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The line stretches down the block. The show is sold out, but a cluster of people plead with the doorman to get in. “No ticket? Go home,” he tells them. We are all waiting outside Aisle 5–a mid-sized venue in Atlanta’s Little Five Points area–to witness the city’s most exciting grassroots music movement since the mid-2010s SoundCloud explosion.
Call it what you want: the plugg revival, rap’s hyperpop branch, the Popstar Benny effect, it doesn’t matter. This is 2022. This is a demented iteration of reality that everyone entering this building and everyone reading these words must face. This music, these psychotic sounds, help so many of us evade choking on disillusion. The melodies spilling from the chests of these rappers and the minds of these producers could only exist in this very moment in time. In the billions of possible realities this is the one where a short man who goes by the name Bear1Boss can say to the crowd, “If you fucks with HotSauce lemme hear you say ‘EUUUUHOEUUUUH,’” and be met with harmonious gurgles.
It is new–all of it. The way the crowd is interacted with, and the ways in which the crowd interacts. An opener, Yellabandanna, locks eyes with a camera on the side of the stage and performs for it. For part of a song, we become his video set. What is a moment today but a chance for more content?
Tony Shhnow shuffles past me carrying four boxes of hot pizza. Some things remain the same. There is an ounce of weed sitting on a nearby table. It is a good crowd. Mercury takes the stage.
She has lime green dreads that rest near her thighs. She wants a mosh pit; they all call for mosh pits. She raps–really raps. No backing track for “SCAMMERC” and she hits almost every word. She performs a very good unreleased song that begins with the tag, Surf Gang, bitch.
Next up is MuddyMya. The crowd thickens as she takes the stage. She looks like both a Bratz doll and an assassin. She doesn’t want a mosh pit–she demands it, and it is hard to refuse her. She wears a black t-shirt that reads “COURTNEY KILLED KURT” in all-white caps. It looks like she is releasing all of her energy. It looks like she needs this. Something inside her is tangled and this is her way of unraveling. Her aura pours out like glossed magma; the crowd revels in the heat. Bodies on bodies jump and swing while shouting “Stop all that shit ‘fo I pull out the gun.”
The Taylor Swift flip, “C*NT,” produced by OK, begins to play. This is when it clicks. MuddyMya makes PluggnPunk.
We go to buy shirts. It looks like almost every rising Atlanta rap faction is in attendance. UglyNAtlanta, present. Most of the GSU-turned-Awful Records affiliates as highlighted on Willie’s Tape, present. RobOlu, a rap veteran whose hands have touched these sounds as much as nearly anyone, present. Even Connor Ray, an old friend who frequented shows during Atlanta’s 2015-2017 DIY movement, is present.
Everyone knows that tonight is not to be missed. But, why? It all boils down to one man.
Tonight does not exist without Popstar Benny. He is Atlanta’s backbone: a platinum producer, street-certified A&R, restless manager, and first-rate DJ. The specific frequencies of these sounds do not exist without Popstar Benny. He cultivated all of this. Tonight he created a moment, but for years he has been anchoring a movement.
The last time an event definitively marked a new era in Atlanta rap was in 2016 with Lil Yatchy, Pollàri, and Larry League, right as “One Night” was blowing up. Popstar Benny, then known as Benny Jetts, DJed at that show. Since then, he has been as prolific and patient as anyone in music. Now, the fruits of his labor are ripe, and the whole city gets to taste the nectar.
Behind hordes of people, the man himself hunches his Tacko Fall frame over a thin macbook and transports sonic programs into hundreds of minds at once. He rises only to express a satisfied stank face, dance a little, and joyfully poke his blunt.
I would not be surprised if Benny is running Atlanta by the end of this decade.
Chief Keef’s hits have gathered no dust. No songs move the impatient crowd more than “Faneto,” “Love Sosa,” or “War.” The venue is now a sauna.
Bear1Boss time. “Yo before I go on, I wanna make sure my lights are CRAZY.” The lights are crazy. We are blinded by LED as Mainodaplug gives Bear a thunderous introduction. Bear1 leaps out and contorts his body throughout the entire set. He moves like a feather in a hurricane across the stage. The whole thing is extremely disorienting. Bright lights are flashing, a puppet show takes place behind the DJ table, and Bear1boss caps off Michael Jackson dance moves with ballerina spins while performing some of the strangest rap music in existence. He ends the set on a heartfelt note, looking out into the crowd, proclaiming: “Yo seriously, if you have dreams–I know I sound like Juice Wrld, long live Juice Wrld, but this is serious—If you have dreams, if you have FUCKING dreams, follow your dreams because you never know what’s gonna fucking happen.” He waits a second before adding this next part: “And, and, there’s pros and cons to that. If you give up on your dreams, DON’T GET MAD AT THE WORLD.”
The last act is one of the greatest rappers alive, Tony Shhnow. From the way he handles himself and the mic, you would think he rules the world. There is no question about it–Tony has it. Everyone knows this. He is as good as it gets.
The night is over. I walk to my car and hear “Lifestyle” by Joony blasting out of an Acura. The line between what is meta and what is physical is blurring. Tonight, I do not mind that fact so much.