Donald Glover‘s Atlanta is becoming a certified hit that’s already been renewed for a second series after just a few episodes.
What’s become apparent from the reaction of the people within the Hip-Hop community is that people are very excited at finally having a realistic portrayal of the Rap scene in Atlanta and what it’s like being a minor celebrity Rapper. The show is finally giving Donald Glover the performance he’s been searching for his whole career for people to give him the respect he’s worked so hard for. The fact the show is made by an actual black man from Atlanta has made it an insightful vision of a Hip-Hop community rather than a watered down non-accurate version of it. The show has offered up plenty of nuance in its use of dialogue, characters, and locations from the city that act as a consistent shout out to the residents of Atlanta.
One thing that has very successfully depicted in the show is how people who are outside of Hip-Hop who attempt to enter and benefit from the culture are seen within the community. It’s something that’s often missed out whenever there is a piece of art depicting Hip-Hop culture. Shows and films always the birth of Hip-Hop or why it’s important – something that’s very patronising to watch for the people within the culture – instead of what it’s like having Hip-Hop culture exploited and sold on to the highest bidder.
In the first episode alone, a white Hip-Hop radio presenter is using the N-word and trying to tell his humorous Hip-Hop related stories like he knows the culture inside out. What’s best shown is the power someone so clueless is in having an influence on the culture. It’s this radio presenter who gets one of the main characters – Paper Boi – to have a hit after being given a monetary tip from the main protagonist Earn. It’s only once the white man has got his money that he gives back to the culture he’s benefiting from. This is a topic that’s been brought up time, and time again within rappers’ music, but it’s rarely shown on-screen how this white privilege works within the industry.
The last episode ‘The Streisand Effect‘ dealt with the way in which people directly exploit Hip-Hop in the internet era. It’s not just individuals who work within the industry that exploits the culture but people on social media who use black culture to make hits on YouTube, Vine, and Instagram for money. Enter than character Zan. Zan is someone who exploits the culture in every way possible without even really trying to understand it. He takes selfies with rappers the first time he meets them and then tries to wear his merchandise. If he disagrees with the rapper who wants nothing to do with him he’ll expose him on the Internet; he’ll do a review of his mixtape questioning his right to rap his street credibility, and borderline stalks him.
There are many Internet personalities this could be referring. One could be Anthony Fantano who’s been criticised by the Hip-Hop community before for being the leading Hip-Hop reviewer despite having no connection to the culture and pushing forwards a very particular brand of listening habits within Hip-Hop (he has also given Donald Glover himself a very negative review for his album Camp). There is a band of people who have copied Fantano’s format and are much less informed about the culture than he is so that the show could be talking about dozens of different people. The other obvious target the show is aiming to dig at is the music press who continually hunt down and expose rappers whom they know nothing about, from a viewpoint that is entirely irrelevant.
Brilliant songwriters who deserve praise for shining a light on topics like this in the past like Craig Jenkins, talk about how music writing often works in a way that silences the people who the music should affect the most, and Atlanta shines a light on this issue. As a white writer who has no connection to the culture of Hip-Hop yet talks about the music to readers who also have no connection to the culture, I have to know what I’m talking about. I’m never to criticise someone when they’re talking about something I’ve never experienced as well as listen and learn from what others say. Watching this show is a necessity for anyone who feels like they have an opinion on Hip-Hop music. If everyone did then, the general attitude towards exploiting this culture might change slightly.