The Arts Is The New “Rap” In Atlanta.


I went to the (2nd annual I think) Forward Warrior street art exhibit Friday night to see some of the city of Atlanta’s best and brightest artists paint the town red, green, yellow, blue, orange and just about every other color in the spectrum. Miya Bailey, GregMike, Corey Davis, Paper Frank, Mister Soul, Dust, Daks and gang of other young rising art stars collaborated to paint three different murals in the “artsy” Castleberry Hill Arts District. Simultaneously, the MadClout crew was hosting their own art show, Steel Wheels at the Nelson Street Gallery, which you couldn’t miss as you walked from mural to mural. And at the same time, this was going on during monthly Castleberry Hill Art Stroll where most of the galleries in the neighborhood are open to the public…

All of this also happened one week after the annual FLUX Night where the same neighborhood is overtaken by experimental outside art installations, performances and displays. On that same Saturday night, Fabian Williams hosted another one of his popular Art of War shows where painters square off against each other the same way that two rappers would in a battle.

Oh yeah, the entire week leading up to that Heineken brought their Mural Project to town during the A3C Hip Hop Festival and had Chor Boogie, Clogtwo, Mark27 and Paper Frank paint murals all over the city…starting with an opening party at Greg Mike’s ABV Gallery in the 4th Ward and ending with another party in Castleberry Hill, during FLUX.

This Thursday Red Bull is hosting an art show where painters will be customizing coolers. Then on Friday the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs will be launching their 3rd annual Elevate art exhibit. Next Friday, the scene’s biggest art show, Art, Beats and Lyrics will be hosting it’s 9th annual edition at the Compound.

Yes. That sounds like a lot of art going on, because it is. But the beautiful thing about it is that people are actually excited about it. Obviously the artists are excited because they get to display (and hopefully sell) some of their work at these shows. The public is excited about it because unlike the nightclub scene, 99% of these shows are absolutely free and will more than likely be pouring free drinks too. The creative community as a whole (painters, illustrators, photographers, dancers, poets, etc) is excited because it feels like the city is finally catching up and paying attention to what they’ve been doing over the last 10 years as they fought for attention in a city that has pretty much been known for it’s music and now it’s terrible reality television shows.

On the flipside of that coin, I can’t say the same for Atlanta’s music scene right now. Of course, it still has stars like Usher, John Mayer and others who still claim the city as “home.” And it will always have the legacy that acts like Cameo, S.O.S. Band and R.E.M. built. The legacy that labels like LaFace, So So Def, DTP, Grand Hustle kept. And trends like Crunk, Snap, Trap (and now the other Trap) that added to the city’s personality. But right now, Atlanta’s music scene (specifically the rap scene for the sake of argument here) isn’t providing much to be excited for. Of course, everybody has their personal tastes and artists we wave the flag for…but let’s talk about (no hard feelings) the shit that the rest of the world is actually paying attention to.

For the last five or so years (maybe longer than that), the city has become known for “one hit wonders.” Well, we may actually have to come up with a new word for that because mixtapes and Worldstar actually add an extra 10 minutes to that 15. But yeah, from Yung Joc and Yung LA on up to Migos right now, Atlanta’s music scene has become an assembly line for what winds up being disposable music. Some DJs, radio folks and industry types would argue otherwise because shied, they are still getting paid and eating off said assembly line. But I’m here to tell you, 97% of those cats feel the same way but either aren’t going to say it or can’t say it…because it’s paying bills. Can’t knock it…you can sure as hell nudge it a little bit, but can’t knock it.

I mean, the radio sounds like the club. The “new” artists sound like the “new” artist from six months ago. And like Killer Mike so eloquently stated in his 2006 song “The Next Bitch,” rap has turned into that bitch that just let’s anybody fuck her. You can pay to get your song played. You can pay to perform at certain shows. You can pay a DJ to put your song on his mixtape. And what do we, the fans and consumers get? Well, we get to pay to go to club to hear this garbage. We get to pay to get frisked down at that club like we work for Al Qaeda, too.

None of this new. But, for so long people just took it because “there wasn’t shit else to do” because the city was so defined by the music industry. Now, if you’ve been following this blog for some years, you’d know that one of my main missions of starting it was to show that there was PLENTY of other things going on outside of what you saw on TV and heard on the radio as it pertains to this city. Some folks slept, others woke up. But, right now, it seems like more and more people are waking up to the creative community here and choosing to abandon the run-of-the-mill music experience here.

About six or seven years ago when I was blogging about shows at Lenny’s (RIP), Drunken Unicorn (who JUST started letting Hip Hop shows happen there again) with then unknown artists like Yelawolf, B.o.B, Janelle Monae and a few others, people felt a certain type of excitement in seeing something different or a bit more palatable to their lifestyle. No names and definitely no shots, but a lot of the industry types who were considered to be at the top of the totem pole got a little excited too and came through trying chill at first…but later trying to capitalize. Again, can’t knock them, it’s what they do…you can nudge the hell out of it, but can’t knock it.

I see that same excitement brewing for the arts right now. Granted, the excitement was always there among the people who were already into the arts, but now, it seems like people are gravitating to it even more because it seems like the ultimate alternative. Like I said earlier, the shows are usually free, the drinks are usually free, the people are usually cool and as a dude, the women are usually finer, smarter and less attention-seeking than those broads in the club. Ladies, can’t speak for ya’ll as far as what kind of dudes are at these shows…you can share you’re thoughts in the comments if you are so moved to.

There is also a similar excitement brewing in the culinary and tech communities here too. There was a time when getting invited to a private listening party or getting a VIP band for a album release party was the shit. But now, getting an invite to a private dinner party where a chef and a bartender will be there to serve you at a party of no more than 30 people is the new “VIP.” There was a time when knowing somebody at the door of the popular night club or getting to hangout at a studio for whatever random ass reason made you look “cool.” But now, having access to the Google and/or WordPress offices here or knowing where the next hack-a-thon or mobile app summit is going down at is what makes you look “cool.”

And going back to the “letting everybody fuck” analogy I used earlier…that doesn’t fly in these communities. If you can’t paint, you don’t just get to do a mural…you spectate. If you can’t cook, you don’t just get to hop in the kitchen…you get a plate and sit down. If you can’t write code or program, you don’t just get to give yourself a title…you download or buy whatever it is they create. I think that’s what people are also excited about. They witnessing extraordinary people do things that not everybody can just wake up and do. They are watching people who spent countless days and hours honing their crafts, create special things that either appeal to more than one sense or make their lives easier.

Now, for the music heads who questioned, called and texted me late Friday night after I made a couple of comments on social media…I’m not saying that music in Atlanta is “dead.” Because lord knows, I hope it doesn’t die. But it is on life support. Outside of festivals, the music community isn’t building much of anything anymore. A lot of folks move here to make music, party, create a new identity for themselves and if they don’t get signed…they leave…or just stay and suck up space and resources only to put out stuff that doesn’t mean anything or inspire anyone.

But, BUT…music will always be key here because people are going to need a soundtrack for their lives and the creative process. One of the overlooked gems in that BBC Kanye West interview came when he stressed the “importance” of having a rapper like Pusha T on his label. He said that he has to make sure that Pusha T remains Pusha T no matter what because the music that he and his brother No Malice made as the Clipse is what kept people like himself, the creative and the student at the time, up a night working on whatever it was they were working on. And he needs the rest of the world to know and accept that. Same thing applies here. Just about every art show that I go to, there is a DJ spinning. I’m talking everywhere from the HIGH Museum to the street mural parties…music is being played, and it’s usually rap.

At this point, it’s up to the musicians here to create music that inspires the creatives, because from what I am seeing right now…it’s them that are going to move the city forward. The decision makers aren’t trying to fund record labels or recording studios. No, they are looking to invest in the arts and technology…I’m not sure how invested they are in the food game yet though. But I do know this, the arts attract people with deep pockets into the city…who buy expensive lofts…and want art to decorate them with. Technology makes people’s lives easier. With food, shit…people like to eat and they have to eat. I’m not sure what most of the music is doing right now other than being made and being used to sell shit that nobody really needs, or wants for that matter.

But yeah…it’s going on 5 am as I’m writing this. So I guess I’ll end by urging all of you to check out more art shows. Second, I’m urging the music community to not be so fixated on what’s “hot” and actually get back to contributing something of substance and actually show some face at some of these shows. And third, I urge that most of these rappers start saying something again before the city abandons them like they’re doing the Falcons right now.

But yeah, trust, I’m going to continue to do my part in making sure that the arts community gets some exposure and I will continue to support the music community as well…hopefully they can both find a way to support each other as well.


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3 Responses to The Arts Is The New “Rap” In Atlanta.

  1. T says:

    Great post Maurice. You’re on point about a few things here. There’s always been great visual artists in Atlanta, but its been as a result of the music industry’s presence. Atlanta represented an opportunity for those of us (designers, photogs, artists, dancers) interested in working in the music industry. But as musicians lower their quality, artists and designers are less concerned about their associations, thus looking for new, more exciting outlets. So I think what you’ve outlined is a positive backlash of a struggling music industry in Atlanta.

    Plus, you’ve got a number of artists who are simply growing (getting older) and less interested in dealing with these cookie cutter musicians who aren’t interested in having a shared vision of crafting a soundtrack to the visual artists work. There’s less incentive to do mediocre work on shoestring budgets for musicians that could care less about the long game. I’d rather fund my own projects and work a 9-5 than to sweat whatever’s left of the music industry in Atlanta.

    This makes the future bright because maybe the value of the arts in Atlanta will be recognized by everyone. So when they do charge for shows w/free booze, people will respect it and want to support.

    I use the term “musician” loosely

  2. Baker Blanding says:

    Another great blog entry from the street-level of the ATL cultural scene (this post explicitly transcends music, of course). What do you think can push the musical output from the city past these “one hit wonders” or WSHH Stars? These are the new Ringtone Rappers of the day but they are the face of ATL Rap and Southern Rap while artists I’ve discovered through this site and others like Yelawolf, Jackie Chain, and Big KRIT (not to mention SL Jones, but he’s BEEN in the game grinding) who have real talent are footnotes in the contemporary rap scene. Hopefully the New Creatives in the City will push some new artists to the forefront.

  3. BessieAkuba says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, Maurice. You get it. You totally get it. Oh, and as far as the majority of the guys at these events? They know how to hold real conversations with women. 🙂

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