Written by Stanley Vaughn
Podcast and video produced by James Riley and Cameron Smith
Atlanta, Georgia is undeniably a hub for hip-hop and rap music. Huge artists like 21 Savage, Childish Gambino, Gucci Mane, and Usher hail from Atlanta. Sub-genres like crunk, trap, snap, and alternative hip-hop were either created or developed by the city’s musicians. Atlanta hip-hop started dance moves like “the dab” that took pop-culture by storm, so much so that even some politicians have gotten in on it. The New York Times even commented on how influential Atlanta is to the hip-hop scene back in 2009.
So, of course we have a lot of hip-hop musicians. There’s even an entire list on Wikipedia dedicated to hip-hop artists from Atlanta. But what about the other Atlanta musicians, those who aren’t following the hip-hop mainstream of their native city? Do indie guitarists or R&B singers have a more difficult time than a rapper or hip-hop producer?
How do other genres fare in our hip-hop dominated city?
To answer these questions, we interviewed various Atlanta-based musicians to get their views (you can see some of the interviews in the video and podcast). We wanted to hear about their personal experiences. Had they had to compete with hip-hop? Or did it not affect their musical careers?
“I feel like there’s a lane for everybody,” said Nate Myers, an Atlanta-based jazz saxophonist who’s toured across Georgia. “Some times we can work together, y’know? I’ve worked with hip hop artists [before].” Nate Myers didn’t really view hip-hop as a bad thing for him. In fact, he enjoys it. “I love music in general, all genres of music. I can play hip-hop/jazz fusion, we can play together. I have no problem with it.” Myers says Atlanta’s hip-hop dominated scene hasn’t affected his jazz too much at all. “I guess you could say that the hip-hop circuit is a little more mainstream than jazz. It wasn’t necessarily a struggle [when I began performing], but it was a little bit harder to get noticed.”
“Being an Atlanta band, I honestly do not feel overshadowed by hip-hop,” said Ruby Velle, an Atlanta-based soul singer for the band Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics. “I think a beautiful thing about Atlanta’s music community is that we all kinda uplift and empower each other. We really lean on each other for everything from business knowledge to exchanging [details about shows] to get better venues.” Velle says that all music is worthwhile, especially in Atlanta. Atlanta Magazine named the Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics’ album “The State of All Things” the best non-hip-hop album of 2018, which only strengthened the fact that the city wants bands of all genres to succeed, not just hip-hop. Says Velle: “I’ve never felt encroached upon by any other genre within Atlanta, only uplifted.”
We also reached out to two people who work with venues as promoters to talk to us via email about how the city’s venues and promoters treat artists of different genres. We asked two Atlanta-based music promoters, Brannon Boyle, founder of Speakeasy Promotions, and Richard Dunn, member of The Muddy Water Group, about how venues treat hip-hop and non-hip-hop artists. They both said that genre usually doesn’t matter to venues and promoters. “I like to book music that I enjoy listening to, no matter the genre,” said Boyle. Dunn shared that sentiment, as well as wanting to “have a chance to make a return on my investment” when deciding which shows to promote. As for venues, they both expressed that different venues want different things. Boyle says that, “All venues are different. Different genres work differently at different venues. I wouldn’t say any of them have hip-hop as their #1 choice for a given night. Some places like hosting hip-hop shows, others don’t, and plenty are picky about what kinds of hip-hop they want in their venues.”
Sure, some venues prefer certain genres, but most, according to Boyle and Dunn, are just looking to get an adult audience, because older audiences earn venues more money. They also said that, in their experience, hip-hop does tend to grow in popularity faster, but that doesn’t mean success. Acts also have to be able to stay out of trouble, consistently please an audience, and keep a good presence in their music and at live shows.
To be perfectly honest, when I started writing this article, I was expecting to be writing a negative piece, about how non-hip-hop artists are being cast into the shadows while rappers and MCs soak in the spotlight. However, that wasn’t how either of the musicians we interviewed saw it. They both felt like hip-hop was, yes, more popular than their genre of choice in Atlanta, but it didn’t affect how they lived and performed in the city. And, thinking back on it, that makes sense. Other places with a mainstream genre like London, known for its classic rock, has had other successful artists like Amy Winehouse in different genres. Why would our city be any different?
None of the interviews had anything for or against hip-hop. In fact, Ruby Velle even specifically said, “I’ve got no beef with hip-hop” after we had asked a few questions about how the genre had affected her music career.
Really, the thing they seemed to hold above all else was a love of all music, no matter the kind. Both Meyers and Velle expressed that they got into their music because of a love of the art, and Boyle and Dunn said that they promoted for acts that they think are good.
Both musicians gave their advice for success, which basically boiled down to be yourself and connect with your community. They never said anything about certain people not being able to make it in Atlanta because of their genre or talent, they said to be yourself and connect with others.
So, if you want to make it as a musician in Atlanta, don’t be discouraged by the mainstream if you want to make EDM or country or orchestral music. Just love your art and, in the words of Nate Myers, “Do you. Nobody can do that but yourself.”
(Thank you to Nate Myers and Ruby Velle for coming into VOX to do interviews with us, and to Brannon Boyle and Richard Dunn for agreeing to interviews even if we couldn’t meet in person. Find them at natemyersmusic.com, rubyvelleandthesoulphonics.com, www.speakeasypromo.net, and www.instagram.com/muddywatergroup.)