Atlanta’s Left Hand: The Changing Sound of ATL Rap

The rap styles coming out of Atlanta have dominated mainstream music over the past years, but things are starting to shift. Here's what's next.

P&P Original

Image by Sho Hanafusa


Drive around Atlanta and keep an eye out for the billboards. You’ll see Quality Control, Gucci Mane, Future. You’ll see trap. After all, commercially, Atlanta is trap. 

Now, turn around and drive a little outside the city. Maybe you won’t see any billboard advertisements for it, but inside some of those houses, there are kids changing the Atlanta rap landscape. Sitting at desks with nothing but a laptop and some headphones, they’re cut from the same cloth as the likes of Awful Records, JID, and EarthGang, keeping Atlanta in a constant state of evolution. Bubbling just under the surface of mainstream consciousness, these young creators make up a promising new generation of alternative artists, collectively representing Atlanta’s “left hand.” 

Working out of bedroom studios and honing their talents on a rich performance circuit, this scene is approaching a turning point. As part of the latest shift in Atlanta’s ever-mutating sound, everyone knows that something is about to happen, but no one is sure just what. The music is there, the creativity is there, and the groundwork of both fan and industry support has been laid, but the future remains equal parts bright and unpredictable. 

Coming from the same city that strong-armed “U Guessed It” and “Tuesday” into the Top 100, there’s no doubt that Atlanta’s next generation is creating something special. For now, it’s just a matter of time. Meet some of the main catalysts below. These artists, along with many others, are the basis of a changing Atlanta.

Kenny Mason

kenny mason

Location: West Atlanta

Every few years, Atlanta reaches a cultural tipping point. In 2012, it was Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything”; in 2014, it was iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” and OG Maco’s “U Guessed It”; now, it’s starting to seem as though it’s going to be Kenny Mason’s “Hit.”

Garnering the interest of fans and fellow artists from Young Nudy to J.I.D., “Hit” arrived after a series of Twitter-released songs and visuals, none of which were made available on YouTube or streaming services. As Mason turned heads and continuously built momentum throughout the series, he refused to cash in on streaming platforms. “Firestarter,” for example, reached 100,000 views on Twitter. It’s personal, it’s paranoid, and it’s honest, but even more than that, it’s meant as proof of concept. Making music and recording himself out of a home studio, “some kid” from Atlanta can capture the eyes of an entire industry.

This integrity bleeds into Mason’s music, from the ground-stomping “22” to the deep-seated storytelling of “4real.” His lyricism can shift from confessional to triumphant in the blink of an eye, while his deliveries move even faster, inexhaustibly sprinting through flows and cadences on songs like “Nike 2” and “Hit.” With no past interviews or readily available background information, the young artist works to form another corner of his story with each song. In the age of transparency, he’s prolific, but he’s guarded.

When asked to comment for this article, Mason politely declined, instead offering just a few facts: he’s 24, he was born and raised in Atlanta, he’s a part of the Bricofleur collective, and he really likes dogs. Mason left out the part about how he's becoming a central catalyst for Atlanta’s current movement of alternative artists, but that's clear when you talk to his peers.

As another rising ATL rapper, Jazz Ingram, puts it, “Every time something shifts in Atlanta, there’s that one thing that sets it off. For a lot of people, ‘Look At Wrist’ happened and that was that whole era. This time, it’s Kenny dropping ‘Hit.’”



Location: South Atlanta

Wesson currently works at an Italian restaurant in downtown Atlanta. After shifts and on days off, he makes music on a laptop in his bedroom home studio, recording songs that blend swinging instrumentals with high-fashion references and storytelling charm. His distinctive voice and thoughtfully-orchestrated deliveries are perhaps his two most prominent strengths, and to date, he’s released a handful of singles and one project, all of which solely reside on SoundCloud.

In the gold rush environment of streaming and playlists, Wesson is patient. His last single, the smoky “22,” came out 8 months ago. He doesn’t have any music on Spotify or Apple Music at the moment, and thus far, he’s only ever used beats that he finds on YouTube. Recently, though, almost to his surprise, the songs have grown slowly but surely, often gaining traction months after their release thanks to the replay value evident in his music.

Atlanta is definitely a place to grow in. If people see potential and people see progress, they definitely hold it down and support you. - Wesson

 “I feel like I should perfect my craft behind the scenes and then put out only what I think is ready to put out," Wesson says of his slow-drip release schedule. "The time isn’t necessarily a factor because I feel like if you put thought into it, [the songs] are timeless. And if you really do have replay value, the rest will come.” That time has allowed him to develop his own sound and style, too, and Wesson explains, “Atlanta is definitely a place to grow in—it’s that community factor. If people see potential and people see progress, they definitely hold it down and support you.”

With songs like “22” and “Dirty Dan” turning heads, Wesson’s restaurant shifts might just turn into sold-out shows in the near future.



Location: Decatur

Grip’s goals are clear. In the age of immediacy, he’s here for the long run. Nothing too flashy, always genuine—just great music, prepared to last. If that means taking the scenic route, no problem. If that means straying from current trends, no problem. The Decatur artist holds integrity over anything else and his 2017 project Porch proves it. His soulful, Southern character pairs with purposeful songwriting, and his lyrics paint raw portraits of life’s harsh realities, serving stories just as they come.

“There’s no fairy-tale ending to this shit," Grip says. "You ever seen No Country For Old Men, where the main characters dies in the middle of the movie and the bad guy ends with just a broken arm? That’s what I try to give people. Regardless of whether you like it or not, this is what’s happening.”

n the underground, you get those different sounds and styles. Those unique kinds of artists are here, and honestly, that’s where Atlanta is headed. - Grip

Even as Grip’s music speads all the way from HBO’s Euphoria to the Madden 20 soundtrack, the passion behind the art is what seems to govern his output. “If I keep on working a warehouse job, I’m not leaving my mark on anything," he tells us. "I actually want to say something—bring people together, give my thoughts and my point of view. Music is a way to be immortalized.” 

With a project called Snubnose on the way, the Decatur native is focused on telling his story in a true-to-self manner, as highlighted by his Stray Society mantra. “It’s about being yourself, and just not following what’s out there," Grip concludes. "Especially in Atlanta, there’s a lot of people who follow whatever’s hot. But in the underground, you get those different sounds and styles. Those unique kinds of artists are here, and honestly, that’s where Atlanta is headed.”

Read our full interview with Grip here.



Location: Fulton County

Hanzo’s growth as a musician results from resourcefulness. For his most recent solo release,“Civic,” he noticed the drumsticks from his old high school marching band collecting dust right beside him. So, he picked them up and recorded a subtle stick sound which made the song’s final cut.  The Fulton County native is humble and his art is impulsive, weaving stylistic fluidity in with candid accounts of emotion—sonically, lyrically, and otherwise. Just this past summer, Hanzo signed with Awful Records, turning his influences into his peers, as he makes the transition from an audience member at every Atlanta DIY show to an active participant in the city’s ever-forming musical identity.

In addition to his solo work, Hanzo also boasts a successful track record as a producer, having worked with the likes of Lil Pump, Hoodrich Pablo Juan, and close friend 6 Dogs, among others. He’s also a member of the rapidly-rising Neilaworld collective, all while participating in a group of his own, ThoughtCrime. Still making music in his bedroom, Hanzo’s production on Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert’s “Multi Millionaire” recently landed in the Seth Rogen-produced movie, Good Boys. “I didn’t even know it was happening. My ex-girlfriend went to go see the movie and sent me a video,” he tells us.

Yet, busy as can be and with a star-studded resume, speaking to Hanzo makes it seem as though he’s still finding his way, almost surprised that anyone is paying attention. “I think the thing that I’m proudest of—I have a little sister who goes to the same high school I used to go to. I went to the basketball court in my neighborhood the other day, and she and her friends were taking pictures of me and 6 Dogs while we shot around [laughs]. That shit’s hilarious, but my little sister thinking it’s cool is the best.”

Jazz Ingram

jazz ingram

Location: South Fulton County

Jazz Ingram is a colorful character. His music exists in a world of its own, best identified by whimsical, mesmerizing production and a reassuring sense of malleability. His personality, though, is what acts as the foundation. “I feel like in Atlanta, differences have always been celebrated rather than looked down upon," he says. "It may be more difficult to come up because it’s not understood as easily, but once you do what you do and improve yourself, there’s nothing that anybody can really say to you.”

I feel like in Atlanta, differences have always been celebrated rather than looked down upon. - JAzz Ingram

For Ingram, this artistic confidence is what yields such uniquely compelling music. Releases like his latest, “Blue Gatorade,” combine a clear devotion to quality with a liberating disregard for the rules, gleefully coloring outside of the lines along the way. The result is that Ingram is exactly the artist that he wants to be, and his vision for Atlanta’s new wave is rooted in the scene’s characteristic comradery. 

“The creative energy that people love [in Atlanta] is there because nobody was paying too close attention. So n***as just did what they wanted, and now that people are paying attention, they’re reaping the benefits. And it happened at the right time, because the people that I’m coming up with I’m actually friends with… them the n***as who inspire me.”