Atlanta & Chicago: The Resurgence of Hip Hop’s Creativity
By: Markelor Berthoumieux
The evolution of Hip Hop into the mainstream consciousness has seen a steady wave of growth. That wave started before my time but has just now almost reached its peak. I say almost because I don’t want to say it’s at its climax before it officially happens. I believe that a climax can only be measured after a downfall which is inevitable, no matter how long it takes to get there. But what is 100 percent true is that the genre has finally reached the level of respect it deserves which has opened the door for the new guys to make their mark.
Geographically Hip Hop’s sounds and attitudes change, from New York to Los Angeles, the music is still recognized as rap but from state to state has different rhythms, emotions and messages differ. Two cities that have taken over my airwaves which in 2015 is the internet are Atlanta and Chicago. These powerhouses in the genre have cultivated spaces for creativity which have garnered well-deserved recognition worldwide but most importantly within themselves as a community of musicians.
The number of artists that have made a name for themselves in these cities is something I love seeing and discovering every day. There seems to be an abundance of young people coming out of nowhere all over the country but no two cites have made an impact like Atlanta and Chicago. Knowing their history of raising greats like Outkast, Common, and Killer Mike it was about time that they came back, I just didn’t think their comeback would give us this volume of music to enjoy.
Having never been to Atlanta I can only imagine what it would be like to be a music lover in such a place. The diversity of sounds would be the most attractive part of the entire experience. My hard drives are currently stocked with music from local Atlanta artists, groups and collaborators that each delivers their own vibrations to the masses.
I can picture myself mobbing through the 133 square mile metropolitan area with old T.I and Young Jezzy records blasting through my speakers on my way to the East side where I would find artist like Raury and Father. Raury, 19 is a young musician on a mission of spreading love around his city and the world. His music encompasses your mind with positivity and reflection while he soothes you with its introspectiveness and the message of being a better person for yourself and those around you. His record “God’s Whisper” off his free mixtape Indigo Child made the scene instantly pay attention and fall in love with his non-preachy message which comes in the form of a rap/folk music mash up. Raury recently signed with Columbia Records and released his debut album ALL We Need.
A few miles further East I would follow the feel of the continuous party vibes to Cabbagetown, Atlanta where I would find Father, 24 year old founder of the rap collective Awful Records to get a glimpse of non-stop creativity in motion. When asked what their goal for the future of their musical careers will be they would respond offensively but honestly with “Were on our we don’t give a fuck shit currently, just trying to have fun and record…,” said Father. Their plan might not be the ideal marketing strategy but it’s working. With 17 members all with their own sounds, they have taken over the internet and streaming services like SoundCloud in the last two years. Not giving a fuck and just recording has produced a large volume of releases to feed their hungry fans and has gained the attention of many labels who will be greeted with a smiles and middle fingers from the proud independents upon the mere sound of any conversation of signing a deal.
Father’s beat and vibe heavy music isn’t really my speed. But his musical production is impressive and his vision to create a label with the reach it has online is nothing short of genius. His friends Ethreal, Archibald Slim and Pyramid Quince aka Cody Breeze are the members that offer the hard bars. Real life situations, maintaining your morals and self-worth, doing whatever the hell you desire and watching out for fake money hungry friends. Their diverse group is known to embrace any form of good art without judgement, being an independent label with no real need for attention or fame has made for an atmosphere where free expression literally runs wild.
Not too from the party is one of my favorite artists out of Atlanta and Awful Records collaborator Key! aka Fatmankey, 24. He has made a name for himself for years now in the city. In short he’s been the man in underground Atlanta for a while. Getting his start as a ghostwriter for many popular artists he made his way into my earphones as the rapper that who consistently finds a way to make every moment better with his unique cadence and hooks that force my body to move despite my embarrassment. His movement within the scene has increased in recent months, he continues to show and prove as an independent artist with his unique flow. It comes to no surprise that he’s found underground success that has translated to the mainstream, making people feel good and smile throughout an entire mixtape always makes an impact. The fat man is currently touring the United States and Canada selling out shows.
Leaving the atmosphere of all out acceptance, peace, and the home of Gucci Mane, I’d make my way south.
Like in all parts of the country you will find those who don’t fit the mold of their present circumstances. Like Kendrick Lamar in Compton whose music and life show a different picture of streets they grew up on, South Atlanta has OG Maco aka Maco Mattox. He hit the scene with his viral record “U Guessed It” but unlike most artists he sees his entry into the game differently. “I made that song because I knew it would be a hit. My whole crew listened to it and thought it was thrash and said you can delete that shit. But I said this thrash is gonna go! People don’t like it to hear it but the only reason that song is going (became a hit) is because people are fucking stupid,” Og Maco -The Fader. Like everyone else his breakout song was my introduction to his music. My first impression was that he had the connections to get hard beats but the song itself told me he didn’t have much else to offer. Doing my due diligence I looked him up like I do all new artists and was happy to realize I struck gold. Honestly most people don’t do their research on what else an artist has done or is planning to do. They figure that’s the first song they’ve heard so it has to be his only work. Og Maco had at least 3 mixtapes done before “U Guessed It” hit the masses. His message throughout his music is to uplift the youth to think for themselves and gain knowledge.
“I been through things nobody should go through and I almost went to prison for the rest of my young life. I’ve had these experiences, I wised up and went on to do better things.” OG Maco.
What I find interesting about his music is that he wraps it up in a trap/punk sound that you can easily mistake for just another song. I think he is intentionally looking for real fans and real people to recognize that within those beats are lyrics that have nothing to do with getting fucked up but everything to do with real life and simply being human. He reminds me that as people we all share common personal issues. Sharing his frustrations with life in his music and with society through social media, he proves that he will be the blogs for a while and his music will continue to be relevant.
Everybody and there grandmother is trying to make the world believe they’ve sold kilos of cocaine out of an abandon house. But thankfully authenticity is always easy to spot and hear. Knowing the person rapping those lyrics is authentic makes all the difference.
Rappers like Young Thug, Bankroll Fresh, Peewee Longway and others have solidified their own individual sounds and have found crafty and sonically attractive ways of talking about their past and hopefully not current illegal activities. I would advise listeners to view trap music as pure entertainment that really doesn’t need to be delved into any deeper, just have fun with it and don’t it take too seriously. These artists are people who cater to a select audience. They make music for those who live in their city, live the life the used to live and can relate on every level to their lyrics. That guy who’s selling drugs to feed his family and lifestyle, who deals with the daily predicaments of a system that seems to not care and living in a neighborhood he loves but doesn’t fell 100 percent safe in. Their audiences are people who understand what the rappers are really talking about who unlike most including myself who dance to it in the club and at parties, it’s actually the soundtrack to their everyday life. They’re the rap fans who see Gucci Mane as their Jay-Z.
Atlanta has become the mecca for its local artists and others all over the country because of its fearlessness when it comes to creativity. Most creative of the bunch are Atlanta’s producers, without these guys the music scene would be non-existent. The beats behind the words are mainly why the hit songs coming out of the city make national charts. Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia a group artists and producers lead by TM 88, Zaytoven, Southside, Sonny Digital, Brandon Thomas, Childish Major and many others have built the sounds that make the lyrics stand out. These are people my age doing crazy things with music and the new technology that allows them to break the barriers within Hip Hop. They allow to artist to venture off to find those new flows and cadence’s which strike a nerve with the listeners.
A place that diverse would have been segmented based on differences on lifestyles and sounds when it came to music 10 years ago. What makes this new wave of artists different is the fact that they all work with each other to further their movement. Street guys, hipsters and weirdos who knew each other as friends before music came in the picture find time to congregate and bounce ideas of each other. El Barrio in Atlanta is where all of these artists meet up to have a good time and plan on how take over rap music and where my journey if I had one day in the city would end. Their unity is what makes them different and their ability to create without any limitations is what helps them to succeed.
The new Atlanta has received both love and hate from those that came before them. The way they have come to work together is something they wish was present years ago, this unity when it comes to music is a catalyst to creativity and success for Atlanta. But the sound steering so far from the roots is troublesome to many
Finally shout out to Gucci who is currently incarcerated on guns charges and will be out by this year. That man single handedly put on a countless number of artists who have gone on to reach international success. No disrespect to Hov and his contribution to Hip Hop but if took on the role of Godfather in New York like Gucci has in Atlanta, rap music would be somewhere else today and we would see this trend of creativity all over the country.
The music coming out of Chicago reflects the different feelings about the mayhem that has been occurring in the city. All of these artists are currently living in a never ending warzone and have used music as their outlet.
Drill music originated on the East side of the city around 2007. A rapper by the name of Pacman is credited with the inception of the genre and pasted it down others before he was shot to death June, 2010 in the Woodlawn community in Chicago.
The difference between Drill and other forms of gangster rap is the geographically specific language and the aggressiveness of the lyrics. The artists make you feel the intensity of the streets they live in through their lyrics. Chicago has seen more violence in recent years any other city in the country and the music lets you know just how dangerous it really is.
The mindset is do or die.“I’d rather catch a gun case for carrying a firearm illegally and do 1-5 years then to be caught slippin’ and lose my life, period!,” Lil Herb, 19 – VladTV.
King Louie, 27, who was a close friend of Pacman carried the torch for the drill movement and is quick to remind people where it really originated. With a background stemming from two credible people in Chicago the drill movement spread throughout the city and in 2011 finally got its big break.
Chief Keef, 20, is viewed by many as the reason the Drill scene caught the buzz that swept through the nation. With early hits like “Bang” and “Love Sosa”, songs that make the reality of their daily lives seem like enjoyable past times he got the attention of nation and record labels. Even though King Louie made a name for himself long before the then 15 year old Keef did, he just didn’t get the attention that a much younger person in the scene would.
A grown man rapping about the streets just won’t turn heads the same way a kid rapping about murders you’re pretty sure he’s actually either seen or been a part of would. With the doors open for business record labels, A&R’s and music fans headed to the streets of Chicago to find the next talents ready to be cultivated.
With his success Chief Keef and his 300 label continued to gain traction, but only a select few of them had actual talent to go on and make a name for themselves. Capo (R.I.P), Ballout, SD, and Keef’s older cousin and mentor Fredo Santana took that traction and have become standouts in the crew.
A more lyrical part of the drill movement has also become a big part of the new sounds rise. Lil Bibby, 21 and Lil Herb, 19, are two eastside Chicago rappers that have taken a more traditional route when it comes to their delivery. They infuse story-telling, life lessons they learned at a young age and powerful voices to express themselves. While still staying true to the base of music which is telling the real unfiltered stories of the life they are trying to leave behind, they have managed to break out of that box which is drill music. The debate of not having substance in the drill is crushed by these two rappers who have earned the title of MC.
Lil Herb aka G Herbo, has stood out with his powerful voice and lyrics. Every mixtape he has released was named after a friend he has lost to Chicago violence. His latest mixtape Ballin Like I’m Kobe is a dedication to his close friend Jacobi D. Herring who was gunned down on the east side of Chicago August 10th, 2013 walking home by himself from a party. BLIK is his most powerful and impressive work yet.
The sad part is that even with all this success these crews can’t seem to escape the violence and hate the plague their city. “It’s a big hateful city, people who don’t even know me are gunning for my head. If I’m not in the studio I stay aware of my surroundings.” Lil Herb – Sway’s Universe interview.
The lives of some the promising talent in the drill movement, those that used creativity and their time to make songs that differ from the pack are being claimed by the streets and the dangers they rap about. Blood Money, 33, Capo, 22, L’A Capone, 17, Lil Jeff So Insane, 21, Lil JoJo, 18, Lil Marc, 20, OTF NuNu, 21, Young Pappy, 19 have all been killed by gun violence before they could reap the benefits of their work. Along with the 2,236 shooting victims and 364 lives taken away this year alone, the lyrics of the music these artists release is simply a graphic reminder of what’s going on in one American city.
This is where I question myself for listening to this music and supporting some of these artists. Does it make sense for me to enjoy listening to music that some may say promotes death?
The answer I come back to is, yes. The artists I chose to listen to and the select number of songs I pick to download from the flooded market have the sound and the feel of happiness these rappers are currently enjoying and the struggle they have overcome. When they flow over those beats of that wouldn’t be compatible with violence, I can recognize the love they have for making music and escaping the streets they are a part of for the time being.
Chief Keef whose early career was a non-stop cycle of getting arrested and dealing with label troubles, has found peace in a California mansion surrounded by his crew and life time supply of blunts. Since moving he has been gained new traction with his career, found a label that can deal with his craziness. His new album Bang 3, is a new start for the rapper who made it a point to say he is leaving guns and violence out of his music due to his influence on Chicago and choosing to only rap about money and his love for cannabis.
King Louie, whose impressive career as a producer has gained the attention of huge names in Hip Hop. He is credited to have been in the very short lists of producers and artists to have worked on Kanye West’s album Yezzus back in 2013 and earlier this year quietly signed a deal with Drake’s OVO sound.
The other side of the Chicago scene is a more enlightened type of rap music that has become more welcomed than its drill rap counterparts. And they remind the world that Chicago isn’t all bad, it has its problems but it also has a lot positivity.
The other rappers in Chicago don’t fit the gangster mold. These young men and women are utilizing the more enlightened side of rap music used to uplift and attempt to wake up the youth of their broken city. They call out the stupidity of the violence while still understanding why it’s happening and why this country continues to allow it. They live in the same neighborhoods, deal with the same struggle and unfortunately have also dealt with lose of loved ones to the violence.
Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, Tink and Lucki Eck$ to name a few give the scene contrast and an option for those who understandably don’t want to listen to drill music. They offer peace, love, inner thoughts, a good fuckin time and a different way of interpreting what their lives in Chicago are like.
Lucki Eck$, 19, is the best example of an outlier in the Chicago scene. His drugged out and finesse (the skill of talking/tricking someone out of their money, position or girl) influenced music takes you into his mind. He mostly explores himself in his songs, giving vivid detail into his habits, actions and feelings on his current state in life. The former hippy high school drug dealer turned rapper, uses heavily instrumental beats and his unique flow to take listeners into his unorthodox world.
After his first very impressive tape Alternative Trap which he created at the age of 15, he has quickly grown and shown that a perceived fuck up can still make something special.
Since well-known Chicago artists such as Common, Kanye West and Twista made their huge breaks into the industry there hasn’t been this much buzz around the city. A mixture of the music and what’s actually taking place is part of the reason Chicago has the attention of many. But the true sources are the young artists, most of whom have remained independent while making their way to the top of blogs and playlists. Working with one another instead of beefing like the rest of world expected, Chicago has shown itself to be a powerhouse of musical creativity.
Atlanta & Chicago
I know for a fact that 20 years from now the new generation will look back and discover how awesome the last few years in Hip Hop were. The revitalization of being an original and different artist is coming back. And it will be these years and these artists that the future will look at as those who got that started. The youth is innovating and these new waves in music will continue to inspire others to create their own for years to come. The new names are paving a path of acceptance for those who will come after them. Unlike a lot of old heads that continually bash these artists for not doing it the way they did, the next generation of musicians will be welcomed into the fold and supported to make Hip Hop music their way.