Actor Brian Tyree Henry Talks Atlanta Hip-Hop & Working With Donald Glover on FX Show 'Atlanta'
The gracious, seat-warming, two-episode debut introduced viewers to a different Atlanta -- the real, if you will. Unlike the pseudo-reality TV that has force-fed the narrative of the city as a sprawling fantasy land of strip clubs that double as testing grounds for rapper's latest bars, flashy cars curbed in front of manicured front lawns of multi-family homes, and all-out affluence, Glover brings real people with real stories and real issues to the screen, reviving the punch and substance of the Dirty South.
In case you missed the series premiere, we’ve rounded up the 15 best quotes from episodes 1 and 2 that will catch you up to speed on what’s going down in Donald Glover’s Atlanta.
"I had a weird dream."
For those who aren’t well-versed in Glover’s rap persona, Childish Gambino, the one-line opener of Atlanta more than likely floated right over your head like an afterthought. It’s normal for people to have dreams, right? Even when in a body of water filled with seaweed that could apparently grab you and drag you to dark, uncharted depths, according to Earn? Nevertheless, this dream is one similar to the one he spoke passionately about on STN MTN, the 11-track project that finally fulfilled Gambino's dreams of having a Gangsta Grillz mixtape. But more importantly, its opening track appropriately titled “Dream”/”Southern Hospitality”/ “Partna Dem” offered a bit of insight into what was to come from Glover, even if by sheer coincidence: “I had a dream I ran Atlanta,” he says on the intro, railing off into a wish list, consisting of reopening the infamous Club 112, firing all the cops in Cobb county, and bringing back staples that city was built upon like LaFace Records, Freaknik, Kilo Ali and Lou. While many of the bullet points of his list weren’t necessarily addressed in the premiere, you can say in a sense, Glover is running Atlanta.
“I love that. What is that, curry?”
Van, Earn’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, may be trying to break free from their complicated relationship, but between her asking him if he loves her and Earn marveling at her spicy morning breath, it seems like the makings of true love, even if it may take some compromise on both of their ends.
“You’re supposed to be so smart; you can’t remember to flush.”
The dry, slapstick comedy Earn’s parents deliver upon his arrival at their front door will make you chuckle. He’s fresh from dropping out of Princeton (with no explanation) and his father, in particular, isn’t too keen on letting him back into their house. He’s lent him loads of cash, since the $5.15 Earn makes an hour at an airport kiosk can barely keep him afloat, but the icing on the cake is when his father calls him out for sneaking into the house and forgetting to flush the toilet, to which his mother chimes in, offering that by the look of his stool he could stand to consume real food as opposed to candy.
“You want to manage a rapper but you can't do business high?”
At 10 a.m. precisely, Darius and Alfred partake in greenery on an abandoned mustard-yellow couch across the street from their house. When Earn curbs Darius’ outstretched arm, a direct invitation to hit the blunt, saying he wants to focus on proving to Alfred that with his assistance, Paper Boi can go far. Finding solace in sparking up a good spliff, Darius questions Earn’s legitimacy when it comes to managing Paper Boi if he can’t even think straight on a substance most rappers keep at close range.
Dave, the white DJ from 106.5, has good taste to a fault. Everything seems peachy keen when the pair -- who seem to know each other from years back -- catch up on where life has landed them. However, their conversation spoils quickly when Dave employs the N-word when telling a story about a party where the DJ played Flo Rida back-to-back, garnering a side eye from Earn. Interesting enough, when Earn asks Dave to tell Paper Boi the same story, he omits the word -- an insightful play on how someone outside of the community navigates its use.
“The music business is gross.”
During Earn’s visit to the radio station, he inquires about how he can get Paper Boi’s single in rotation, to which Dave offers a slick yet straightforward answer: “Half a stack.” In this moment, the age-old controversial and illegal topic of payola comes up, and Earn has to ask himself the question" “To finesse or not to finesse?”
"When [Earn] wants to do something, he does it -- on his own terms."
After hearing Earn out about managing him, Alfred stops by Earn’s parents' crib to gauge his father’s thoughts on entrusting him with his bubbling rap career. Earn’s father says he doesn’t trust it, but in the same breath he somewhat recants his statement with a gentle, more understanding viewpoint. As crazy as it seems that Earn has this sudden passion to test-drive a newly minted venture, deep down inside, his father knows that the method to his madness just might prevail.
“I just keep losing. I mean, some people just supposed to lose just for balance on Earth.”
Aside from the laughter that the series brings, Atlanta delves deep into what it means to be young, black and poor. After a long day, Earn is seen sitting on the bus cradling his daughter when a mysterious figure (who may not even be real) approaches him. He begins to tell Earn that his mind is racing, and before we know it, he’s spilling all of his thoughts on failure. The man tries to explain that victory doesn’t see failure and that what you allow yourself to believe will ultimately be. Minutes later, Alfred calls Earn with Paper Boi’s song blasting on the radio.
“I like Flo Rida. Moms need rap too.”
They say rap is the voice of the youth, but we often forget that the youth aren’t the only ones taking in the soundscapes of today’s musical scene. The punch line of Flo Rida’s music not being replay-worthy, Darius fires back with a short and simple quip that actually makes sense for once.
“This is going on Worldstar!”
The home to everything entertainment and hip-hop and the most outrageous breaking news, the WorldStarHipHop website has become quotable in its own right. When you hear someone yell “Worldstar,” that’s the quickest signifier that some sh-- is about to go down, generally a fight. The reference made a timely appearance when guns were drawn in front of a convenience store after a stranger knocked off one of his side mirrors. It’s in the small details like this that Atlanta captures present-day banter precisely.
“I hate this f---ing place.”
Episode 2 is predominantly set in jail after a shootout commences in front of the store. Alfred is released first as his papers are all together, but when he inquires about Earn’s release, the clerk who is clearly annoyed by his questions offers this statement. Throughout the time that the jail is the setting, we ventured into the tale of black male incarceration, where a number of men waiting for their moment of freedom mimic the same words.
"You listen to Gucci Mane? Man, I locked that n---a up!"
None other than Alfred’s good friend Darius showed up upon his release from jail. During their departure, a thirsty cop fanboys over Paper Boi, saying that he loves rappers and would love to take a picture for the “Insta sluts.” It feels pretty insincere, which is only proven true when he explains his relationship with Gucci Mane.
One of the most anticipated details viewers were ready to dissect with a fine-tooth comb were the accents of characters. While many of the colorful characters we came in contact with lacked the slow (think Young Dro), sometimes too fast to the point of indecipherable (think Young Thug or Migos), rambling or drawl native to the region, the general consensus on Twitter timelines using the #AtlantaFX hashtag was that the dude in the orange shirt who was about to catch the bus at Five Points but got locked up for public intoxication after drinking a beer with an old friend was dead-on. Of course, not all inhabitants of the city speak as such, but the sprinkled bit felt like home to natives watching like myself. Well done, Glover!
“Lemon pepper wet.”
For more than 30 years J.R. Crickets has been slingin’ (their word, not ours) their delectable wings and other sorts of dishes like authentic steak and cheese philly’s, tender BBQ pork ribs, chargrilled burgers and succulent seafood throughout Atlanta. However, there’s nothing more authentic to the region than lemon pepper wings. Just ask Radric Davis, aka Gucci Mane, who loves to pair his with a freeze cup (listen to “Lemonade”). And when Paper Boi and Darius order a teriyaki 10-piece, a worker, who recognizes him as Paper Boi, surprises him with a box of lemon pepper straight from the chef who made an exception and delivered them with not just your regular dry-rub seasoning, but wet. Now that’s clout.
"Sexuality's a spectrum. You can really do whatever you want."
Many times throughout the premiere, the show switches gears in what seems like the blink of an eye. This holds true when Earn finds himself awkwardly wedged between two past lovers in the jail’s holding cell. When others waiting to be processed catch wind of their conversation, they taunt him, saying that he’s gay because she’s a trans woman. After a few of the guys exchange a heated debate about male-on-male interaction and if it’s considered gay while in jail versus on the outside, Earn tried to lighten the mood, but it doesn’t work.