“It’s not the new Atlanta — it’s the real Atlanta,” says Raury. The 18-year-old rapper-singer, real name Raury Tullis, is at a photo shoot on a sunny October day in East Atlanta, where he and 11 other rising rappers and producers swap jokes and phone numbers and schedule future collaborations. The collective group is at the bleeding edge of an exciting movement that’s been called the New Atlanta, known for its oddball flows, minimalist beats and eccentric fashion.
The city has a long hip-hop legacy, counting stars such as Outkast, T.I. and Jeezy, but it’s arguably never seen a wave of artists this deep, diverse and young. Thanks to this new generation, Atlanta has become hip-hop’s most important talent incubator, expanding the genre’s sound and style in new ways — and impacting the charts in the process.
“Atlanta sets trends; we set the precedent,” says Father, 23, born Centel Mangum. “I don’t think we ever lose the buzz — it’s more about who picks up the next wave.”
The shoot is taking place outside an apartment complex nicknamed The Barrio, where Father, his Awful Records crew and several other rising rappers record in a home studio. He and Raury are joined there by other leaders of the Atlanta vanguard: Rich Homie Quan, Que, OG Maco, Trinidad James, Key, Kap G and producers Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital and Childish Major.
Between them, the group has several recent hip-hop hits. Quan, 25 — who is “70 percent done” with his Def Jam debut featuring Drake and Lil Wayne — has lodged three top 10s on Billboard‘s Hot Rap Songs chart, most notably last year’s “Type of Way.” OG Maco, 22, whose bleached blond hair and rowdy delivery are hard to ignore, is attracting seven-figure offers from major labels after “U Guessed It” hit No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 (his management says he’s holding out for more money). New Columbia signee Raury, known for his rap-sung flow and hippie street style, debuted on the Billboard/Twitter Emerging Artists chart at No. 12 with “God’s Whisper” in October.
At 27, James is a veteran (and cautionary tale, of sorts) for this crew: His “All Gold Everything” peaked at No. 6 on Hot Rap Songs and landed him a rumored $2 million Def Jam deal in 2012 (he has since been dropped and is currently working on an upcoming self-released project). Metro Boomin, 21, has produced for Atlanta stars Ludacris and Future, including the latter’s “Honest,” which reached No. 18 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Childish Major, 23, produced another huge hometown hit, Rocko‘s “U.O.E.N.O.” featuring Future and Rick Ross. And beatmaker Sonny Digital, 23, is blowing up with ATL rapper-singer I Love Makonnen, whose quirky “Tuesday” is No. 35 on the Nov. 8 Hot 100. I Love Makonnen, known for carrying around a mannequin head as a prop, signed with Drake’s OVO Sound, distributed by Warner Bros. Records, in September.
“We’re really us,” says I Love Makonnen, 25, of Atlanta’s rap newcomers. “We’re real people, and we’re relatable. People feel like, ‘Those guys live down the street.’ ” (I Love Makonnen records most of his music and videos at The Barrio as well; in fact, he was confirmed for the shoot but canceled at the last minute, as did two other buzzworthy Atlanta rap rookies: Young Thug and trio Migos.)
“Atlanta has historically been one of the hottest cities for hip-hop, and right now it’s a hotbed for emerging artists and experimental music,” says Todd Moscowitz, who co-founded 300 Entertainment with fellow industry vets Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles in 2013. The label, which is distributed by Atlantic, has made Atlanta’s avant-garde its specialty, signing Young Thug in June after his smash “Stoner” reached No. 4 on Hot Rap Songs; 300 has also partnered with Atlanta label Quality Control Music, which is already home to OG Maco, to sign Migos and Johnny Cinco.
Labels are increasingly looking to Atlanta’s young producers, as well: With their growing catalog of credits, Metro Boomin, Childish Major and Sonny Digital are following in the footsteps of 25-year-old Atlanta native Mike Will Made It, one of music’s biggest hitmakers. Between Miley Cyrus (whom he allegedly has been discreetly dating since 2013), Rihanna, Lil Wayne and others, Mike Will Made It already has 18 Hot 100 hits, and most recently worked with Usher on “Believe Me.” Even after two decades of his own superstardom, Usher agrees that his hometown is having a moment: “From Future to Young Thug, Atlanta is more relevant now than it has ever been,” he says.
The city’s new scene isn’t all good vibes, however. At the shoot, there were rumors that Migos canceled because they had beef in East Atlanta; Young Thug’s camp similarly claimed that the location wasn’t safe for the rapper, without further explanation. OG Maco and Key, meanwhile, kept their distance during the shoot. (OG Maco has said that the rift started after Key passed on appearing in the video for “U Guessed It,” which he was originally featured on.)
But that hasn’t slowed Atlanta’s new wave. Raury may best exemplify the city’s expanding creative ambitions: His “ignorant youth” anthem “God’s Whisper” is more folk-rock than rap, and he recently collaborated with eclectic British electronica producer SBTRKT. “This is art,” he says. “It’s not something that can be kept in a box.”