Something is different about Atlanta. Something curious but intriguing. And it’s about hip hop: that booming trap melody combined with shrewd lyrics that captures you. Something that wraps around your soul and dramatically pulls you in. If you are not involved, you probably want to be. Hip Hop in Atlanta is really more of a lifestyle that you eat, breathe, work and play. Come on, I’ll show you.
Edgewood Avenue, perched near downtown, is the easily one of the most culturally influential streets America has experienced. From the nearby colleges, some of the hottest trends in clothes and music have been brought to you via Edgewood Avenue and its cultural stores and influential hip hop establishments. You might be one of the many students who come from traditional black colleges like Morehouse, Spelman or Clark Atlanta University and stay here for the music. Or, a student from Georgia State whose dining hall is just half a mile from the famous Edgewood Avenue. The legendary Department Store, where 21 Savage use to play, is now closed. But, if you found your way to The Sound Table, The Music Room, Noni’s Bar & Deli or Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (Church Bar for short), or any of the other superb Edgewood establishments, you probably got a taste of Atlanta hip hop as the music is seeping from every aperture. Hip Hop brings people together. Industry people of all walks of life were brought together and established Edgewood the “industry hangout” called the A3C Socials. Each month during the season, people are invited to attend monthly socials at an Edgewood bar as part of the A3C event. Not only do artists come, but label executives, managers, attorneys, and anyone related to the music industry are present and available to mingle with. Even the hip hop elite like Stalley and Killer Mike from Atlanta come to the event and interact with Atlanta artists. It’s a tight community where everyone knows everyone and if they don’t, they meet them here. If you are going to hang out and be a part of the music community, Edgewood is the place to be.
That’s right, strip clubs. They are essential to making it in Atlanta hip hop. According to DJ Filthy Rich, “To get discovered in Atlanta you have to be poppin' in the strip clubs. There is no way around it. That’s where all the dope boys, bad chicks, athletes and tastemakers party.” He goes on to say that, “Once you get popular with that crowd it spreads to other cities and to the radio. That’s why 90 percent of artists who blow up in Atlanta go through the Coalition DJs because we run the strip clubs.” While all strip clubs are important to hip hop, these stand out to DJ Black Bill Gates, an Atlanta strip club legend, “Magic City, Blue Flame, Crucial, Stilettos, Medusa, Chic.” There are right and wrong ways to approach a DJ, however. Gates says, “My best advice is to not approach in mid-mix. And the best time to talk about breaking a record is before work, or if not, at least before the bulk of the crown arrives.” Further, don’t go in there with a shady strategy. Gates advises, “No guilt tripping or telling lies with the DJ. Honesty will get you through every time.” DJ Filthy Rich believes, “The best way to approach a DJ is to first and foremost have good music. Diana Schweinbeck, a local promoter, proclaims a good song must have, “Melody.” Having well-produced, well-written music is important but it also needs to be original. It’s easy to get caught up in the current trend, however. According to Schweinbeck, “As soon as Migos got noticed, their style of rap became the trend. Everyone wanted to sound like the Migos.” DJ Westside believes the best way to get the DJ’s attention is to “interact with us,” “Come through and make the DJ remember you!”
Atlanta is all about the party and the dancing. Come to the clubs, support them and get to know the DJ’s. Clubs like Compound, Opera, Mansion Elan and the Gold Room set high standards in Atlanta for hip hop. Owner of Compound, Gold Room and Soho, Alex Gidewon, is a shrewd businessman and brings in top names to his clubs. If you are on Billboard’s Hot 100 and are hip hop, chances are you’ve performed at one of his clubs and probably frequent the luxurious VIP when in town. Opera is in the Nightclubs & Bars’ USA Top 50 and it is packed most nights of the week. Hip hop nights are Wednesday and Saturday. Mansion Elan is an undeniable force in Atlanta. They have had performances like DJ Drama, Rick Ross, Future, 2 Chainz, Fetty Wap and others. Hip Hop is always playing at Mansion Elan.
There are many steps involved in putting together a new song and one of the most important is the producer’s role. Atlanta is home to new cutting edge producers. Four songs in the Hot 100 Billboard Chart’s Top 20 were produced in part by Metro Boomin. His beats are simple but strategic in nature; a looping beat with just the right pauses for effect. They provide the backbone of the song without dominating it. Leland Tyler Wayne, professionally know as Metro Boomin, wasn’t originally from Atlanta. He was born in Missouri but he recognized Atlanta’s power at an early age. While he was still in high school, his mother would drive him to Atlanta (over 8 hours) to collaborate with local artists. One of those rappers was Tay Don which led him to collaborate with the Brick Squad label. The rest is musical history. Southside is another producer in Atlanta worth noting. He is known for his distinct trap sound that is gritty and thunderous. He began working with then unknown Waka Flocka Flame and his debut album along with Lex Leger, another producer. Eventually, he was signed by Gucci Mane’s label, 1017 Brick Squad. He also has a song or two in the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart consistently. Zaytoven is another super star producer in the Atlanta area. He won a Grammy for his contribution to Usher’s Raymond v. Raymond album. He is also on the 1017 Brick squad label producing multiple songs for Gucci Mane, Migos, Future, Waka Flocka Flame, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, etc. He has promotional opportunities for artists with a budget. These producers and others are the ones driving the trap sound coming out of Atlanta currently. According to Ferrari Simmons of Streetz 94.5, “Trap heavy 808 vibe isn’t going anywhere. A lot of the big dawgs like Mike Will Made It, Mustard, Southside, 808 Mafia, Metro, Sonny Digital and Bobby Kritical are controlling the wave at the moment (to name a few).” DJ Black Bill Gates predicts the tide will change in the coming years, “I see the music trending toward a more universal sound” he says. “I also see it becoming more lyrical every year for artists concerned with longevity.”
Besides 1017 Brick Squad Records, there are several other hip hop labels in Atlanta; all started by super star rappers. Does that make a difference? Maybe. They all know what life in the Atlanta streets is about and what it takes to make it because they’ve been there. Fiercely competitive but once they make it, they reach back and pull someone up. There is a grit to the work that needs to be done and it seems they are always working. Most of them “live” hip hop and can be found at all hours of the night in the studios around Atlanta. There is a strong work ethic here but it’s more than that. Most of these people eat and breathe their work; it’s a lifestyle. According to Nick Love, former VP Marketing and Promotions for Young Jeezy’s label and former head of Coalition DJ’s, “Atlanta, at least musically, is unique because there is still this ‘us against them’ mentality in spite of all the success we’ve enjoyed over the past 15-20 years. Every artist wants to be big. They want to make hits. They want to make money. But, then you’ll still see all of our top artists and producers hanging together at the club or in the studio,” he muses. “No matter what side or what hood they’re from, there’s still a comradery amongst our top guys.”
Grand Hustle Records, also known as the Hustle Gang, was founded by T.I. and his partner Jason Geter in 2003. Artists such as Travis Scott, B.o.B., Young Dro are some of the artists on the label. There are also some notable producers on the label like DJ Toomp, TrackSlayerz and Nard & B. T.I. is still king in Atlanta and is credited for popularizing the trap sound along with Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane. He has released nine studio albums, will seven of them reaching the top five in the US Billboard 200 chart. He has won three Grammy awards. Despite his run ins with the law, the is not going anywhere and continues to be a huge influence in the Atlanta music scene.
BME (Black Market Entertainment) is a record label which houses Lil Jon and professes “Crunk Ain’t Dead,” He hasn’t put out much lately except the notable “Turn Down for What” (with DJ Snake) which was nominated for both a Grammy and a MTV Music Award. He proved it’s not quantity but quality that matters.
Ludacris has a label called Disturbing tha Peace for it’s mostly for his releases as you can tell from the website which has something on there from 2012. But, that’s okay Ludacris. We are all big fans of the Fast & Furious series which the newest installment just came out, The Fate of the Furious and in which he stars. The transition from music to movies suits you.
Freebandz is a record label founded by Future and distributed through Epic Records. His artists are called “Freeband Gang” and include Young Scooter, Zoey Dollaz and DJ Esco and others. Future himself received 2012 Best New Artist and 2014 Best Male Hip Hop Artist from the BET Awards.
Quality Control is making a big impact on rap culture. Lil Yachty, Migos, OG Maco, Young Greatness, Skippa Da Flippa, Jose Guapo, Rich the Kid and more are on their roster. Coach K, legendary manager and now business owner, leads the way and lends undeniable industry knowledge to the label. He lets them do their thing without too much interference and it’s paying off.
In 1992, Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family hit the scene creating a new sound for TLC, Ludacris and OutKast to name a few. Then Usher, Ludacris, T.I., OutKast, Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane took the spotlight and haven’t really given it up. From performing themselves to creating their own team of young performers, till this day, they are still very influential. In 2000, Rick Ross stormed on to the hip hop scene and hasn’t looked back. In addition to his record label, Maybach Music Group, he was named Hottest MC by MTV. More recently 21 Savage has popped onto the scene with his mixtapes, The Slaughter Tape and the Slaughter King and his extended plays Free Guwop and Savage Mode with Metro Boomin. He was named as one of the “Freshman Class” of 2016 by XXL Magazine. Future had his start with the Dungeon Family collective where he was nicknamed “the Future.” He was originally signed to Epic Records which helped him launch his own imprint, Freebandz. Migos is the hottest thing going right now with their single “Bad and Boujee.” In 2009, three rappers named Quavo, Takeoff and Offset released their commercial debut single “Versace.” They are on the Quality Control Label and managed by Coach K, former manager of prominent Atlanta rappers Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) has also brought notoriety to the Atlanta rap scene with his television series named, Atlanta. It’s about the Atlanta rap scene and has brought all eyes to Atlanta with his recent Golden Globe award.
If you are physically in Atlanta or planning a visit, there are several showcases and events that are worth attending. One is at Apache Café on the 2nd Thursday of the month. It’s the Exposure Open Mic and is hosted by B Rich of Grand Hustle. Every so often you have T.I. come through and some major music executives. It’s hosted by Fort Knox, a long-time DJ in Atlanta that is worth getting to know. You also have Maximum Xposure Events if you want to interact with local celebrities like DJ Drama, Zaytoven, DJ Holiday, DJ Smallz, Drumma Boy and more. It’s put on my TJ Makin Moves who helped discover Roscoe Dash and Ferrari Simmons of Streetz 94.5 ATL FM. The event winner gets a live interview with Fly Guy DC and they play a song snippet on the radio. If you want connects with Blue Flame (strip club) and Grand Hustle, you need to connect with Tracey with the Hustle & Flow events although they aren’t held very often. Schweinbeck also puts on events that are standard in the industry. One is called the Schweinbeck Industry Mixer. She’s had Rich The Kid, Scott ATL, K Camp, Sy Ari Da Kid, OG Maco and more grace her stage in the past. In addition, she had a panel in the A3C Music Festival and took her stage to the SXSW in March. The granddaddy of them all is the A3C Festival held in October. A3C stands for “All 3 Coasts,” but make no mistake, it’s all Atlanta. Submit to perform through Sonicbids. Even if you don’t get an invitation, you will get a discount code worth more than the admission fee. It’s a 2-day music festival and conference held at the Freight Depot (new location). You can get discovered on the stages of the A3C concert if you bring your best and have a plan. People like Young Thug and Trinidad James have performed there.
For years, radio was only available to those on a major record label. That is changing as there are now other options to choose from and the major record labels are losing some of their power. According to Ferrari Simmons of 94.5 Atl FM, “Terrestrial radio wins with building with the people within the local communities each station is located in, especially when the personalities are building within the community.” Simmons maintains that you “make hot music and a person like me will find you, and help assist in your growth process.” Further, “Everything is changing so much now it’s now giving more of the power to the people because now they have so many options.” Waka Flocka Flame’s mother, Ms. Debbie, runs a popular internet station in Atlanta called Be100 Radio that many local artist get heard on. DJ Vision2020 believes that “Internet radio hasn’t changed the industry, it’s always been the industry.”
Getting a good lawyer is imperative if you are going to be a serious artist. Your lawyer is one of your best connections. From negotiating contracts, finding opportunities, to sync deals, your attorney is key. Once of the best in Atlanta is Joel Katz. He is probably the top entertainment lawyer in the country. Start with the best, in expectation of the best and you can’t go wrong. It’s going to cost you though.
Work Ethic and Support
Southern artists have a more independent work ethic because of the lack of major labels and just the culture of living in Atlanta. Being involved is really important. You cannot expect to make it and be a virtually unknown artists sitting in your living room. “when you’re present people see that. Getting to know the party promoters for clubs.be where it’s cool to be,” muses DJ Vision2020. “Go to all the cool events…be involved.” DJ Filthy Rich says, “What makes the rap culture in Atlanta so special is the fact that Atlanta is very supportive of its own. Way more than any other city I have ever been to. The city is very good at championing its home grown artists and they are very proud of them so the streets get behind them. It’s like if an artist from Atlanta makes it we all make it. This city is also very self-sufficient. They don’t need NY and LA, they can blow up right here.” DJ Westside gives this advice, “Atlanta is special for rappers because it’s the music hot spot right now, a lot of the biggest artists live here, record labels are here, and a lot of rappers hottest in the industry careers have started here.”