What's Happening in Atlanta? Trinidad James and the City's New Rap Scene

What's Happening in Atlanta? Trinidad James and the City's New Rap SceneTrinidad James performs at Santos Party House in NYC; Photography by Lavonda Manning

Go Dreamer and Spree Wilson are sitting on the couches in the Complex office. Both are part of what is being called, mostly by the people involved in it, New Atlanta, or #NewAtlanta, or, as Go Dreamer says in person, “Pound New Atlanta.”

That it is as much marketing as movement at this nascent stage doesn’t seem like a problem, although New Atlanta is something of a misnomer. Many of its artists—Trinidad James excepted—came of age in an earlier era. Go Dreamer was a member of Hollyweerd, a group that made some blog noise in the late 2000s with a series of tapes and singles like “Have You Ever Made Love to a Weirdo?” Spree Wilson is a rapper who also sings and plays guitar, creating songs that are as alternative rock as they are hip-hop. Many of the other names brought up under the New Atlanta umbrella, like Sean Falyon and Grip Plyaz, have been covered by local press and notable writer Maurice Garland for several years.

New Atlanta is also an odd name because Atlanta has never really gone away. In 2012, as in virtually every year for the past decade, Atlanta artists have been amongst hip-hop’s most successful and most popular on a national scale. No other metropolis comes close.

 

New Atlanta is an odd name because Atlanta has never really gone away. In 2012, as in virtually every year for the past decade, Atlanta artists have been amongst hip-hop’s most successful and most popular on a national scale. No other metropolis comes close.

 

New Atlanta’s existence is a sign of how the Internet has allowed the full breadth of a city’s hip-hop scene to find an audience. Most cities have multi-tiered scenes, from populist street rap to Tumblr hip-hop in the vein of Raider Klan, from art school kids to retro backpackers, from post-Odd Future skate rap to club-oriented tracks to particular regional variations. At one point, radio dictated a national discourse on hip-hop; you were either on it or you were underground. The Internet has broadened the number of channels available, allowing artists that might have struggled for exposure in past years to find fan bases in new ways.

When artists from the New Atlanta scene talk about what they’re trying to do, it tends to come in language about bringing awareness to styles that people aren’t familiar with. 

When asked about the movement, ForteBowie, a promising rapper and singer who has collaborated with Trinidad James, says, “A lot of kids grew up in this city watching people like T.I., Ludacris, Young JeezyFuture, and all these people coming out of the city. We related to that, because, of course, we’re from the city. We’re also influenced by a lot of other things. Different genres of music or different lifestyles. We had our own voices, and we all felt like people like Jeezy and Future can’t tell our stories for us, even though we from the same place.”

Spree Wilson's thoughts: “We’re trying to show the whole scope of the city, rather than what you would know Atlanta to be in the last 10 years. Most people know it for street music, ratchet shit, turned up shit. If you think about Atlanta before that, it had that, but it also had the artistic shit, R&B with LaFace, bass music. It was all that, man.”

Spree’s latest single, “Right One/Wrong Time,” is a throwback to an era that didn't receive much national attention. At once retro and contemporary, the song melds Atlanta bass history with a sincere, heart-on-sleeve love story. It’s produced by The Flush, which is Go Dreamer and Jeron Ward, who recently had high-profile placements on fellow ATLien Big Boi’s newest record, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. The duo were roommates at Georgia State; Jeron was friends with Big Boi’s cousin, which helped them get their feet in the door at Stankonia’s A Room studio. What's most promising about Spree’s single is that it sounds like it has the potential to crossover.

And this is where New Atlanta could end up being a successful movement. Unlike in many other cities, where alternative-rap weirdos are either exalted by bloggers but fail to find much radio traction, Atlanta has the infrastructure to support artists who can make their moves across the board. Since Outkast—the obvious forefathers to any rap artist in Atlanta making moves outside of the street rap norm—being eccentric hasn’t been a detriment to getting national attention.

“We need points on the board,” Spree Wilson says. To Spree and Dreamer, charting is the goal—and that means pushing their music not just online ("Publications aren't strong in Georgia," Go Dreamer admits), but to club DJs, strip club DJs and radio DJs.

To both artists, New Atlanta is an attempt to be inclusive and celebrate the younger, oddball side of Atlanta’s scene. The city has a large number of performance venues, from Smith’s Olde Bar, where rapper Scotty built his local following, to the recently-shuttered Lenny’s, where Yelawolf cut his teeth. Trinidad’s particular scene—of which Spree and Go Dreamer are also a part—is centered around Drunken Unicorn/MJQ.

“Those are underground clubs. The weirdo clubs. That’s the shit that we hang around. We don’t go to the mainstream, the Velvet Rooms. That’s that bullshit,” explains Grip Plyaz, who's been rapping since the late '90s, when he came into contact with proto-New Atlanta group, Proton. “It’s different. You go to MJQ, you’re not going to get 50 bottles. You’re not going to see motherfuckers at MJQ with rosé bottles in the VIP section or none of that bullshit. Pay 20 dollars to get in the goddamn club, just to see someone sitting in VIP all flexed. It’s more in-your-face type shit. There’s no VIP. It’s dark.”

 

Unlike in many other cities, where alternative-rap weirdos are either exalted by bloggers but fail to find much radio traction, Atlanta has the infrastructure to support artists who can make their moves across the board.

 

Yesterday, Plyaz released his own record, the fantastically-titled Purp, Wind & Fire, which features guest spots from Trinidad James, Go Dreamer and recent Strange Music signee Rittz. The record has some strong moments, but doesn’t seem liable to catapault Grip to national superstardom, nor does it seem intended to. Instead, Grip seems focused on building up a fan base that will be drawn to his particular avenue. “We’ve got totally different stuff down here that people have never heard. We’re just trying to pave a lane for that.”

DJ Burn One, who has worked heavily with a cross-section of Atlanta’s recording artists, looks past MJQ’s scene to some of the wider changes happening in Atlanta. “There are more camps now. There’s more groups, producers. For a while, everybody was stuck in the limbo between the physical—street team, marketing—and the Internet. But a lot of the people doing it now are Internet savvy.”

He draws attention to Ghetto Mafia, a talented Atlanta group from the late '90s that never managed to develop a national following. But, he argues, they would have done so were they rising a decade later, with help from the Internet. “That’s the biggest part, connecting with a fan base. Find people that identify with you and support it.”

Stay Connected with
Complex Music
Tags: trinidad-james, new-atlanta
blog comments powered by Disqus