Fast-forward to the present. OutKast has long since put ATL on the map and kicked off the city's stranglehold on the rap industry. In the process, Atlanta has become so closely identified with hip-hop that the real ATLiens are no longer rappers at all, but rockers daring to create a local scene in spite of hip-hop's ubiquitous presence.
Even MTV took note recently when the network came to town to document the burgeoning rock scene. The segment, "Atlanta Can Rock Too," featured interviews with the Black Lips, Deerhunter, Snowden and Manchester Orchestra, plus plenty of live-performance footage. Less than 18 months earlier, MTV camera crews had descended upon the city to document the local hip-hop scene. Producers such as Dallas Austin and Organized Noize Productions were filmed in studios while artist/label owners such as Lil Jon were shown holed up inside the confines of his BME label office.
Welcome to the tale of two music cities: 1) for the money, and, 2) for the show. It takes a combination of commerce and creativity to make any scene pop. Atlanta's hip-hop is currently the genre's commercial standard. On the other hand, the young rock scene is bubbling with more creativity and activity than the city has ever seen. Despite lying at opposite ends of the city's musical spectrum, the two stand poised to meet each other on the crossroads. And what each scene stands to gain from the other could be invaluable for the future of both – and the city as a whole.
Hip-hop has always hustled hard. The ethos is reflected in the lyrics and the nonstop grind of artists such as Ludacris, Lil Jon, T.I. and Big Boi – all of whom have gone on to start their own labels. Of course, rock is no stranger to the DIY aesthetic. Indie labels such as Daemon Records, Die Slaughterhaus and Stickfigure were born out of the desire to offer an alternative outlet for local artists.
But growing up in the shadow of hip-hop meant going the extra mile for many to gain recognition. And the work ethic is paying off for groups such as the Black Lips, who were named the hardest-working band at this year's South by Southwest music festival by the New York Times. Even Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra – another band featured on MTV's recent Atlanta rock doc – admits "there was no real scene for us. We had to kind of go to other places because it is a town that is dominated by hip-hop."
Many are relieved as a notable underground rock scene continues to emerge. Even local indie-rock tastemaker Kenny Crucial admits he has heard grumblings about the need to "put the 'ANTA' back in Atlanta," he says, referring to the ATL abbreviation popularized by the city's urban-music faction. This is notable considering the ongoing history of Atlanta's music scene, which at first glance seems like a hodgepodge featuring everything from Col. Bruce Hampton and the Indigo Girls to the Black Crowes and India.Arie. But there's always been this black/white thread running throughout.
Obviously, neither genre wants to trade places with the other. Indie rockers don't totally envy the commercial standard of success that hip-hoppers have achieved any more than rappers envy rockers' alternative stamp of approval. But both have a bit to offer the other.
If there's anything worth emulating within hip-hop, it's the industry infrastructure, which continues to attract top-notch producers, artists and songwriters to the city.
Meanwhile, Atlanta's commercial rap world could learn a lot from the freewheeling rock scene where punkers such as the Carbonas can share a bill with indie poppers such as Snowden.
"That's the nature of the beast with music; all the different genres, they mate and then mate and mate again," Corinne Lee of Snowden comments on "Atlanta Can Rock Out Too." Such an approach would certainly challenge rap's musical inventiveness – which has been lacking a bit lately.
"When our music goes to simple keyboards and stuff like that, that's when rock 'n' roll is gonna come back up," forecasts Rico Wade, one-third of Organized Noize, the production team behind early and subsequent OutKast and Goodie Mob hits.
The rock scene isn't immune from such a scenario, either. In the MTV rock doc, Moses Archuleta of Deerhunter points out the fact that the scene has enjoyed its own period of incubation, which has spawned creativity, when he says, "It's not like anyone's eye is on Atlanta for rock music." And he's right. But the mere fact that he said it on MTV means that reality could change by tomorrow.