perhaps the most innovative hip-hop today comes from Atlanta

Hip-hop trio Migos, with Takeoff, Quavo and Offset from left.Image Getty

On Valentine’s Day 2020, rapper Marlo (30), who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, will release his album 1 and 3 from. He spent a few years searching for the right fit, helped by, among others, his much more famous city mate Lil Baby and the men behind Quality Control, Atlanta’s main record label. But the omens are good. The title track does well, also thanks to collaborations with Lil Baby and Future, who are among Atlanta’s best-known hip-hop artists at the time.

Like many Atlanta rappers, Marlo has come a long way. He grew up in Bankhead, a neighborhood with a high level of drug-related crime – something Marlo made her own contributions to. But music seems to keep him on track. Until a few weeks after the release of his album, covid-19 brings the whole world, including the US state of Georgia, into a headlock. All the planned performances are taking place, just as the bookings are rolling in again thanks to his well-received new music. Marlo falls into bad old habits, settles some outstanding results and is hunted by vengeful townspeople.

On July 11, 2020, he is shot and killed in his car, a day later, Joe Coscarelli writes in his book Rap capital, had been working on a new song with rapper Lil Yachty in the Quality Control studio. His wife Tammy was there, “happy to see her husband at work.” It was the last time – and as a reader you empathize with Tammy in her despair and grief when Marlo suddenly stops answering her calls one day later.

A style of its own: stairs

Coscarelli knows how to evoke that compassion Rap capital, a story of hip hop in Atlanta. You will feel with its protagonists Lil Baby, the trio Migos and Gucci Mane, the city’s stars who have developed their own rap style with ‘trap’, characterized by the sound of the Roland 808 drum machine, synths and crackling hi-hat. The rapping mainly takes place in the stuttering ‘triplet’ style: three syllables over a beat.

It’s kind of crazy that it’s taken this long for someone to thoroughly delve into the Atlanta music scene. For decades, much of the most innovative hip-hop has come from this city. Coscarelli could not have chosen the moment to move to the city in 2017 better: the TV series Atlanta was just getting started with Donald Glover (aka rapper Childish Gambino) playing the manager of fictional rapper Paper Boy. The fourth season is now streaming.

Those who know the series can Rap capital Can’t really read without the pictures out Atlanta to see for yourself. As you read, you not only understand more about the social problems of the city and the series of the same name, but also about the ambition of young residents to find a way out of those problems through a career in hip-hop.

Four years of hip hop history

Indeed, Coscarelli’s study is not a complete history of hip-hop in Atlanta; he mainly focuses on the developments that took place between 2017 and 2020. For four years, the journalist lived from That New York Times in Atlanta, and spoke to hundreds of people involved. Of course, he comes in on the work of Organized Noize, the producer trio that laid the groundwork for trap music in the nineties. He also describes the duo Outkast, who with their idiosyncratic mix of funk, hip-hop and psychedelia were perhaps the most important representatives of Atlanta hip-hop from 1994 to 2006.

But Coscarelli mainly went to the southern part of the United States to record what was happening in hip-hop right now. He went to Atlanta to find out what drives the primarily black men in this world (there’s hardly a woman in his book). And that, he concludes, is trying to escape the crime they seem predestined for with music. In Atlanta, according to Coscarelli, there are hardly any other ways for black youth to make money than drug dealing (in weed or heavier drugs), gambling or making music.

From gambler and gangster to rapper

He came to that conclusion after exhaustive research. For this, he not only consulted the rappers themselves, he also talked to family members, such as Lashon Jones, the mother of Lil Baby, who was born Dominique Jones. Her story is so well told that you really come to love both. Coscarelli describes Lil Baby’s career—from talented gambler and mobster to rapper—in a way that makes it easy to understand why he wasn’t exactly the epitome of good behavior. And you really hope that things will work out when Coscarelli arrives at the moment when his first rappers and mixtapes appear.

Rapper Lil Baby Statue Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Rapper Lil BabyImage Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Of course, every hip-hop lover knows how in a few years Lil Baby would become one of the genre’s big stars, one whose steps are closely watched by perhaps the greatest rapper of all time, Drake. The biggest compliment Lil Baby could get was that the Canadian star sent him a piece from one of his rappers in 2018 so that Lil Baby could include the fragment in his own song. The result, Yes definitely, became a hit. But that did not mean, explains Coscarelli, that success for life was guaranteed.

“Atlanta rappers with one or even three hits are as common in the city as Waffle House” (a restaurant chain. ed.), writes Coscarelli about the many one-hit wonders the city has known. One such mayfly, Lil Reek, is also diligently followed by the author. Everything goes well for him, he gets a nice record deal, but is dumped again after one flopped single. You also have to relate to Lil Reek as a reader, especially if he suffers even more misfortune when his father becomes the fatal victim of fleeing robbers.


Almost every rapper is involved in crime as a victim or perpetrator, so you get the impression as a reader. Migos rapper Offset is out of prison just in time to join Takeoff and Quavo’s first tour, forming the trio Migos. Migo’s story is one of the great success stories in the book, even though it ran almost right around the time of the release of Rap capital very bad for Takeoff, the most talented rapper of the three, who at the age of 28 was shot in Houston on November 1, 2022.

Since they began releasing mixtapes in 2011—collections of songs distributed by the artists themselves via the Internet—the men of Migos have been ahead of their time, Coscarelli says. The record industry was still recovering from the collapse of the CD market, and streaming services such as Spotify were still in their infancy. Migos got with mixtapes and with songs like Versace, which got Drake’s stamp, quickly became nationally known. With their ‘real’ album Culture as of 2017, Migos also achieved great success in the Netherlands.

Atlanta as a hip-hop biotope

Coscarelli explains well how streaming services should actually make the major labels obsolete, since artists are no longer dependent on the physical products they make. But it still seems advisable to sign with one of the three ‘majors’, because the organizers still look first to the stables of the Sony, Universal and Warner Music brands to fill large media spectacles. But also for quality control, which is still based in Atlanta and still led by the same duo: Kevin ‘Coach K’ Lee and Pierre ‘P’ Thomas. Migos, Lil Baby and Lil Yachty grew up under their inspirational guidance. Marlo, who was under contract with them, may also have had a bright future.

To Coscarelli’s credit, he portrays Atlanta’s hip-hop industry as a small, manageable biotope. He also states in his book that everyone in Atlanta who wants to do something with hip-hop knows each other and likes to work together. It’s definitely a different situation than in Los Angeles or New York. These cities are considered the cradle of rap culture in hip-hop history. Rap capital makes it clear that Atlanta has been at least as important to the development of hip hop in recent years.

Joe Coscarelli: Rap Capital – An Atlanta Story. Simon & Schuster; 419 pages; around €26.

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5 Unmissable Hip Hop Songs from Atlanta’s Recent Hip Hop History

Outkast – Player’s Ball (1993)

The hip-hop duo Outkast’s big hits didn’t come until the turn of the century, with songs such as Ms. Jackson and Hello yes!but Atlanta hip-hop was put on the map artistically and commercially as early as 1994 with their debut album Southern playalisticadillac musicwhich was preceded by the single The player’s ballproduced by Organized Noise.

Gucci Mane (with Drake) – Both (2016)

Gucci Mane was at the cradle of trap-hop and thanks to the title of his debut album Trap house (2005) helped popularize the term “trap” for Atlanta hip-hop. The genre was well followed from Canada by rapper Drake, who regularly collaborated with Atlanta rappers, such as with Gucci Mane on Both.

Migos-Bad and Boujee (2016)

Drake has been one of the biggest fans of rap trio Migos since 2013, thanks to songs like Versace, Band and Hannah Montana. Bad and Boujee, perhaps the strongest Migos song, also one of their biggest hits, came a few years later. It’s on the album Culturestill one of Atlanta’s better trap albums.

Lil Baby – The Bigger Picture (2020)

Joe Coscarelli donates in his book Rap capital most attention to Lil Baby, whose Black Lives Matter protest song The bigger picture is the first song extensively covered by him. The song would even take Lil Baby to the White House, where the victim of police brutality George Floyd was remembered by Joe Biden, among others. For Coscarelli, Lil Baby was “the leader, the culmination of thirty years of Atlanta rap.” The album My turn would give his first US No. 1 listing in 2020.

Marlo – 1st and 3rd (2020)

Rapper Future gets relatively little attention from Coscarelli. He can be heard together with fellow townie Lil Baby on 1 and 3the title track from Marlo’s album, released two weeks before Lil Baby’s My turn appeared. Marlo was friends with Lil Baby, the two worked together a lot. The description of Marlo’s life and his violent death is one of the most moving parts of Coscarelli’s book.

Outkast (André 3000 and Big Boi).  Image Getty

Outkast (André 3000 and Big Boi).Image Getty

Country rap

The biggest hit from Atlanta and the surrounding area is in the name of Lil Nas X, who led the US charts for no less than nineteen weeks in 2019 (and scored well here too) with the novelty hit Old City Road. IN Rap capital Author Joe Coscarelli calls the hit the “biggest pop culture phenomenon” of all time — but it’s too outside his hip-hop history to devote more than a page to it.

Lil Nas X Getty Image

Lil Nas XImage Getty

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