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Atlanta’s hip-hop dominance is discussed often, but not like how Joe Coscarelli covered it in his new book, Rap Capital. Joe, a New York Times music reporter since 2015, spent four years researching and interviewing over 100 sources to get the contemporary story about Atlanta’s culture-defining scene.
This is a character story, led by Lil Baby and his mom. Joe’s relationship with the hit rapper dates back to 2017 when Lil Baby was still a mixtape artist. Another recurring character is Quality Control Music’s Kevin “Coach K” Lee, whose ties with the city are deep. His influence reaches the top Atlanta artists across eras.
Joe came onto the show to take us through the book’s journey, both for him to write it and for the characters themselves. Here are the highlights.
Atlanta’s mixtape runs had an influence on the streaming era
Music streaming has lowered the barriers to entry and lessened the power of gatekeepers, most of which were based in Los Angeles and New York. Atlanta already had a strong decade in the 2000s, and it took it even further in the 2010s.
Atlanta’s underground rap scene became the playbook for streaming releases. Artists like Future, Rocko, Migos, and Travis Porter dropped mixtape after mixtape, all before their debut album. It was quantity over quality. Streaming rewards those who are consistently good more than those who are occasionally great.
It’s a reminder of Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek infamous quote. Ek was really saying “Artists need to be more like Future.”
“I love to see when art lines up with the technology of the moment. These Atlanta rappers were in the perfect place at the perfect time to take advantage of that explosion,” Joe said in the interview.
“Never count Atlanta out”
Recently, Young Thug famously said Atlanta will run rap for another ten years. If so, that would put the length of Atlanta’s reign atop the industry, past New York’s run from the ‘70s to the early ‘00s.
Joe shares Young Thug’s optimism for one major reason (and it’s the same reason the city warranted an entire book): Atlanta artists, more than any other city, have evolved with the times.
This evolution spans multiple decades, multiple artists, and multiple sounds. There’s the whole Dungeon Family. Gucci Mane and trap music. Lil Jon and crunk. Thug and mumble rap. Joe is confident this trend will continue, especially with drill music.
“You can never count Atlanta out. You might not know exactly what is coming next but there’s always more kids like this, taking what came before them, putting a new twist on it, and all of a sudden, it’s on the radio.”
Crumbling of monoculture
In this era, niche stars have risen and household-name superstars have fallen. But as Joe brought up, this growing media trend has its benefits too.
“It’s almost healthier for some of these artists to say ‘I’ve seen what happens on the fame side and I don’t want that part. I just want to make my music and play for my fans.’ That’s become more and more of a possibility without having to play the game with the gatekeepers.”
A prime example of this is Bad Bunny. He has the number-one-selling album of 2022 in the United States — an album that is almost entirely in Spanish. Ten years ago, Bad Bunny would’ve likely been forced to perform in English to reach the masses.
“Artists have found freedom…your audience is going to find you. You can still have as much of a footprint but not in the same everybody-knows-the-same-10-people way.”
Listen to our full conversation here on the Trapital podcast.
0:00 How the book came together and finally clicked
5:00 Role of Quality Control’s Coach K in Atlanta story
8:45 Lasting effects of pandemic on music industry
11:42 Which era of Atlanta hip-hop to focus on?
13:30 How streaming helped launch Atlanta rap into the mainstream
15:30 Building trust with his sources despite racial differences
18:16 Did Joe receive any pushback while reporting?
20:35 Evolution key to Atlanta rap’s longevity
26:05 Adapting Rap Capital into a movie
31:28 The crumbling of mainstream culture
[00:00:00] Joe Coscarelli: I wanted to tell the story through characters, through people, not just, you know, you can run down the discography of all the amazing Atlanta musicians, right? You can go through the label history, read the reviews. But I always want to sort of pull back like, who’s behind these people? Who’s behind that person? So that’s why I think, you know, mothers were huge, fathers, you know, friends, people who are around these artists growing up, I wanted them to be human characters, and I wanted the side characters to be as big of a part as the famous people ’cause I think they’re as crucial to the equation.
[00:00:30] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to the Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:58] Dan Runcie: Today’s guest is Joe Coscarelli. He’s the author of Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story, and he’s a culture reporter at The New York Times. And this book that he wrote, Rap Capital, I cannot recommend it enough. If you listen to this podcast, if you read the newsletter, if you watch any of the clips from our conversations or any of the posts on social media, this book is made for you. It’s a street-level epic about the most consequential music culture today, Atlanta Rap. Joe put so much thought and care into how the book came together and tying everything from the Atlanta murders that happened decades ago and how that shaped the rap culture and the broader culture for black folks in Atlanta that we see today, and how that led to someone like Lil Baby, how that led to someone like Coach K having such an influence over hip hop music and the culture for decades now. This book was a great opportunity as well to have a trip down memory lane. A lot of us understand how influential Atlanta’s been, but it was great to have it be told from a unique way. We also talked about broader trends happening in the streaming era right now in music, what a movie or film or TV show adaptation could look like for Rap Capital, and more. Here’s our conversation. Hope you enjoy it. All right. Today we had Joe Coscarelli, the author of Rap Capital: An Atlanta story and read the book, really enjoyed it, and I got to ask because I was going through the synopsis and you said this was four years in the making, and I got to imagine with a book like this, there was some point when things started to click in that four-year process. When did you feel like things were coming together for you?
[00:02:40] Joe Coscarelli: So I knew that there was a book in this stuff because I had done a handful of stories through my day job at The New York Times about Atlanta. I started this beat in late 2014. So., You know, my first couple years on the job, streaming was really taking over and specifically rap music and streaming. So I just found myself over and over again talking to the same group of people, right? I did a Migos Story, did a QC story that featured Lil Baby, one of his first interviews. I wrote about Drew Findling who’s a lawyer in the book that’s all over the news these days in various capacities. So I knew from those stories that there was something here. But I didn’t know what it was going to be. I knew I wanted to not just tell a history, but follow characters in real-time as they tried to make it. That’s something I always want to do in my work. You know, so my favorite art ever is like Hoop Dreams or a music documentary like Dig!, which follows two bands across a long period of time. One of them makes it, one of them doesn’t make it. That’s always what I want to bring to my reporting is this idea of a journey, right? And it doesn’t even matter what the destination is, but following, specifically artists and musicians as they’re trying to make something out of their lives, that to me, is just a timeless tale, right, of ambition and dreams, and so I knew I had a handful of characters that I wanted to go on this trip with, but I didn’t really know how it tied into the broader story of Atlanta until a real marathon brunch interview with Lil Baby’s mother, Lashawn. He was, you know, he and I had a rapport at that point. I’d interviewed him a few times. I did talk to a lot of people around him, and he was kind enough to set me up directly with his mom. And, you know, we sat down at a brunch place outside of Atlanta. And, you know, she said, I asked him, I asked Dominique, her son, we’re like, what do I tell him? And he told her tell him everything. And she really did, her whole life story became part of the book, especially the foundation of the book, in the first part. And she had such an incredible life on her own. You know, I hope she writes a memoir someday. But when I learned really that she had been friends in school with an early victim of the Atlanta child murders, which were happening on the west side of Atlanta in the late seventies, early eighties, that she had a firsthand relationship to that historical event that I feel like really left its mark on the city. And she was open. She said it sort of affected the kind of mother that she became, and I think ultimately helped set Dominique, Lil Baby, on his path. And all of that could be traced to, like, something she went through as a kid that also spoke more broadly to Atlanta and the way it has developed socially, politically, culturally, especially Black Atlanta over the last 40, 50 years. So that was a real breakthrough moment for me, and I knew that I could start with her story, which in many ways was also the story of Atlanta in the last, you know, half a century.
[00:05:30] Dan Runcie: And in reading that first piece, too, I could see how much care and thought was put into it from your perspective of going through what happened with those murders and then how that traces directly to someone like Lil Baby because it’s hard to tell the story of Atlanta hip hop without doing all of that. And that’s something that I think is often missing with so much of the discussion about Atlanta’s run, which is why I feel like your book does stand as its own and is able to have a unique voice and perspective on this.
[00:05:58] Joe Coscarelli: I appreciate that. Yeah, I wanted to tell the story through characters, right, through people, not just, you know, you can run down the discography of all the amazing Atlanta musicians, right? You can go through the label history, read the reviews. But I always want to sort of pull back like, who’s behind these people? Who’s behind that person, you know? So that’s why I think, you know, mothers were huge, fathers, you know, friends, people who are around these artists growing up, I wanted them to be human characters, and I wanted the side characters to be as big of a part as the famous people ’cause I think they’re as crucial to the equation.
[00:06:31] Dan Runcie: And of course, Lil Baby is one of the central characters. Another one is Coach K, who’s one of the folks leading up Quality Control Music. Why was it important for him to be a central character in this too?
[00:06:42] Joe Coscarelli: So Coach K is amazing because you can tell basically the last 30 years of rap music only through his career, right? When I said I wanted to be able to trace characters back through the years to artists and eras, like, Coach has seen it all, right? This is a man who was passing out Church fans to promote Pastor Troy and the congregation in the mid-nineties. Then he goes from that to representing all these producers who were, you know, crucial to founding the trap sound, someone like Drama Boy. And then he’s working with Young Jeezy, right, as the Snowman mythology takes over and, you know, Def Jam South and the explosion of trap music on a national scale. Coach is behind that, right? You know, there’s a moment I talk about in the book where they put the commercial on the radio right, in Atlanta, when the Jeezy’s mixtapes, Trap or Die are coming out, right, and it’s All Traps Closed today, like National Holiday, you know, like these are the things that Coach was cooking up behind the scenes. Then he works with Gucci Mane, right, who was blood rivals with Jeezy. And then that brings you up to the present day, and in 2013, he and P, his partner Pierre Thomas, they founded Quality Control, and then they have Migos, right, and then they have a Lil Yachty, and then they have Lil Baby. And through Coach K, you could talk about every single one of those careers and so many more that he was on the periphery of, even if he wasn’t the main executive or manager involved. So I just think, you know, there’s nobody more crucial to that ecosystem at this moment and through the last couple of decades than Kevin Lee, Coach K.
[00:08:14] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I think one of the things that stands out about their run, too, is that it wasn’t just one artist and they faded and rose with that artist. And I think that’s what we’ve seen a lot in the streaming era, frankly, from a lot of the record labels that have rose up. They had the runs, and even when one star started to fade from a group that was the hottest group in the moment, they had others that came through, and you’re seeing that infrastructure. I feel like that’s one thing that sets them apart from a lot of the others at this moment.
[00:08:42] Joe Coscarelli: Totally. For them, it’s all about artist development, right? Like, I remember being around them in the office, you know, in late 2017 and they were talking about whether they should have gone after Bhad Bhabie, you know, the Cash Me Outside girl. And like they would see little things pop up and think like, oh, should we get in on that viral moment? And then they would be like, No, that’s not what we do. We build artists, we build careers, we build brands. And something that’s so special about Quality Control and why they were able to, you know, be the backbone of this book is because they are invested in that sort of old school Motown-esque record business thing of I’m going to pluck someone who might not even think they’re a musician, and we’re going to believe in them, and we’re going to back them, and we’re going to build it from the ground up, right, and we’re going to build it Atlanta first. Whereas so much in the viral marketing, streaming world of today is going top-down, right? It’s a TikTok hit, then it’s a major label deal, and this person’s probably never even played a show before. They’re still very invested in the grassroots bottom-up approach, and I think that’s worked for them so many times now that the playbook is, you know, you can’t deny it.
[00:09:48] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I think that also that goes with something that I’ve seen you talk about even outside of the book as well, just some of the challenges that a lot of the artists and labels have right now in terms of now that the pandemic has, at least in this stage that we’re in right now, there’s still some lasting effects in terms of how that’s shaping the charts, how that’s shaping how music’s released. What have you been seeing there from that perspective?
[00:10:11] Joe Coscarelli: I mean, you know, a lot of people have been writing this year, yourself included, about the sort of stagnancy of the charts, how, you know, there aren’t a lot of new breakout hits, especially in rap music, which had been so dominant for the last decade, essentially, as things started to move online and towards streaming. And I think you’re right that a lot of that is pandemic hangover, right? Like, people were not outside like they used to be. Artists were not sort of feeling that energy, that creative energy. They were creating often, like, in a little bubble. I’m sure you get projects like a Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE that comes out of that pandemic moment and maybe speaks to some people’s hopes and dreams for what the next few years will be, a little freer. But you don’t have any chance for that sort of grassroots development, right? So we saw a lot of things come off of TikTok, but as I was getting at, like, those people, they haven’t had the opportunity to touch their fans, right, to speak to the sort of ground swell of support. So you get a lot of things that feel fleeting and then you have something massive, right? Bad Bunny or like Morgan Wallen that’s just like lodged up there at the top of the charts ’cause I think those guys had a fully formed thing going into the pandemic and were able to ride it through. You know, when you think about a lot of rap, especially regionally, that’s bubbling now, there’s a lot of drill, right? Like, you think of the stuff coming out of Brooklyn and the Bronx and that sound traveling all over the country. And I think, you know, since Pop Smoke, we haven’t really had a sort of mainstream emissary for that sound. And it is such a local, such a hyper-local, such an underground phenomenon that you haven’t really had someone translate it for the mainstream, you know, maybe that’s going to be Ice Spice, maybe that’s going to be Fivio Foreign, and like, you know, maybe it’s going to be someone younger. But I think we’re still waiting, right, for what that next wave, especially in rap, is going to be. You see the sort of sun may be setting on the trap era that’s described in the book in the rise of drill as the default of what a rap song sounds like, but again, that hasn’t really crossed over quite yet.
[00:12:11] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it’s been fascinating just to see how the streaming era has shaped things, specifically with how much you focused on it in the book. And with a topic like Atlanta hip hop, there are likely so many sectors that you could have dove in on, and of course, Lil Baby being a central figure did lend itself to the streaming era. But how did you decide which era to focus on? Because there’s so many time spans that you probably could have done and equally deep dive on.
[00:12:38] Joe Coscarelli: I always knew I wanted to tell a contemporary story, right? Like, I’m more of a reporter than I am a historian. So I’m not a musicologist, I’m not a music critic. You know, I’ve never really written criticism in terms of album reviews or show reviews, things like that. So I knew I wanted to be able to witness as much as I could firsthand and write about that because that’s what I love to do in my work, getting back to this idea of, you know, being a fly on the wall for someone’s journey, for someone’s rise, for someone’s fall even. So it was always going to be contemporary, right? And I feel like you have to tell a little bit of the history, right? You have to talk about Freaknik, you have to talk about OutKast, and the Dungeon Family, and LaFace Records, and So So Def to be able to get to this moment. But I think for me, like, I’m not someone who writes about music nostalgically. Sure, I love the stuff I grew up on, but I’d rather look forwards than backwards. And I think, character-wise, I just want to stay with the cutting edge, right? I want to see what’s next. I want to see who’s changing things, who’s, you know, who’s moving things forward. And that’s just what I seek out in my life and in my job. So I think it was always going to be as contemporary as possible.
[00:13:46] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that makes sense. I think that streaming also allowed us to see more growth from the areas that I think, in a lot of ways, were a bit held back from gatekeepers controlling everything. And I think Atlanta’s a perfect example of that, even though they had the massive rise, you know, nineties, early 2000s, it went to another level this past decade.
[00:14:09] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah. And I think you know that sort of in-between time, right, when you think about post-Napster and file sharing, post-CD crash in the early 2000s. But pre-streaming, like, a lot of what became the go-to playbook for streaming was happening in the underground mixtape scene, especially in Atlanta and in the South. And you think of things like DatPiff or you know, sites like that where free mix tapes were coming out and it was all about quantity, right, in a way that really set these artists for the streaming era, right? You think of Lil Wayne’s mixtape run, Gucci’s mixtape run, and then Future’s mixtape run. It was just about music, music, music, music. And so Migos sort of got in at the tail end of that and they released, you know, whatever it is, 5, 7, 10 mixtapes before they put out a proper debut album. And then when they finally hit with something like Culture, their second proper full length, the world had finally caught up to them and the rest of the Atlanta artists. And yet there’s this whole group in between that gets left behind, right? Like, I’d love to read a book about Travis Porter and Rich Kidz and you know, these Atlanta rappers who are really, like, laying the groundwork for a lot of this, even like Rocko or you know, early career Future. Like these guys, I think if they would’ve come out once Spotify was as big as it is now, they would’ve been huge national and international stars. And instead, they sort of get caught in this in-between zone. So, you know, I think, I love to see when art lines up with the technology of the moment, and I think these Atlanta rappers were in the perfect place at the perfect time to take advantage of that explosion.
[00:15:39] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I agree. And then even reading it too, and thinking about this conversation we’re having, so much of you framing this as you’re a reporter, you’re capturing what’s happening contemporary, and given the insights and the things that people are sharing with you, the amount of trust that you were needed to develop with them, and we talked a lot about the aspect of race and how that plays in. How did you navigate that yourself as a white man and trying to tell this black story and making sure that you’re capturing it in the best way possible?
[00:16:10] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah. You know, obviously, I thought about this a lot in the reporting, in the conception of the book, and certainly in the writing and the editing. I think the job of any journalist, right, is to be like a respectful, humble, open-minded guest in other people’s worlds, right, and to be well aware of what you know and what you don’t know. Like, that goes for when I’m interviewing a female artist, a trans songwriter, reggaeton star. I think, like, to navigate spaces where you’re not an insider, like, it’s best to come prepared and engaged and curious. Like, I did my research, I knew what I was talking about to the extent that I could, but I also was eager to, like, defer to people who are the experts, right? I made sure that everyone from artists to managers, family members, like, they knew that I wanted to take whatever platform I had with the book and with my work at The New York Times, and sort of take their work seriously to shine a light on it, and recognize it as important as it is, right, this cultural product that has this immense influence and impact. So I wanted to really preserve these moments to the best of my ability for the history books. And I think that my subjects got that right away. You know, I don’t think it took a lot of time for them to spend with me to see that I was really dedicated in that mission, that I was going to be respectful of their time and space, interested in the work that they were doing and the lives they were living. And then, like, your credibility travels, right? One person can vouch for you with another, you know, with a collaborator, with a family member. And I just wanted to just defer to them and their experiences. And I think I took that with me in the writing of the book. You know, of course, there’s analysis, there’s observation, but I really wanted people to speak for themselves. The book is very quote-heavy. I really wanted to capture people as they are, do an accurate portrayal of what it is they’ve been through. Hopefully, I think the quality speaks for itself. But I wanted to, you know, give these people whatever, spotlight, whatever platform I can offer. And then tell the truest version of how they relate it to me.
[00:18:03] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that’s the best and the most fair way to do it. Along the way though, did you receive any pushback or any type of challenge as you were doing this?
[00:18:10] Joe Coscarelli: There’s very little. I think I’m fortunate enough to, you know, have an institution like The New York Times behind me. I think, you know, people take that name seriously. It opens a lot of doors, whether or not I was a good reporter. And I think when you can open the door and then when you show up, and you’re thorough, and you’re accurate, you know, I’d written a lot about these people before the book, I think that the trust just grows and grows. And I was also finding people really at the beginning, right, of their careers in a lot of cases, like Lil Baby, like, you know, he may not be able to spell my last name, but he knows that I was that guy with him listening to his mixtape tracks as they were deciding what was going to be on, you know, his second, his third mixtape. And he’s seen me for years along the way, supporting that journey, you know, engaging with the work, like I said. And, you know, meeting people at the beginnings of things, they remember, right, who was there with them and who was supportive and who got it. And I think that that went a long way for me with my subjects. I think the other thing is like, you know, in the music industry, whether it’s rap, you know, southern rap, regional street rap, like, there’s always a white guy around, you know. I talk about this in the book, whether it’s a dj, a producer, a manager, you know, this is a trope, this is a tradition. And I think, you know, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes poorly. But I try to always be above board and respectful in my dealings. But I think, you know, when you’re riding around in Atlanta, with a rapper and you look like I do, you know, someone’s just going to assume that I’m either from the label or I’m from The FADER, you know, something like that.
[00:19:41] Dan Runcie: Exactly. Exactly. But no, I think that, given this, as you mentioned, yeah, there’s plenty of precedent for people having done this before. And yeah, I think the care that you bring into it with the book is clearly shown. And thinking about that, as you mentioned, just you driving around Atlanta, getting a feel for the vibe of the city and everything else, spending so much time there, how do you feel about the run that Atlanta’s currently having and how this will continue? Because I think that like anything, people are always thinking of what is the next thing. How long does this last? We, of course, saw the east and west coast rise and fall. What do you feel, like, the next decade or so it looks like for Atlanta in hip hop?
[00:20:19] Joe Coscarelli: I mean, the thing that’s been so amazing about Atlanta, the reason it can be the subject of a book like this is because every time you would think it was over, they would just come up with a new thing, right? So like, you know, you think back to OutKast, you think back to So So Def, you know, you have the run of Ludacris, who becomes, you know, this crazy mainstream success story, you have Gucci, and Jeezy, and the rise of trap, and T.I., you know, becomes this huge crossover star. And then you think that that’s over. And then you have crunk, and you have Lil Jon, and you think that’s over. And then here’s comes Waka Flocka Flame coming up from under Gucci, you know. Even someone like Gucci, he’s helped birth three, four micro-generations of Atlanta rappers. And, you know, someone like Young Thug comes out and you’re like, oh, like, this is too eccentric. This is never going to happen, right? Like, this is only for the real heads, only for people listening underground, and then all of a sudden he’s on SNL, right? And he’s in Vogue. And just over and over again, you have these guys sort of breakthrough with something that seems like it’s too outre. It’s too avant-garde. You know, even Migos and their sort of like punk repetition, you know, people heard Bando and said like, oh, this is annoying. Like, this is going nowhere, and then all of a sudden the whole radio sounds like that. So there’s a part of me that does feel like, you know, this book is sort of capturing a contained era, right? The first 7, 8, 9, 10 years of streaming and the intensity and the tragedy of the YSL indictment. Like, maybe that’s a hard stop to this era. But I think you can never count Atlanta out, right? So like, you might not know exactly what’s coming next, but there’s always more kids like this, like coming up with something new, taking what came before them, putting like a twist on it, and then all of a sudden it’s on the radio, right? So like, even me, like, I see like a real post-Playboy Cardi, you know, sort of experimental streak in a lot of these rappers. I think there’s some drill influence coming into Atlanta. And I don’t think the next generation has really revealed itself yet, but I’m very confident that based on the infrastructure that’s there, based on the amount of talent, the artists who call it home, both from there and not, like, I really think there’ll be another wave, and there’s just always another wave, in a way that even New York, you know, has struggled to bring the championship belt back that many times, you know? But I think, you know, Atlanta’s regeneration has always been sort of its calling card.
[00:22:41] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I think one of the things that stands out about Atlanta too, and this is a bit of a sad way to frame it, but they’ve been able to withstand the jail time or the charges that happen for a lot of the rappers that are in their prime. Of course, we saw that happened with the West Coast in the nineties, Death Row, and you know, everything with Suge Knight and Tupac. I think we saw that a bit with the East Coast as well. But Atlanta, unfortunately, whether it’s T.I., Gucci, like, a lot of them have served time, but the city still has been able to still thrive in hip hop because there was always someone else coming through. And I think even more recently now with Gunna and Thug, dealing with the RICO case and everything, who knows how that’ll end up. But I think the difference for them and the city now as opposed to other areas is that even if you know, let’s say that they may not be able to make music or this hinders their rise, there are other folks that can continue to have the city continue to rise up in the music around it.
[00:23:38] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah, and I think so much of this music, right, the music that’s come out of Atlanta in the last 30 years, like, it comes from struggle, right? It comes from necessity. And the things you’re describing, whether it’s, you know, violence, death, you know, the criminal justice, the weight of the state on these young black men, mostly. And they do tend to be men, especially in this scene, though that’s changing too. You know, I think when people feel backed into a corner, like, art can come from that, right? So whether it’s YSL directly or it’s the people, they influence, the people from their neighborhood who are going to fill that void. I think, you know, the people hear the urgency in this music, right? They hear the, whether it’s the joy or the pain, you know, there’s a lot of feeling here. And I think, yeah, the tough times, people bounce back out of that. And trap is so much about that in general that I think it’ll just continue to happen.
[00:24:29] Dan Runcie: Definitely. And in the beginning of this conversation, you talked a little bit about how Hoop Dreams and that type of story was definitely an inspiration, and of course, that was nearly a three-hour long movie, if I remember correctly, the timeframe there. In terms of this book, already reading it, maybe through the first few chapters, I was like, oh, this is going to get turned into some type of TV or series or a movie or something like that. I could already see that happening. Was that in the back of your mind as you were thinking about what this could look like? Obviously, I’m sure you’re so focused on the book, but were you, as you’re thinking about the inspiration, were you thinking about multimedia adaptations?
[00:25:05] Joe Coscarelli: You know, I wasn’t as much as I should have been, right? Otherwise, I would’ve been recording my audio better to turn it into a podcast, to then turn it into a doc series or whatever it is. I’m very much like a print writer, right? Like, I’m a newspaper reporter. I don’t even think about images really as much as I think about words. And yet, like, so much of my influence, like, you know, Hoop Dreams was always the sort of the north star of this, but, like, I’m a huge consumer of television and film and stories of all kinds. So I knew I wanted the scope of the story to at least have that potential, right, to feel grand, to feel cinematic, to feel like it was about a time and a place and characters, which I think, you know, is often easier to do in a visual medium. So I had it in mind. But I was really too focused on just getting the words down on the page and getting the material I needed. I hope you’re right and that now that this thing exists, right, this big book, like you said, Hoop Dreams is a three-hour movie, and this is like the book equivalent of a three-hour movie. It’s almost 400 pages, so it has that sort of epic quality. And I think there is, you know, hopefully, more to mine there, not necessarily in recreating the stories that I’ve already captured, but in that essence, in that spirit and the way that Atlanta sort of goes in waves and goes in cycles. I hope there’s a way to be able to capture that visually as well.
[00:26:23] Dan Runcie: If you could handpick any director you would want to lead a project on Rap Capital who’d you pick?
[00:26:29] Joe Coscarelli: Oh, man. All time. I mean, that’s a tough one. Look, I mean, what Donald Glover and Hiro Murai have done with their Atlanta series, you know, it’s much more surreal than this. It’s fictionalized, but the parts of it that are based, you know, more on earth and more in the music industry, like, are just captured so well. I think, Hiro, as a director specifically, was able to, you know, all the aerial shots, like the highways, the roads, the woods, like that version of Atlanta is really seared in my mind. And, you know, I know they’ve done their version, but I think there’s more to do. But then there’s like the younger generation, right, of video directors and stuff that I’m just waiting to be able to see their worlds on a larger scale, you know, someone like Spike Jordan or someone like Daps who have their hand in, or, you know, Keemotion, like people who have their hand in a lot of the visual representation of this music on YouTube. And I think I would love to see what they would do, right? I would love to see the present-day music video directors’ version of Belly, right, in Atlanta. Like, Belly, one of my favorite, you know, top five favorite movies ever, and has that sort of that music video quality to it in a lot of ways, but then blown up for the big screen. Like, I want some of those guys to have a canvas like that to paint on.
[00:27:42] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that’s a good answer because I think that, especially the Hiro one, because I think that Atlanta, as a TV show, does capture so much of it. And you’re right, the episodes that are set in earth and not the surreal, you know, messages. But yeah, the ones that are set in earth do capture a lot of the intricacies about the music industry and I think the reality, which is I think something you do in the book as well. I also think that some of the newer music video directors, too, just given the world that they’re capturing, do so much of that well, too, and I think having that is key because, of course, some of the more established names have a picture of Atlanta, but it may be more relevant to that, you know, LaFace era of Atlanta, which, while very impactful, isn’t what your book is about.
[00:28:27] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah, I think there’s a new wave, right, and the people who are responsible for the iconography of this wave. You know, even the crazy run of Young Thug videos, I think the director Be EL Be, is that his name? You know, just super, super surreal sort of dream world stuff. But I want to see what those guys can do with the present day, given the budgets, you know, if they were given a Hollywood-size budget instead of a rap video-size budget.
[00:28:53] Dan Runcie: Well, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for that because I feel like it’s one of these inevitable things and it’ll be fun to watch for sure.
[00:28:59] Joe Coscarelli: Fingers crossed. Yeah.
[00:29:00] Dan Runcie: Yeah. All right. Well, before we wrap things up, I do want to go back to one thing about the music industry because you had tweeted something out, I forget how long ago it was, but Punch from TDE had, shoutout to Punch, he had asked a question about when did the personalities become bigger than the music, and you had responded and said, well, there’s some nuance here. Look at someone like Rod Wave who is, you know, selling multiple times more than someone like Megan Thee Stallion. And I think Rod Wave is someone that, unless you know the music, you’re not necessarily tapping in, versus Megan who’s someone that’s performing at all the big award shows and has a lot of the big features, how do you make sense of that dichotomy between those examples and maybe what it says about where we are in the industry and how to make sense of it?
[00:29:45] Joe Coscarelli: I think there’s just been a real crumbling of the monoculture, right? Like, before. You would expect, if somebody had a number one hit, if somebody had a number one album, everyone would know who they were, right? I would know, you would know, your mom would know, my grandma would know. They would at least have some vague idea, right, of who Shania Twain was, or you know, Katy Perry, whoever it may be, even Ed Sheeran, to name one of the last, I think, monoculture stars. Whereas today everything is so fragmented, right? You write about this in your newsletter, whether it’s streaming TV or movies or music, like, everything finds its own little audience, and it’s sometimes it’s not even that little, you know. Jon Caramanica, the pop music critic here at the Times, and I collaborated on a piece, you know, I think probably almost four years ago at this point, saying like, your old idea of a pop star is dead. Your new idea of a pop star is, you know, it’s Bad Bunny. It’s BTS. It’s Rosalía who’s not selling a ton of albums, but can pack out two shows at Radio City Music Hall without saying a word of English, basically, you know. And people are finding these artists on their own, right? You think of NBA YoungBoy, another one who’s like, basically, the biggest rap artist we’ve had over the last five years, and he gets no radio play. He’s never been on television, he’s never played SNL. He has, you know, maybe one magazine cover, national magazine cover in his past, that happened when he was, you know, 16, 17 years old. And yet, like the numbers on YouTube are bigger than Ariana Grande’s, for instance, you know. So I think these audiences have just splintered. And there are a few people who permeate, right, personality-wise, you know, Megan Thee Stallion or whatever. But often the music is somehow divorced from that, right? Like, I think there’s far more people who know these next-generation stars from being in commercials or, you know, Bad Bunny in a Corona commercial or whatever it is, then can sing one of their songs word for word. And I think that’s fine. You know, I think that a lot of artists have found freedom in that, right? I keep coming back to artists who sing in Spanish primarily. Like, before I would be that to cross over, you had to change, right? You had to start singing in English, at least somewhat, like a Shakira or whatever it is. But now, that’s no longer a prerequisite because your audience is going to find you on Spotify, they’re going to come to your shows, they’re going to buy merch. And even if you’re not getting played on Z100 or, you know, Top 40 radio, you can still have as much of a footprint. It’s just not in that same everybody knows the same 10 people way, you know?
[00:32:10] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think that the fact that someone like Bad Bunny has an album that’s not in English, that has been on the top of the US charts for, what, 30%, 40% of the weeks of the year is incredible.
[00:32:24] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I think that he is a celebrity, right, he is in films, he’s in Bullet Train, he’s in commercials, whatever. But I still think if you, you know, maybe it’s different in New York, but if you went on the street and you asked, you know, your average 42-year-old white woman who Bad Bunny was, or to name a Bad Bunny song, it might not happen. But he’s still selling out Yankee Stadium, you know, so it’s this weird give and take of, like, what makes a hit these days, what makes a superstar. I think, you know, to bring it back, like, Lil Baby is in this boat too. Like, he’s as close to, we have, I think, in the new school as a mainstream superstar, right, headlining festivals, you know, he’s performing at the World Cup. He is sponsored, you know, Budweiser sponsors him. He’s in, you know, all sorts of commercials, and he is really moved into that upper echelon. But he is still not a celebrity, right, in the way that a 50 Cent or a Jay-Z is to everyone. But he is to a certain generation. So it’ll be interesting to see if he can sort of push past that last barrier and become a household name. But he doesn’t need it, right? He doesn’t have to be a household name to be the biggest rapper in the country.
[00:33:28] Dan Runcie: Right. I think the part that I’m really fascinated by, too, is how this separation of, yes, you can be someone that is more known for personality than music, how that will translate to the labels they’re assigned to, which of course are in the business of people actually streaming and listening to your music, and they’re not necessarily in the business of selling personality or selling brand deals, right? Like, they’re not getting the Pepsi deals or they’re not, like, that’s Pepsi doing that, you know what I mean? So it’ll be interesting to see what that looks like ’cause obviously I know that there are legal challenges and transgressions with maybe why someone like a Rod Wave or like an NBA YoungBoy may not be getting asked to perform at the Grammy’s, right? Like, I think that’s pretty easy to understand. Or even someone like a Summer Walker who I think that does very well from a streaming perspective, but I think, you know, personally, just isn’t the personality type to want to be all out there, right?
[00:34:21] Joe Coscarelli: Yeah, has no interest in being a celebrity, but I think it’s almost healthier, right, for some of these artists to be able to say, like, I’ve seen what happens on the fame side, and I don’t want that part. I just want to make my music and play for my fans. Like, I think that’s becoming maybe more and more of a possibility, where you can speak directly to your fans and not have to play the game, right, with the gatekeepers that might not actually be turning into anything at this point other than mind share. So, yeah, there’s a lot of different kinds of stardom right now, and I think, like, the cult star, the, like, mass cult star, Tyler, the Creator, you know, the way he built up his career. You’ve written about this over so many years. Like, he doesn’t have a smash hit, he doesn’t have an Old Town Road, you know, or a Call Me Maybe, or whatever it is. He doesn’t have that defining record or pop cultural moment. He just has years and years and years of solid growth, and people respond to that, and that you can pack arenas on that just as easily as you, and maybe even more effectively than you can on the back of one or two massive hits.
[00:35:25] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, definitely now, for sure. It’ll be fascinating to watch and I’ll be looking out for your continued reporting and thoughts on this, yeah, such a fascinating time in the industry. But Joe, it’s been a pleasure, man. Hey, if anyone listening, if you are a fan of this podcast, believe me, this is a book. I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll enjoy it. But Joe, for the folks listening, where can they get Rap Capital?
[00:35:47] Joe Coscarelli: Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story, out October 18th, available wherever books are sold, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Get an audiobook, should be out soon at your local bookstore. Yeah, hopefully, you’ll be able to find it. Rap Capital. Thanks so much for having me.
[00:36:00] Dan Runcie: Awesome. Thanks for coming on and great work again.
[00:36:02] Joe Coscarelli: It was really fun. Thanks.
[00:36:03] Dan Runcie: Really good.
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