A lot of people ask: Why is Atlanta a magnet for the hip-hop genre, and will it ever go anywhere?
But before you can answer that question, you have to understand how it became the undisputed capital of hip-hop.
“I think what makes Atlanta the Mecca, is people don’t understand the culture of Atlanta,” said DJ Greg Street.
Hip-hop historians say Atlanta’s vibrant history has set the tone for the genre to thrive. Dr. Joycelyn Wilson teaches an Outkast course at Georgia Tech, and the hip-hop connoisseur said there’s nothing accidental about Atlanta having such a strong hold on the genre.
“Atlanta is really unique because it’s irrevocably connected to civil rights and civil rights activism, which is what gave birth to the hip-hop culture,” she said.
It’s a cultural identity and a cultural phenomenon, Wilson said, something the underdog communities can claim as their own.
“Atlanta was able to be heard, and people of struggle and oppression were able to be heard,” she said. “You get this culture emerging as a powerful voice, and it has remained that way for quite some time.”
But even with such a worldwide appeal, Wilson admits the genre still becomes a scapegoat and a punching bag for blame. Especially for something rappers always have to defend: their song lyrics.
“Does hip-hop and rap reflect misogyny? Of course it does. Does it reflect a sense of materialism? Of course it does. Does it reflect violence and gun violence? Yes it does," Wilson said. "Because it's giving artists who experience excessive materialism, who experience racial oppression, it's giving them an opportunity to tell their story.
For rappers like Gucci Mane, those lyrics are often born of the real struggles many of the artists face in the streets every day.
“Music is nothing but a reflection of life,” Gucci said. “Art ain’t nothing but a reflection of life. If life don’t give you nothing but bad, people gon’ talk about bad.”
And Wilson agrees, “You’re going to get that critical analysis of what is happening in society for an oppressed population of people,” she said.
Despite those criticisms, the hip-hop being created in Atlanta continues to be a world wide magnet. A multi-billion dollar industry with most of the billboard hits generated right here in The A.
According to Forbes, five current artists alone are worth more than $2 billion dollars. On top of that, the 20 top-earning hip-hop acts combined made roughly $450 million last year. And this is the city aspiring artists must break-in first...if they want to survive and be lucrative.
“We’re kind of, like, feeding the hip-hop universe straight out of, like, Atlanta,” said Hurricane Dave. “If you’re an up-and-coming artist, you want to be in Atlanta.”
But it helps, too, that once those artists make it big, they stay in Atlanta. Peter Conlon is head of the southeast region for LiveNation, which produces big concerts and music festivals a la Music Midtown in Atlanta and throughout. Conlon said they've helped grow the hip-hop scene.
"People like Usher, Future, T.I., Ludacris," he said. "They didn't pack up and move to New York. They've stayed here."
Because of that, Conlon said it helps generate more money for the music business. "Artists from the hip-hop genre are a good component of the Atlanta market and it has grown over the years."
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But the appeal of the hip-hop culture of Atlanta is not just limited to wannabe rappers. 11Alive met Izzy Cheeks, who moved from her home in Germany…and chose Atlanta as her new one because of the scene.
“When I heard I would have the chance to go to Atlanta I just thought it was great,” she said.
While the genre continues to thrive financially, businesses and corporations are now catching on and cashing in for marketing and branding purposes. And you can see the influences trickle through in mainstream music (Maroon 5’s song “Cold” features Future), pop culture (Atlanta-based TV show Atlanta won a 2017 Golden Globe for best TV series), and movies (let’s not forget how many rappers have graced the big screen to show their acting skills -- T.I., Ludacris, even Andre 3000).
It took a while to build this momentum from the 90’s to now, but now it’s here and crystallizing its mark in the game.
People wonder just how long Atlanta will continue to be the rap capitol, but Atlanta artists, producers and DJs say it’s their responsibility to keep Atlanta the ground zero of hip-hop music.
“Atlanta is being looked at all around the country. Which means we’re being looked at all around the globe,” Hurricane Dave said.
A global respect for the city where the “playa’s play,” a city that had something to say…and that’s here to stay.
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