‘Atlanta’ tackles social issues through lens of rap

'Atlanta,' which premiered on Sept. 6, explores the lives of struggling musicians entering the rap scene in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of FX.



Donald Glover has presented himself in multiple forms in the past decade — writer, rapper, comedian, visual artist and now showrunner of FX’s “Atlanta.” Glover’s latest artistic endeavor is the culmination of all of his professional personas.

“Atlanta” successfully webs social commentary and entertainment with a talented ensemble cast under the guidance of Glover.

Atlanta has been influential in the evolution of hip hop since OutKast’s debut album “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” Every artist from the region has presented a sound that is unique to hip hop and the city as well. Chris Robinson’s film “ATL” tied the music of the city to the silver screen. Now, Donald Glover, an ATLien himself, successfully brings the musical energy of Atlanta to network television.

“Atlanta” follows Earn Marks (Donald Glover), a Princeton dropout who is attempting to get his foot in the door of Atlanta’s music scene. The city holds its own with production and sound with artists like Young Thug, Future, Migos, Metro Boomin, Zaytoven among others. The list is endless and, hailing from Atlanta himself, Glover understands this.

Earn’s cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is a rapper and has a hit on his hand. Paper Boi and his sidekick Darius (Keith Stanfield) need management to tread their newfound and growing fame. Earn approaches his cousin and proposes the idea of family business. The landscape of Atlanta serves as a gauntlet for Paper Boi’s creative promise.

While the show is a portrait of Atlanta, Earn and Paper Boi also serve as two versions of Donald Glover. In Glover’s comedy special, “Weirdo,” he mentions his family members reaching out to him as he was experiencing his first wave of fame. Earn is a caricature of the cousins that reached out to Glover and Paper Boi is the charisma Glover possesses but does not always showcase.

With the city of Atlanta housing rap’s most eclectic characters, Paper Boi has a sound but not the personality to stand out. He is at the top of the charts and also the bell curve. His normality is the only thing that does not mold to the scene where he belongs. However, his introspective outlook gives a glimpse into what it’s like to be a rapper in Atlanta.

The two episodes that premiered on Sept. 6 laid out everything Glover has planned for the show. Glover’s intentions of showing what it is like to be black in America is preserved. From the screenwriting to casting, every detail is crucial to maintaining the show’s brand.

Hiro Murai’s art direction provides the aesthetic kick necessary to tackle the issues of Glover’s “Atlanta.” The dark overtones of the shots project an eerie atmosphere. Glover’s newest venture needed a familiar brand to his largest fan base, Murai’s collaboration is a perfect pairing. His touch complements Glover’s observations of Atlanta.

Under Glover’s musical moniker Childish Gambino, he produces sounds that are usually focused on his celebrity, personal issues regarding relationships and his state of mind. With “Atlanta,” Glover uses the platform of network television to express his opinions on race, black culture, hip hop, mental health, masculinity and fatherhood.

Every single one of these issues are attended to within the jam-packed pilot and second episode. It is hard to predict the trail of a television show with a ten-episode season and an ensemble cast, but all of the characters seem to have been established in the first two episodes. The characters that Earn encounters may or may not recur but the themes will definitely take different forms and stories.

The misadventures of Earn, Paper Boi and Darius are not to be missed this fall. “Atlanta” fits perfectly into FX’s roster of unique, thought-provoking shows. Donald Glover’s awakening comes at the right time. During civil turmoil and discomfort, Atlanta peers into what it is like to be black, youthful and navigating through hope.



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