In the latest episode of Atlanta season two (Mar. 8), Earn (Donald Glover) and Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) are left to navigate the corporate business world in hopes of expanding Paper Boi’s brand. Outside on the streets, it’s easy to scam your way to the top (forging gift cards and stealing in plain sight are just two of the schemes); but when it comes to corporate business, you have to follow a different kind of protocol.
Earn lands Paper Boi a meeting at a gluten-free-eating entertainment company in a boujee part of town. The meeting could take him to the next level, but not before making him jump through a couple of hurdles.
From performing in front of an audience that doesn’t know your music to having to endure white girl acoustic rap covers of your weed man’s girl, Atlanta’s “Sportin’ Waves” episode provided a lens into what hip-hop culture is today. Here’s the most telling moments.
1. Peter Savage And The Musical Outreach Program
Only five minutes into the second episode, we meet Peter Savage, head of a musical outreach program at some entertainment platform, along with a predominantly white staff. Earn and Paper Boi have set up a meeting to play and perform some of the new music in order to expand Paper Boi’s brand and fanbase.
While the scene is jam-packed with punchlines, namely around Savage’s nickname, which is a play on rapper 21 Savage’s moniker, it’s also telling of the how corporate offices interact and do business with hip-hop artists. It’s pretty clear Savage has fairly little to no understanding of Paper Boi’s music or the genre in which he’s apart of. The cute nickname he’s picked up among his millennial staff is supposed to be a tool to relate to hip-hop artists, but judging by the look of Paper’s Boi’s expression, it’s unsuccessful.
As Paper Boi’s time in the office continues, he’s asked to perform his single in front of the entire staff, to which he quickly declines in an awkward exit from the stage. But the moment before he walks away, in which he sees a doe-eyed white kid in the front row eating a banana, explains why he was uninterested in appeasing his audience. He’s unwilling to perform his music for a demographic of people who wouldn’t understand it anyway. This scene stirs the conversation surrounding hip-hop artists, major record labels, and the disconnect between them.
2. “We Don’t Have A Disc Drive”
In the same office scene, Peter Savage asks to hear some of Paper Boi’s music. Earn, being the manager and all, pulls out a copy of a CD with his artist’s new tunes, but is denied by Savage. “We don’t have a disc drive,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a new state of the art system. It’s all wireless and fully-integrated into the system.”
His three lines are more so a window into the music industry’s evolution within the past decade. CDs are essentially dead. In Feb. 2018, Best Buy announced that it would stop selling physical copies of albums in its department stores in May 2018. Target is also believed to follow. With the rise of streaming services, the ways we access and listen to music is changing.
3. Performance Art
As Earn and Paper reach the end of their exhausting press day, they spot Clark County, another rookie talent in the office where they previously met with the musical outreach program. Unlike Paper Boi, he appears more enthusiastic; he’s mounted the table in the middle of the room and performing his music in front of an awestruck audience.
— ⚒Jawn – World's Saddest Magic Fan (@stabatme) March 9, 2018
Perhaps, this is a comment on how others view our culture; it’s a performance art, a show. This scene is simply background filling, so it’s hard to make out exactly what is happening. But by the looks of the employees’ faces, they’re entertained by this artist’s showmanship instead of moved by his talent and lyricism. Are there still some people out here that view hip-hop artists solely as entertainers and not taste-makers? Probably. But on the other hand, there are probably rappers who’d sacrifice pure ability to put on a good show.
4. The Dreaded Acoustic Covers
The nauseating trend of transforming rap songs into a bland, acoustic covers finally gets a spot on a TV series. Atlanta does a great job of capturing the foolishness and hilarity of a trend that hip-hop most definitely did not ask for. Paper Boi and Darius’ new weed distributor hooks them up with the most “legit” weed from Hoboken County, as well as a link to his girl’s cover of Paper Boi’s single.
This scene is riddled with eye-rolling moments, starting from the moment the weed man suggests his girlfriend is “gangsta” because she likes hip-hop. But nothing beats the moment Paper Boi opens his phone to hear the cover. He doesn’t play all of it, but viewers get a brief view of the weed man’s girlfriend singing his song while sitting on her bed playing a guitar. It’s waspy, annoying, and all-around painful to hear and watch. But it’s a revealing point about how outside cultures are diluting hip-hop to make it sound softer and pop-y. “That acoustic rap… White girls love that s**t.”
5. Cut The Check: Yoo-Hoo Partnership
At episode two’s finale, a high Earn, Darius, and Paper Boi are lounging around a big screen television when Clark County (the one who was in the entertainment office earlier that day) is rapping along to a Yoo-hoo commercial. “This Clark County dude, he making money,’ Darius says, gawking at the screen.
“We drinking Yoo-hoo like it’s dirty sprite,” the rapper says in the commercial. After a short pause, Paper Boi dismisses the PR stunt, while Earn – with his managerial hat on – chimes in: “man, s**t is good.”
Back in the day, hip-hop artists were limited to certain products and fashions, but that’s rapidly changing. With hip-hop being the top genre in the country, brands are now looking to rappers to promote their products. Kids will probably buy a lot more of that chocolate milk now that their favorite artist is cosigning it. This PR logic is hardly unheard of, but it’s birthing a lot of unusual collaborations. Just look at the following; Lil Yachty and Nautica/Vince Staples and Sprite/ Chance The Rapper and Kit-Kat.