ATLANA - The Heartbeat of Pop Culture
Not long ago, if you asked someone what the most influential city in America is they would answer “New York”. For decades New York City served as the gateway to the American dream, and the dreamers who it received brought with them their hopes and aspirations for a better life along with the traditions of their homeland. The pressure cooker that is New York City forged those ambitions into industry and those traditions into culture – catapulting the city and its populace to the world stage where they championed their lifestyle to the globe.
From the 70’s through the first decade of the new millennium, New York City enjoyed its status as the cultural leader, but if you were to ask someone what city leads culture now you’d be hard pressed to find consensus. The reasons for this are many but the major factor is the continued advancement of technology – specifically the creation and deployment of open source channels of communication that provide individuals with a conduit to the world. New York’s dominance wasn’t due to just capital and an abundance of culture but rather because it controlled media and anything that sought mass exposure – whether it be music, fashion, art, dance, opinions and ideas - had to go through New York based channels.
But social media and streaming platforms changed all that, ushering in a world where there’s little oversight, control, and restriction on what can be shared and how far it can go. The popularity of something is now based solely on well, popularity and in recent years no city has contributed more to popular culture than Atlanta.
In 2010 trap music, Atlanta’s signature sound, was largely invisible outside of its birthplace. Pioneers such as T.I., Jeezy, Gucci Mane and Waka Flaka had garnished national awareness through solid releases and features on the projects of established and often New York based artists but few in the trap sub-genre had the polish to chart and frankly radio wasn’t supporting it. But the internet allowed trap music to spread - slowly seeping into other urban centers of America via an underground railroad of digital platforms that hosted mixtapes from then emerging artists such as Future, Migos, and 2 Chainz. In 2012 the sonic landscape started to change as three of the top 25 selling rap albums of that year were trap music and in the years since that trend has continued. As radio’s importance in validating music declined, nightclubs quietly assumed that role and within that space, trap music found a comfortable habitat at the same time millennials were coming of age and seeking places to turn up. But in Atlanta, nightclubs weren’t the primary proving ground for new music. In a city well known for it’s alternative nightlife options, strip clubs reign supreme and it is here that rappers test out their new music amongst who they feel are their toughest critics, the dancers themselves. The logic being, if a song works there, it will work everywhere - and it’s hard to argue with the strategy when the results are blatantly obvious. Trap music and it’s associated artists delivered Atlanta’s strip club culture to the mainstream – asserting itself as the leading force in hip hop and transforming society in so many ways and at such a speed that most have difficulty identifying the root. But if you pay attention, the evidence is there. Turn on the radio and it’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing a song by the Migos or an artist who hasn’t been influenced by their hypnotic, staccato-like triplet flow. Query trending hair styles and you’ll likely see braids, cornrows, dreads, and extravagant multi-colored dye’s – styles that have existed in different markets and times over the last decades but were fully embrace and popularized in recent years by artists from Atlanta. Venture into a popular nightclub and you’ll come across a trap-laden soundtrack, hookahs, and bottle servers dressed in body suits – staples of Atlanta nightlife. Check millennial vernacular and you’ll find an abundance of slang with roots in the A. Turn on the TV and there’s the critically acclaimed, award winning show Atlanta, staring, written, and directed by Stone Mountain’s own, Donald Glover.
The question really isn’t what’s the most influential city but rather, how far will Atlanta’s influence go, and more importantly how long will it last?