Outcasts Search for the Love Above in Ambitious Hip-Hopera


You may think you already know what it is: a cautionary ‘hood-rap tale scarred by exit wounds and scored to booming basslines—pop propaganda for the radio-ready soundtrack. But where lesser works have died trying, ATL doesn’t derive authenticity from criminality. Rather, it unpretentiously serves class consciousness and conflict with its Cadillac music, attempting to capture—not capitalize on—the Atlanta scene that’s spawned an aesthetic and a mythology all its own, and is currently in full flourish. Music video vet Chris Robinson distills a fine vintage from rich sources, namely his cast of (mostly) certified ATLiens who bring organic charisma to their character’s interactions, playing them sweet like mash notes yet grown-ass as the men and women the tale’s teens are trying to be. First and foremost is Tip Harris (a/k/a T.I.), as a high school senior who spends his Sunday nights at a skate rink with his crew rather than adopt the dope boy lifestyle his younger bro aspires to. A debutant actor, T.I. seems equally at ease with his canny demeanor as with his mesmeric drawl, fluently swaggering between mellow and malicious from behind a winsome perma-squint. And as if channeling William Hurt’s latest villainous turn, Big Boi’s trapstar kingpin borders on self-parodic, delivering hilarious quips with bristling menace beneath. It’s entertainment with ambition, but I can’t front though; the soundtrack is pretty fly too.