For review this week Atlanta“Born to Die” appears as soon as he becomes Ice Cube’s best friend Is there after 5…
The funny thing about Paper Boi’s rise to fame on this show is that it all happened between episodes and/or seasons. The premiere shows a bribe to someone to play Al’s music on the radio, and we see a few other low-key promos in that first season, but that’s just as much effort as Donald Glover and his company went into Al’s career. By late season one, Al was enough low-key celebrity to appear on the talk show on “BAN.” When we came back for season two, he was already famous enough that Earn’s slick management became an issue. By the third season, he was leading his own European tour, which is recognizable everywhere.
so no Atlanta He never showed much interest in the poverty-to-riches portion of Al’s story. However, what he was eager to discuss was what was to come next, especially regarding legacy. “Teddy Perkins” was all about the last part. So was Al’s Amsterdam’s drug trip in “New Jazz” last season. Al’s subplot in this season’s premiere included realizing, through the unspoken death of his hero Bluebood, just how fleeting all of this can be. Now both stories in “Born to Die” deal in different ways with what happens after a black artist achieves fame and fortune.
In Story A, Al makes a special appearance at the Mitzvah’s bar for wealthy kids when another wealthy white guest offers his appointment to teach his aspiring son, rapper Benny, how to be like Paper Boi. Al is disgusted with it all, but a profitable gig is a profitable gig, the way Brian Tyree Henry muttered “Fuck!” When a father offers him a million dollars, it is a thing of beauty. It turned out to be money for nothing. Paper Boi is already old news for a teenager like Benny, who already seems to own the music scene on a local and social media level. But Penny’s encounter in turn connects Al with his punk counterpart (Charles owner of Whitfield), who has his own white rapper cross to carry Lil Rick Moranis. Bunk Al invites a meeting of a mysterious group called “YWA”. The acronym turns out to stand for “Young White Avatar” – the theory being that every black rapper has an incredibly short tenure, and the only way to stay wealthy and relevant is for the power behind the throne of a white child to become less talented but more marketable.
This sounds ridiculous – but then, when was the last time Ludacris released a new album? As the YWA leader argues vigorously, for most black rappers, the most optimistic career path involves a pivot in casting a family-friendly movie at some point. Al has his own master recordings, but how important would that be if future generations brought in millions of new Bennys who didn’t care at all about Paper Boi? Al tries to board the plane before finding out that Bunk has pulled Benny out from under him, but he makes a whole lotta juice out of lemons that looks like Benny’s friend The Yodel Kid, who has gone platinum in three weeks with the support of Al.
The whole thing seems exaggerated, but only a little. This dynamic goes back a long way. Elvis Presley became a global icon while most of the black blues musicians who inspired him have faded away. In the early years of hip-hop, the record industry was so in need of a white savior that Vanilla Ice was briefly allowed to become a thing. Baby Yodel achieves his dark comedic form of immortality: he dies of an overdose on a Grammy day, but he wins a posthumous award and his wife thanks everyone who plays his music on the streets today.
Earn is following his new job as a one-man at a larger management firm. Working in an office allows him to make more money and not just rely on his cousin as a meal ticket. But it also means that he sometimes has to contend with clients he doesn’t want, like racist Karen — who became famous for her viral Ring cam video of her pulling a gun on a black package delivery worker — in an effort to promote a book titled Was I wrong? To get out of this dreadful task, Earn offers to try and sign D’Angelo, confident that his friendship with the singer’s braided hair can make it a meeting.
This…not exactly what’s going on. Instead, we’re quickly back to the most surreal corner of Atlanta. Earn profits behind a local rally franchise Next to the men’s and women’s bathroom doors is a door that simply says “D’Angelo”. It leads to an elaborate prison-like room with a flimsy mattress (**) and a bucket and a silent man sitting on a chair guarding the cellar door. With no instructions and no choice but to go back to the office to work thereWas I wrong? Earn sits down and starts making like Steve McQueenThe Great Escape
There are no sites for the rally
(**) The floor pad that Eren’s wizard gave him was really helpful here, wasn’t it?
After discovering that the only thing available to drink is a 24-pack of Dasani (produced by Atlanta’s Coca-Cola company, but bottled elsewhere), Earn inevitably throws a frenzy and accepts he has no choice but to turn inward and figure out the words the bouncer wants hear it. It turns out they’re, “Let me test D’Angelo,” but he’s instead testing something else. After his second trip in three episodes through a dark tunnel that leads to a modestly decorated room, Eren finds not the man he’s looking for, but rather a backup enjoying a sandwich. “You asked to try D’Angelo!” position in explains. “At this moment, for you, we are D’Angelo.” Although “D’Angelo” is somehow able to describe the drowning nightmare from the very beginning of the season three premiere, Earn takes everything this guy tells him as pretentious nonsense, and makes his way to work empty-handed.
The whole thing is very strange and lighthearted, with a sarcastic letter where the fake D’Angelo admits that he could use the money to pay for this complex and seemingly useless operation. But it works not only comically, but as an effective thematic aspect of what Al is dealing with elsewhere. A huge hit in the ’90s, D’Angelo then spent 14 years between albums being released, partly dealing with struggles in his personal life, and partly because he wasn’t comfortable with too many devices for being a celebrity. It’s not the cautionary tale Al was warned about – among other things, D’Angelo didn’t like being a sex symbol – but it’s another example of how volatile fame can be for any artist, especially people of color. The two stories intersect on Grammy night, when Al, Earn and Darius (in his only in-episode appearance) watch televised awards at a bar and are enchanted by the entire Yodel Kid experience. We don’t know what happened to Earn when he came back to the office without D’Angelo, but he appears to be fine, and has business meetings the next morning. Before returning to his hotel, Eren reminds his cousin that in this business, “It’s not about what feels good. It’s about what survives.” Will Paper Boi music survive? I imagine the narrative of this series will be over long before we find out. Ideas will
Atlanta survive? This legacy is almost certainly guaranteed already, but it wouldn’t hurt if the remaining seven episodes were as confident and funny as the first three were.