Photo: Adam Kincaid
Photo: Adam Kincaid

5 Atlanta hip-hop albums you should listen to before watching 'Atlanta'

In case you missed it, the FX series "Atlanta" is a hit, so much so that the network renewed it for a second season after just three episodes. 

»RELATED: The FX  ‘Atlanta Robbin’ Season’ trailer is here

Created by Stone Mountain's own Donald Glover —a rapper, actor and writer known for his work on NBC's "Community" and for his recording success as Childish Gambino, Atlanta is one of the best new shows on TV.

The show’s second season, “Atlanta Robbin’ Season”, begins Thursday, March 1.

It is at once delicate and brash, cinematic and silly, reflective and hilarious. The show is significant. And, at it's plot-moving center, the show is about Glover's character managing his cousin Paper Boi's climb from the most disenfranchised parts of the city to the top of Atlanta's crowded hip-hop game.

»RELATED: Quiz: Where does your favorite Atlanta rapper call home?

The show begins with Paper Boi scoring a local radio hit, which is good news because Paper Boi is all about that paper, boy. The hit alludes that the show could play on the same inside-the-rise dynamics HBO brought to "Entourage." Except this time, that rise starts somewhere south of I-20.

As it has in real life, many times before, viewers want to understand why Atlanta is such a hit?

Before you watch the second season, revisit the forefathers of Atlanta hustle. The hip-hop artists whose albums made —are still making — Atlanta rap such a definitive part of the American cultural tapestry.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Outkast - ATLiens

Listen to the album on Spotify here.

Straight up, there is no album more "Atlanta" than 1996's “ATLiens”. The iconic duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi (not Paper Boi) had already scored a regional hit with their 1994 release” Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik”, and the albums that followed “ATLiens” transitioned the group from rap stars to global music icons. But in between those bookends? An album released twenty years ago that connected (then and still) with every youngster (white and black) in the city on, like, a cellular level. There was no such thing as "ATL" until it landed here with “ATLiens”; the album is perhaps the most significant in the history of the city, and is among the great hip-hop albums of all time. And some of us can knock out every line of "ATLiens" to this day.

'Paper Trail' cover

T.I. - Paper Trial

Listen to the album on Spotify here.

No mount rushmore of ATL hip-hop would be complete without carving a space for T.I., who brought the ATL beat-mashed gumbo that is trap music to the forefront of Atlanta's musical consciousness. What's crazy in the "trap-this, trap-that" culture of ATL hip-hop today is that T.I. brought it all the way back in 2003 with “Trap Muzik”.

Yet, for his decade-and-a-half in the rap game, nothing T.I. ever made felt more raw or more real than 2008's Paper Trail; an album recorded while T.I. awaiting sentancing on a federal weapons and possession trial.

One listen to the opening track — "Ready for Whatever"  — will introduce you to a less boisterous, more reflective T.I. who finds himself in contemplation of life, the choices he has made, and how far the fall is from all the way up top. Add to the Paper Trail mystique the knowledge that in that same interim between Paper Trail and his 11 month prison sentence, T.I. talked a man down from a suicide-jumping ledge (T.I. navigated himself to the scene and convinced the would-be jumper to save his own life). 

And just to cement T.I., it's worth noting that true to his word, he's still in the city now that the smoke's cleared and making a mark in Atlanta's other well-known enterprise  — strip clubs.

Music Midtown will mark the first big hometown festival for Run the Jewels -- consisting of rapper and Atlanta native Killer Mike, DJ Z-Trip and El-P. The group's second album, 2014's "Run the Jewels 2," was on many Best of 2014 Albums lists. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images for Coachella)
Photo: Karl Walter

Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music

Listen to the album on Spotify here.

Killer Mike's legacy goes all the way back to the early days of Outkast; before the Whole World loved it when he was in the news. His ascent to ATL rushmore status has been slow and steady; the kind of rise that feels more permanent than the flash-in-the-pan icons of our hip-hop flavor of the month.

The first moment that Killer Mike began ascending from peripheral (if loveable) Outkast sidekick to bonafide, standalone ATL superstar was at the release of his 2012 album R.A.P. Music., which he'd recorded for Cartoon Network's vanity label Williams Street Records and collaborated with producer El-P to create. And things started to Go!

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

Listen to the album on Spotify here.

From “R.A.P. Music” came Run the Jewels − the official partnership between the aforementioned Killer Mike and his producer El-P − united together to bring relevance to hip hop in a way that nobody has since Straight Outta Compton. They capture the speechless, jaw-on-the-floor political landscape so much at the forefront of the American experience in 2016 in the same way Jimi Hendrix's national anthem might have summarized all that was frustration in the Vietnam era. They matter. They are right now.

The new album is forthcoming. But “RTJ2” (as Run the Jewels 2 is abbreviated) is probably the most important hip-hop album of this generation. Just close your eyes and count the days until RTJ3. If the last album dropped and got a tunnel boring drill named after the man, the next one might just change the world for Killer Mike

See for yourself when the group performs at Project Pabst this weekend in East Atlanta Village.

Future - DS2

Listen to the album on Spotify here.

It's not that Future's “DS2” (or any of his music) is necessarily any better than other current Atlanta hip-hop, but what Future did is important, to "Atlanta" and to Atlanta. Future taught the world a Magic trick. And in proving that an artist can break out from Magic City, as was so well reported in a GQ feature on the Atlanta club and its role in the hip-hop universe, Future provided a model for basically every 20-something with a mix tape in Atlanta.

After all, when it dropped in 2015, DS2 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. And that's how you mess up some commas.

Odds are, sometime between now and 3005, Gambino Glover and his Paper Boi will make their way to a Magic City Monday themselves in hopes of impressing the oracle of hip-hop, DJ Esco.

Find out for yourself when the second season premieres on March 1 on FX.

»RELATED: How to watch the first season of Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ 

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