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Undergrind Atlanta

Emerging rap scene defies old-school stereotypes

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"If you eat chicken every day, you're gonna get tired of eating goddamn chicken," says Gripplyaz. "You're gonna want a pizza or something."

Gripplyaz is speaking in food metaphors about the Atlanta rap scene, a city where you can find party rappers, neo-soul hip-hoppers and true-school ensembles. But Gripplyaz and his homies – YelaWolf, Proton, Supreeme and others – somehow stand apart.

You can't classify them with the usual stereotypes. They aren't thugs or snap-music acts, even though they can be abrasively harsh and vulgar while cranking out tracks for the club. And they aren't underground "indie rappers," although they try to write songs that reflect an awareness of their social and cultural surroundings.

"We hate the whole underground label," says Proton's Thomas Williams. "That underground scene constantly wants to complain, and wear oversized clothes, and have no girls at their shows and stuff like that. That scene, to me, is stagnant. I don't consider myself an underground artist."

When Williams and Larry Baker formed Proton in the late '90s, it started out as a rebellious and political group in the mold of dead prez. Its 2002 debut is called

Vintage Vegetarians. But in 2007, Proton has reinvented itself. Its new songs sound hard, addressing hood life with cynicism and razor-sharp detail. Williams argues that the group's wordplay sets it apart.

"I think our approach is more artistic and intellectually based than your average dude who says, 'I'm gettin' ho's, I'm gettin' fucked up,'" he says. He points to "Notice Me," a song that parodies would-be thugs who make sappy pop songs for crossover appeal. "After you listen to a lot of our music for an extended period of time, you'll find that it's not to be taken at face value. It's not so serious," he says.

Gripplyaz, for his part, says, "My rhymes might be simple, but they're short and they get to the point." He describes himself as a satirist of sorts whose aggressive attitude is moderated by a sense of humor: "I'm a left-field type of player, and I have a don't-give-a-fuck attitude."

Hip-hop tradition is steeped in comedians, from Ice Cube to Devin the Dude, who construct dissolute personas so compelling and believable you can't tell if they're real or imaginary. It's that enduring quality that has already won Proton and Gripplyaz fans. A recent show they performed together at the Drunken Unicorn drew nearly 100 people. But they have yet to make records that reflect their ambitions and onstage charisma.

Proton's newest disc is Girls and Ghetto Sh*t. Both members say it isn't a legitimate album. But since it features all-original songs, it's also not a mix CD – which tends to cobble together freestyles and random demo material. Some of the songs pair real-life experiences – getting in fights with girlfriends, smoking "the purp" – with higher aspirations. On "One Step," the group strives to succeed while "moving at a mile in a minute."

"It's a collection. It's a prelude to our next album," Williams says. "People keep asking [for music], so we've got to give them something. It's a supply-and-demand-type thing," he adds. "This is something for our fans so they can enjoy the show more and be more involved in the Proton experience."

Gripplyaz is also working on a follow-up to his last album, Cum and Get Slum. "I'm seven songs deep into my project," he says, adding that it'll be titled I Don't Give a Fuck.

Though they have yet to realize their full potential, these acts may point toward a new wave in Atlanta hip-hop. "We're not talking about trap music, and we're not snapping and popping," says Gripplyaz. "The difference between us and other [Atlanta indie rap] artists like Collective Efforts is that I don't consider us underground artists. I consider us overground MCs that just haven't been discovered yet."

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