the moment, Trinidad Jame$ - a walking embodiment of #NewAtlanta. "He has ForteBowie featured on his tape, Corey Davis shot the cover, and Paper Frank does his tattoos," Greedmont Park's Steve-O adds.
His overnight celebrity status has brought more attention to the movement, some positive and some not so positive. People who aren't fans of Jame$ may view #NewAtlanta as a wave of music and people following his lead. Others, feeling left out or confused, have come up with their own phrases - #RealAtlanta and #OldAtlanta are just a few that have been cropping up more and more. But this only brings us back to the original question, what is #NewAtlanta, but also, how does one become a part of the movement? "Anybody can be a part of it, but you have to actively be a part of it," says Ward, who later went on to explain that the movement is "all about showing the world that Atlanta has a positive creative culture that exists beyond just the trap or the clubs, and even beyond the music that the world currently identifies with Atlanta. What #NewAtlanta is doing differently is keeping the energy as positive and unified as possible. No one gets mad when Trinidad Jame$, Spree Wilson, or GoDreamer end up on MTV, we expect it, and support it. That's the difference that the #NewAtlanta renaissance seeks to share with the world."
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