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The Plug, Vol. 4: Childish Gambino Studied, T.I. Dissected, and Big Bank Hank Remembered

Plus: Dozens of hip-hop mixtapes reviewed!

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    The Plug is Consequence of Sound‘s hip-hop zine.

    Welcome to Atlanta.

    OutKast’s emergence — and eventual Dixie-rap dominance — has been a gift and a curse for the Georgia capital. Not even the formidable Killer Mike has matched the cultural impact of the duo’s relentless creativity and mesmerizing microphone exchanges in the past two decades. That’s not to say the city is short on stars these days. Producers like Mike WiLL Made-It, the space-trap visionary who released his Ransom mixtape on Monday, are crucial whether or not they get their proper due, but ultimately it’s the frontmen who seal the hits, with today’s biggest being (in rough order of most O.G. to least) T.I., Jeezy, Gucci, Waka, 2 Chainz, B.o.B., Future, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, and Migos. Moreover, certain artists — from all three members of TLC to Ludacris, Gucci, and Waka — have relocated to Atlanta from another region. There’s an argument to be made that something is literally in the water, bringing all these unshakeable hooks and eccentricities to hip-hop.

    For this edition of The Plug — the Atlanta issue, loosely — contributor Killian Young examines Childish Gambino’s ascendant hip-hop career and the emphasis he’s put on his native ATL/Stone Mountain, especially with his recent mixtape, STN MTN. We dissect each solo album in T.I.’s catalog, trying to get to the heart of the consensus (and self-proclaimed) king of the South. In the reviews section, we tackle new hip-hop releases of all regional backgrounds, but with an emphasis on Atlanta projects: T.I.’s Paperwork, Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Part 1, Future’s Monster, Migos’ Rich Nigga Timeline, and Rome Fortune’s Small VVorld. Lastly, in a return to hip-hop’s New York beginnings, staff writer Nina Corcoran explores the life of the late Sugarhill Gang member Big Bank Hank, who died November 11, 35 years after playing a direct role in hip-hop’s original form — not an opinion.

    Until next time:

    Ho ho ho, merry motherfuckin’ Christmas.

    –Michael Madden
    Associate Editor

    What’s in a City? Childish Gambino Goes Home

    By Killian Young

    Image (1) Childish-Gambino-3-e1333371881111.jpeg for post 204571

    It was all a dream – for Childish Gambino, that is. The rapper opens his new mixtape and EP, STN MTN / Kauai, with a fantasy. On “Dream / Southern Hospitality / Partna Dem”, he declares, “I had a dream I ran Atlanta,” and STN MTN closes as Gambino flatly says, “And then I woke up.” STN MTN, with its heavy Dirty South/crunk/trap influences, allows Gambino to imagine making a record that would be at home with early ’00s hip-hop and pay homage to his sort-of hometown of Atlanta. Gambino really gets up, as his true self, in Hawaii on the poppy Kauai.

    Gambino’s debut studio album, 2011’s Camp, aligns itself more closely with his time in New York City when he studied at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts — the South and Stone Mountain are only referenced twice (on “Bonfire” and “That Power”, respectively). But on Gambino’s next release, the R O Y A L T Y mixtape, we get a significant dose of ATL pride.

    What’s the reason for this uptake in allegiance? I spoke with Andrew Hoberek, a professor at the University of Missouri who teaches a course that critically analyzes Jay Z and Kanye West, about the changing role of hometowns in hip-hop. Childish Gambino is one of the most successful artists to navigate multiple cities: L.A./Hollywood in his acting career; New York City during his undergraduate years at NYU; and Atlanta/Stone Mountain during his youth.

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    With the rise of the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the early ’90s, “place was very central,” Hoberek says. The city you grew up in dictated who you collaborated with, and authenticity was scrutinized. Over time, major rappers emerged from markets other than New York or L.A., like OutKast in Atlanta, Eminem in Detroit, and Nelly in St. Louis.

    Childish Gambino Stn Mtn

     

    Kanye West is really the lynchpin for a shift in how the rap game operates. “As part of Kanye’s breakthrough, he really makes authenticity less important than it used to be,” Hoberek says. “Rap has always been tied into a notion of authenticity, but really in some ways that can be a limiting effect on artists’ range. Kanye, by rejecting a gangster persona, adopting the middle-class persona early on, makes authenticity of a certain kind less central to rap.” As both Kanye West and Jay Z have reached international superstar status, their lyrics don’t concern their respective neighborhoods anymore.

    But questions of authenticity still find relevance in rap. Specifically, Hoberek cites artists like Drake (who aligns himself with Toronto and Miami and tries to distance himself from his acting career on Degrassi), Iggy Azalea (born in Sydney, with ties to several cities in the American South), and Rick Ross (whose gangster identity represents a persona rather than lived experiences). With Atlanta becoming a reality TV hub (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta), the city doesn’t represent the same place that gave rise to OutKast. Instead, Hoberek says, “In some ways, it’s freeing to think about Atlanta not as a place of authenticity, but as a cultural metropolis — the same way you’d think about Miami or Hollywood. But with that comes an interest in the history of Atlanta and then going back to that history of crunk and Dirty South.”

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    Where does that leave STN MTN in Hoberek’s opinion? “It’s a retrospective, looking back to a cultural heritage,” he says, “rather than coming up immersed in that cultural heritage the way you’d think of OutKast.”

    In other words, Gambino transcends city and regional associations because of his varied experiences as a kid, as a student, and as an actor. Hoberek points to Gambino’s diverse slate of featured artists on his second studio album, Because the Internet. The album had guest spots from Chance the Rapper (of Chicago), Azealia Banks (Harlem), and Jhené Aiko (Los Angeles), indicative of blurred boundaries between cities and regions. With the rise of collaborative technologies and the ability to produce tracks from remote locations, place even further loses importance.

    Kanye mayor

    At a glance, it might seem that STN MTN and Gambino’s past references to Atlanta may have been attempts to distance himself from his acting career as Donald Glover and to boost his credibility as a rapper. Then again, FX just ordered the pilot of a new show starring Glover. As Deadline originally reported: “Tentatively entitled Atlanta, the comedy is set against the backdrop of the Atlanta music scene.” Glover seems aware of Atlanta as a reality-TV, global city, and STN MTN plays with the traditional tropes of Southern rap.

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    For instance, Gambino subverts bragging about wealth on “No Small Talk” when he raps, “Two gold chains and I still don’t ever wear ‘em/ Why would I wear ‘em?” while also possibly taking a shot at 2 Chainz, another Atlanta native whose city identity Hoberek describes as not “front and central.” Over the flip phone sound effects of Atlanta rapper Maceo’s regional hit “Nextel Chirp” on “Move That Dope / Nextel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow”, Gambino declares, “Rap game, I’m Steve Urkel”. STN MTN features or otherwise highlights a bunch of Atlanta artists: K Camp is on “Money Baby”, Gambino covers Usher on “U Don’t Have to Call”, and Mike Will and Lil Jon beats are used on “Move That Dope / Nextel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow”. A sped-up version of the horns from OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” plays during the super-unsubtle line on “Dream / Southern Hospitality / Partna Dem”: “See them titties, wanna motorboat it/ I’m Dopaliscious like Spottie Ottie.”

    It’s an all-star cavalcade of Atlanta’s past as the epicenter of Southern hip-hop and present as a global city. But STN MTN is much more clever than it seems at face value because it tackles the often-insipid themes of early ’00s Southern hip-hop with Gambino’s frequently funny spin as an outsider who is not bound to conventions of authenticity.

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