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2 Chainz, Big Boi, and Young Thug show Atlanta runs the world—or at least hip-hop
Atlanta’s vice grip on rap is stronger than ever.
On booming single “Kill Jill,” from his just-released third solo album BOOMIVERSE, Atlanta rapper and legend Big Boi throws out a sweeping, Southern-fried claim: “The South got somethin’ to say. And nah, y’all niggas can’t get y’all ball back.”
The second half of the verse heralds Atlanta’s inarguable dominance of hip-hop culture, one that found its seeds in the first half of the line: a word-for-word reference to when Andre 3000 responded at jeering New York City fans during the infamous 1995 Source Awards.
Fast forward 22 years, and 2017 has been the year of Atlanta. One where rap and mainstream music spin on the city’s fortified axis.
Hyped trio Migos dropped the excellent CULTURE, which included the genre-shifting Billboard smash “Bad and Boujee.” Future released two Billboard No. 1s merely a week apart (FUTURE and follow-up album HNDRXX). Bubblegum trapper Lil Yachty has Target and Sprite in his corner. 21 Savage found himself a record deal with Epic, then unveiled hashtag anthem “Issa” with buds Drake and Young Thug.
And counting Big Boi’s BOOMIVERSE, three critically and commercially viable Atlanta-based rappers released highly anticipated records on Friday. Though from the same city of Atlanta, each has arrived from three distinct and distinguished rap eras.
One of Atlanta rap’s mainstream standard-bearers, 2 Chainz released fourth studio album Pretty Girls Like Trap. It’s a record darker and more contemplative than previous work—and boasts his best stuff to date.
It’s loaded with great features—Pharrell, Travis Scott, and Nicki Minaj all perform here—and his stories and lyrics ring so specific that he’s nearly impossible to upstage.
Album starter “Saturday Night” provides the project’s direct theme, where Chainz raps, “Funny how heaven and hell coexist, funny how life can put you in the mix.” “Good Drank” features ATL neighbors Gucci Mane and Quavo, with an elongated and memorable chorus.
Minaj rehashes her ongoing feud with Remy Ma, but Chainz still gets the best verse, directly going at some of his Atlanta brethren with disses toward contemporaries who “mumble.” It’s a city big enough for chaotic, dissenting sounds, after all. That the neon and usually flippant Chainz can be the old man on the lawn shows just how boundlessly creative this music keeps getting.
Unfortunately for Big Boi, numerous features on BOOMIVERSE push the decorated OutKast MC to second saddle. Atlanta’s Killer Mike dominates “Kill Jill,” which begins with a hyped sample of virtual Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku. Adam Levine’s chorus carries “Mic Jack,” a stone groove that could be home on some alternate-history version of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall.
“In the South” feels like a lost opportunity—it features Gucci Mane and Pimp C. (Another re-hashed verse from the late Pimp C and nothing from his bandmate Bun B? On a bass-driven, UGK-inspired track no less?) The album’s best song, “Made Man,” once again finds Killer Mike in the pocket.
Not to be outdone, eclectic firebrand Young Thug likewise released his major label debut Beautiful Thugger Girls, the weirdo record rap fans knew was inevitable. It’s a disorienting mash of trap, country-washed singer-songwriter flavors, R&B, and dancehall that enlists no discernible rhyme or reason.
Thugger goes back and forth with Future on “Relationship,” where they rap about women, Malcolm X, and pills.
He saves his quirky eloquence for “On Fire,” exclaiming, “I’m tired of one, I need two, threesome. Yeah, I need a threesome. Just give me a threesome, three, three, three, three, threesome.”
It’s a bewildering project. Even “Family Don’t Matter” is getting run as a country song:
These loud and distinct releases show rap’s Atlanta-specific normalization. America’s black mecca rules with vis major magnetic pull, skewing the mainstream as its true force. Hell Friday was barely heralded as a special occasion—for the city that runs the game, it was business as usual.
Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.