Is it street rap? Is that a pejorative nomenclature? Is it trap rap? Is that a name that's been co-opted and whitewashed? What do we call the rap music that's made by people who purport to come from a background that lies outside the conventions of the laws? If robbing, slanging, and banging are within your value system, and you make rap music about it there is a lane for your music. The american public at large--and by extension the world at large--has an established and explicit propensity for the consumption of this music that captures the "outlaw" lifestyle. But let's not flirt with the distractions that come with putting an explicit name on something we all understand implicitly. Let's talk about something concrete that goes a bit more nuanced than putting things in categories.
If we look at the historic epicenters of rap music--Los Angeles and New York--it's evident that they share a common trait: they're centers of international commerce, as well as media production. Given that they are both cities of a certain industrial capacity, it's easy to see how industry colluded with culture to create something distinct that was then disseminated to the nation and the world via media outlets. The industries that shaped the social fabric of New York and Los Angeles clearly fed directly into the cultures that gave rise to those cities' music scenes. We all know the stories of hip hop's rise to prominence in Los Angeles and New York's poor (and predominantly black) sectors that lie in the shadows of big commerce excluded from the privileges that come with institutional incumbency.
But, what is less accounted for is the feedback loop that began taking place once hip hop became an established avenue of industry. Hip hop sprouted from seeds sewn in the shadows of gargantuan commerce, but eventually grew to generate revenue streams just as grandiose if not grander than those it was once excluded from. Through it's exclusion it generated the means to gain access. This feedback loop turned these two centers of industry and media into centers for the dissemination of rap music and culture, and by extension, local music and culture. This widespread broadcasting of New York, and Los Angeles' local cultures via rap music came to inform and shape a national perspective. The only way out of the shadows of commerce was to gain access to the revenue streams that defined it. And once that connection was made there was a different kind of light being piped out of the shadows of dominant industrialized culture directly into the broadcasts of dominant industrialized culture.
As the hip hop niche of industrial America has grown it has happened primarily from New York and Los Angeles because that is where major industrial players are headquartered. This means that for people who live in New York and Los Angeles there is a much greater chance of becoming part of this industry. Of course in the age of the internet everyone has an increased chance of becoming part of the social circles of industry within music. However, terrestrial proximity still plays an important part, not in terms of music, but industry. In the same way that hip hop became a portal between the poor practitioners of New York who lived in the shadows of gargantuan commerce taking place in their city, Atlanta has become a locale where hip hop creates a direct line between global industry and local talent. And for those who don't know, Atlanta's talent pool happens to overlap with street/trap/outlaw culture quite frequently. Outkast, whose music is highly regarded the world over as the definitive stuff of popular culture has always, at the least, bore witness to the narcotics trade and the wide range of felonious habits that come with it. Atlanta--and the South at large--has a potent history not of glorifying this outlaw life, but in reverse normalizing it. The result of this music is not that we say, "Oh yes committing felonies is glorious and righteous and deemed good for all. We must all commit to the production and distribution of narcotics post haste in order to make for the best use of our time. And if we should find ourselves with the time for robbing, then we shall rob as well, for robbing is a fruitful thing. And living by these principles shall place in accord with the nature of humans." Quite the opposite.
The result of Atlanta's presence within popoular culture via the music industry is that we have begun to see the "normal" institution itself--the body that judges, abjectifies, and normalizes the "other"--as the true outcast, the true outlaw. It's not Gucci Mane who is wrong when he slays an assassin, it's our society and its antiquated institutions that are wrong when they produce the circumstances that Gucci Mane ultimately rose above and subverted into his good fortune. We don't see Migos as thugs getting shot at in a van because they're affiliated with drug money and the web of felonious proctors who usher such business, we see them as resplendent rap avatars capable of transcending space and time. This has all been the result of Atlanta's establishment as a terrestrial epicenter of music. This locale has accumulated enough capital within the entertainment industry that it provides a direct channel between the local music scene (local music industry) and global enterprise. And through that channel delivering light from the dark shadows of the dominant light, we get to see life in a another way, a profound way, and for many in a way that could not be imagined. Let alone experienced.
No matter how close you can get to gargantuan industry it takes serious capital to integrate with it. To take a local artist to the point that they can do business with the national and subsequently global entertainment industry in Atlanta requires a good deal of entrepreneurship. Unlike silicon Valley where seed investors have accumulated wealth from various technology endeavors the "seed investors" of Atlanta's hip hop scene are often cultivating fruits begotten by more obviously illegal measures. Thus the seeds born of these fruits are a bit different. The same way that Silicon Valley tech disseminates the culture of technologists tinkering with "life", Atlanta hip hop disseminates the culture of people living lives of abundant immediacy. The result is that a certain way of life in Atlanta has gained widespread acclaim. It's not too far off from the way 50 Cent, or The Game offered poignant examples of the link between New York and Los Angeles' outlaw cultures respectively. But Atlanta's version is different in ways that have created enough distinction that Atlanta has become the active portal between the streets and the record industry. That's not to say it isn't happening elsewhere, but it isn't happening elsewhere as it is Atlanta.
Atlanta holds a unique position in rap music, and pop culture at large. It's cultural traditions are contributing vastly to the common conception of what rap music sounds like, and what it can sound like. And to a greater degree it is adding yet another chapter to The South's long-running narrative on life via hip hop. As more and more of the future explodes into the present each day we are baring witness to grand history in art, music, culture, and America being made in Atlanta in great proportions. There's so much to be said about Atlanta's place in music history. Let's see what next year brings.