The New ATLiens—A Guide To Atlanta Hip-Hop

By Stuart Oakes, Feature Photo via Spin

Atlanta rap music is an unquantifiable sprawl. There is no dominant trend, no overarching theme, and since Future’s 2012 album Pluto gave fans outside of Georgia a taste for the strange and signaled to rappers that being uniquely weird could, and did, make money (to the tune of over 300,000 copies sold; pretty good for someone who slathers auto-tune over voice cracks) it seems like everyone has gone a little bizarre. Sure there are moments of solidarity – remember when everyone sounded like Migos for a month and a half – but for the most part things have gone every which way. Some, like Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, have taken Future’s sound to illogical extremes and, in the process, created entirely new identities for themselves while others, namely iLoveMakonnen, Fatheraintshit, and KeithCharlesSpacebar, owe very little to Mr. Future Hendrix. Already, new waves are fashioning entirely different influences – “elder” Rome Fortune continues to pop up everywhere– into a sound that is entirely their own. Still, in that very typical Atlanta way, everyone seems to know everyone else and the nighttime is reserved for moving from one basement studio to the next, recording with whomever happens to be in the room when the mic is on (or so I picture it). In celebration of a city that has consistently avoided any sort of categorization while somehow remaining tremendously fun and exciting, I have picked ten songs that should, hopefully, intrigue you enough to descend a little deeper into the chaos. Try not to get lost!

Rich Gang – “Tell Em (Lies)” (ft. Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug)

Things work differently in Atlanta. That is the only possible explanation for why two young rappers, with a grand total of zero albums and perhaps two and a half ‘hits’ between them, are headed out on a stadium tour with Lil Wayne’s “father.” But then you hear the chemistry, and you realize it is going to work because of course it is. Thug in particular has never sounded this relaxed (relaxed is not the right word but, I mean, compare him against every other time he shows up on this list; at least he sounds human here). From Rich Gang: The Tour, Part 1.

Migos – “Chinatown”

Migos have always been known for their triplet flow and for bouncing syllables back and forth (the group consists of three rappers). On “Chinatown”, they share some thoughts on their favourite topics (drugs, money, women, diamonds, and fashion), shout ‘Versace” and “Chinatown” a lot, and make some sort of gun/bird noise repeatedly. It is as good as it sounds. From the now classic Y.R.N. mixtape.

Fatheraintshit – “Nokia” (ft. iLoveMakonnen)

“Nokia” is the sound of the changing of the guard. With a beat that is way too left-field to owe anything to Metro Booming, Mike Will Made It, Zaytoven, or any other big name Atlanta producer, and a rapper, Father, who sounds nothing like Future, “Nokia” is the opening salvo from the so-called new wave. Centered around Awful Records, a loose collective that’s been getting serious looks thanks to iLoveMakonnen’s rise to stardom. This stuff owes a lot to Rome Fortune and, maybe, Odd Future.

Young Thug – “Picacho” (ft. Maceo)

More diamond talk, only instead of talking, Young Thug sounds like someone blended Future, mixtape-era Lil Wayne, and a dolphin. The song is based on a Pokémon joke, which says a lot of Thug and about the world. If you can believe it, he gets a lot weirder. From Thug’s first mixtape 1017 Thug.

Rome Fortune – “Get The Guap”

Rome Fortune was pretty much in his own lane until early this year, when rappers like Fatherainstshit and KeithCharlesSpacebar began to pick up on his work. Known for having an intriguingly dyed beard, Fortune works over lavish, gorgeous beats, uses the word “guap” a lot, and does not sound particularly indebted to anyone. From his 2013 mixtape Beautiful Pimp.

KeithCharlesSpacebar – “Undress U” (ft. Ethereal)

“Undress U” sounds a lot like Rome Fortune, especially his work on 2014’s Beautiful Pimp 2. Spacebar is the in house producer for Awful Records, and he and Ethereal are driving forces behind the group. Has yet to be released as a part of anything.

Zuse – “Eww Eww Eww” (ft. T.I. & Young Thug)

I do not understand the beat any more than you do, but yes, it is incredible. T.I. reminds us that he is from Atlanta and used to run things a long, long time ago, before major labels and reality TV ever happened. Young Thug is right at home (he was made for this sort of thing), and Zuse lets loose with his ferocious dancehall growl. Zuse has one of the most interesting voices in Atlanta, which is an accomplishment, and he can absolutely tear beats apart when he wants to. “Eww Eww Eww” is from his Plugged mixtape.

iLoveMakonnen – “Exclusive”

iLoveMakonnen has an incredible, hyper-melodic voice with an impressive range that also sounds vaguely bored and unconcerned about whatever he happens to be saying, even though he devotes much of his time to emotional outpourings. In other words, he is the coolest kid on the block and he knows it. He is also currently on his way to being the biggest star in Atlanta; within the span of a week I saw him in Vogue magazine and heard his current hit, “Tuesday”, pumping from a car in downtown Toronto. Everyone from Drake to Miley Cyrus wants a piece. If Fatherainshit were Tyler, The Creator, Makonnen would be Earl Sweatshirt. From his I Love Makonnen EP.

Peewee Longawy – “Servin’ Lean (Remix)” (ft. A$AP Rocky)

Peewee Longway is a short, barrel-shaped rapper who spends a lot of time with Young Thug (who, yes, is tall and skinny; they make an excellent pair). He is also an incredibly talented and flexible rapper, capable of changing cadences at a moment’s notice, so it is fascinating to hear him go head to head with a huge star like Rocky. Longway works a lot with Migos and shares many of their lyrical concerns but, like the “Versace” stars, it is a pleasure just to hear his flow at work. From his The Blue M&M mixtape.

Young Thug – “Treasure” (ft. Zuse)

Really, there are no words. Just try to feel it. Let it wash over you.

One Response to “The New ATLiens—A Guide To Atlanta Hip-Hop”
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  1. […] recently wrote about the new and bizarre wave of Atlanta hip-hop. Now iLoveMakonnen, one of the most promising rappers in this scene and the latest signee to […]

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