Is #NewAtlanta a movement or marketing, and does it even matter? Plus, we reveal the producer of "All Gold Everything."
Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Yesterday evening, news quickly spread that Trinidad James had signed with Def Jam records for a rumored $2 million, just a week after performing at Santos Party House. The crowd at the NYC venue included a number of the label’s executives, including president Joie Manda, and it marked the culmination of a rise that seemed somehow both improbable and completely predictable. It was not his first time in New York, although it was his first since the buzz around his viral smash “All Gold Everything” reached critical mass.
It was also, to quote one publicist close to the situation, a “shit show.” Celebrities and VIPs were turned away at the door, or at least had to wait for a significant amount of time; comedian Hannibal Buress, New York Knick Baron Davis, rapper Joey Bada$$, and journalist Elliott Wilson were among them.
Like everything about James’ sudden rise from Atlanta scenester (he was working at Ginza clothing boutique in downtown Atlanta when he decided to become a rapper) to hip-hop star, the oversold show sparked cynicism. But Trinidad’s unlikely-yet-forseeable rise marks an important moment for Atlanta, an attempt to reassert its dominance in an era where regional styles, broadcast cheaply and easily on the Internet, have the potential to upset the city’s long-running centrality to hip-hop.
One man’s “gimmick” is another’s style. If rappers were forced to abandon "gimmicks," the genre would suffer. Many times, those "gimmicks" are shorthand for charisma and personality.
Like any Internet-driven phenomenon, James has attracted his share of detractors. Many of their concerns are unfair; a hit song is a hit song, and “All Gold Everything” qualifies, at least by the modest measure of YouTube success. From A$AP Rocky to Kreayshawn to Chief Keef, critics have been quick to point out that imagery and gimmicks overshadow the music, seemingly unaware that their criticisms of the hype cycle aren’t far removed from the flawed arguments thrown at chart-topping pop stars a decade ago. One man’s “gimmick” is another’s style. If rappers were forced to abandon "gimmicks," the genre would suffer. Many times, those "gimmicks" are shorthand for charisma and personality.
James’ considerable on-camera charm hasn’t completely transferred through to his vocal performance. As has been widely reported, he only started rapping about 10 months ago. His inexperience is a sharp contrast with Gucci Mane’s more effortless, experienced style on their recent collaboration, where James’ verse has a bludgeoning simplicity. This is where some of the cynicism is understandable. Simplicity isn’t an inherent negative, but in his case, it feels more by default than by design.
His rise felt too smooth for most. Trinidad linked up with influential New York DJs Ballers Eve, and is co-managed by the group’s DJ J.Dirrt. Motion Family—skilled, established cinematographers known for Pill of Atlanta's viral video “Trap Goin Ham”—put together the “All Gold Everything” visual, as well. Even the success of his Santos appearance felt suspicious. Live concerts in New York are a chance for rappers to control the news cycle, and what better marketing can you ask for than overselling an event, leaving VIPs and journalists stuck outside of a mere 570 person-capacity venue?
But canny management can only go so far, and Trinidad’s success says a lot more about how Atlanta’s business model is adopting to new channels for success.