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Atlanta's Season 4 Episode 3: D'Angelo & The Industrialization of The Human Spirit

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

The fourth season of Atlanta is on its 3rd episode and it just keeps getting better every week.

The 808s & Heartbreak influence on this season continues, this season is very much centered around mental health with the second episode being about a therapy session, with this episode featuring another death, and how the industry affects the mental health of artists and managers.

Episode 3 centers around the concept of Artist vs Industry, the gentrification of culture, & the effects of the industrialization of the human spirit,

The first episode of the season featured the death of the rapper Blue Blood, which came up again this episode. Blue blood was not a popular rapper, but he was the rappers favourite rapper, and yet nobody knew about his death until months after his death, only 5 people showed up to his funeral, and he had a very low ceiling in terms of financial success or popularity. Paperboy being a rapper himself began contemplating the idea of the ceiling of his career, of his legacy, his financial situation and his longevity. We find out that Paperboy is currently selling out arenas and he's trying to figure out whats next for him.

This show is hilarious but it can get really deep without you even noticing it until you really think about it. I was lost after episode three, I didn’t really know what it meant, this was one of the more surreal dreamlike episodes while also being very concrete and real. The episode explores the concept of Art vs Industry through Paperboy and Earns separate narrative threads which are two sides of the same coin. We get to see a little more into the industry and management side of the music industry when Alfred becomes a manager to a Young White Avatar, and Earn starts working in a new PR Firm and tries to recruit D’Angelo.

Earn is working at a PR firm and one of their clients almost shot a black kid who was trying to sell cookies (this actually happened) which started to hurt her book sales, so the firm was brainstorming ideas to get rid of this scandal by framing the black kid, trying to bribe him, putting out crime reports about his neighborhood to make her seem justified. Earn who was visibly annoyed about this conversation asks if they could work on other clients, to which the firm responds no, so he asks if he could recruit a new talent and they told him it wouldn’t matter unless he can get someone high profile like Banksy or D’Angelo, Earn says he can get D’Angelo which sets him on this insane dreamlike week long quest of trying to see D’Angelo.

Earn went into a dungeon next to public bathrooms at a Rally’s fast food restaurant with the word D’Angelo on the front door. The room was like a prison cell with blood on the floor, & a guy sitting in front of a safe door reading a book. Earn kept asking if he could see D’Angelo but the man wouldn’t respond until a week later when Earn finally snaps after being offered Dasani water, first he asks what is a D’Angelo, then he says We Are D’Angelo, and then he finally asks if he could experience D’Angelo. It is then that the man opens a trap door/vent at a wall and Earn climbs through to see a man with braids, singing How Can You Mend a broken Heart by Al Green and eating a peanut butter, fried chicken skin and seasoning sandwich.

The man explains to Earn how D’Angelo is a complex network of men, women and D'Angelos spread across countries, Earth and light, as he rubbed peanut butter on his forehead like Rafiki did to Simba. The fake D’Angelo asks Earn if the PR Firm that wants to sign D’Angelo would actually be worthy of D’Angelo’s presence. He then tells Earn about his dream that the show has been discussing since the first episode, with hands that are pulling Earn down into the water, he asks him why he’s so sure the hands intend to harm him. Earn thanks the D’Angelo experience and leaves.

Alfred on the other hand manages a YWA which is a Young White Avatar, named Yodel Kid (an ode to the Walmart yodel kid) who ends up dying of a drug overdose and winning a grammy.

After performing at a bar mitzvah, Paperboy is approached by a man who offers him a million dollars to teach his son his mannerisms so that his son could be a successful rapper. When he gets to the studio Paperboy finds a bunch of rich white kids that don’t even know who he is, except for yodel kid, making mediocre gentrified music.

Benny, the son of the man who “bought” Paperboy tells Alfred he could just chill out in the studio and collect a check while him and his friends make music. It’s then that Paperboy is approached by another rapper who tells him that he should be making more money by signing these artists, he takes him to a meeting where they explain to Paperboy that his career has hit a ceiling due to his age, skin colour and content.

Street rappers don’t really sell out stadiums, they told him that he won’t be able to afford his lifestyle very soon and that he needs to get into managing white kids in order to make any real money, unless he wants to end up like Blue Blood or as Ice Cubes best friend in Are We There Yet 5.

YWA + a Grammy = money was the calculation. Paperboy ends up signing Yodel Kid after Benny is stolen by the rapper from the studio, Paperboy manages to get him nominated for a Grammy but Yodel Kid ends up dying and winning a Grammy.

Paperboy, Earn and Darius meet up at a bar after the Grammys looking suited up but disheveled. Earn congratulates Al but Alfred asks Earn how he does it because managing artists makes him feel sick. Earn tells him he just reminds himself it’s not about what feels good, it’s about what survives. Earn leaves for work, Darius leaves to a party and Al sits at a bar questioning where he is in his life and career and that’s where the episode ends.

This episode highlights the different routes the characters have taken and the reasons for them. Alfred is an artist, he was dealing drugs before he became an artist. Alfred has always followed what feels good, he hasn’t really been in survival mode because he’s had money, he would smoke weed and make music, Darius would bake cookies and they’d sell drugs every once in a while. Then they became successful artists and got everything at their beck and call, as seen with scenes where Alfred would randomly text Earn for hundreds of pieces of fried chicken. On the other side Earn, who was originally homeless at the beginning of the series, is now a huge success through managing Alfred, but he’s having anxiety issues and enacting petty revenge against TSA agents.

In the second episode of the fourth season (which is one of the funniest and most beautiful things Ive seen on television) during a therapy session, we found out that Earns motivations stem from this chip on his shoulder from being kicked out of Princeton to being homeless, he’s plowed forward in survival mode to get the work done to prove people wrong and get himself and his family in a better situation.

There was so much going on in this storyline. There were some things that were hilarious, and true. The YWA concept is real, we can see various examples with Lil Bibby and G Herbo reaching new levels of success by signing artists like Kid Laroi, or Dr Dre reaching unparalleled heights by signing Eminem, or even Usher signing Justin Bieber. Black artists have historically faced glass ceilings from the marketability of their content, to the access to resources, to the lack of networks, it’s historically been more difficult for a black artist to be mainstream. Paperboy isn’t selling out stadiums and he really had to decide what his finances are gonna need to look like if he wants to maintain his rapper lifestyle.

It also speaks to the idea of industry and how industry started with the concept of slavery, and the music industry is really the commodification of human beings and how it parallels with slavery with Benny calling Paperboy the guy that his dad bought.

The episode deals with how managing artists can be exploitative if the manager isn’t invested in the wellbeing of the artist and they’re only invested in their own bottom line. Earn is Alfred’s cousin who he has known his whole life, they went to elementary school together, Earn is invested in Al’s wellbeing in a way Paperboy wasn’t invested in Yodel kid. Earn shields Al from the difficulties of the industry.

Managers and agents make more money if an artist dies because their sales get higher, so you can really profit more if you don’t have the artists best interest in mind. And many labels, agents and managers throughout history haven’t cared very much about their artists, this industry is notorious for disposing of its artists and treating them horrendously, Nina Simone was homeless after becoming famous, Marvin Gaye was broke and in debt until he was murdered, same with Left Eye from TLC. The industry’s main goal is to make money, and it will do it at any cost, and sometimes the cost is the artists life.

I didn’t really understand Earns side at first because I didn’t know about D’Angelos story. I’ve always been a fan of the music, but I didn’t know what happened to him.

D’Angelo, the artist, was this introverted musical prodigy who basically invented neo soul. He would write, produce and arrange his music, he started playing at three years old, he used to wear glasses and play video games, he was a nerd like the rest of us. This is not the impression many people have of D’Angelo because his biggest song is the song How Does It Feel which has a music video in which a muscular D’Angelo is portrayed nude as a sex symbol. This reflected in his marketing throughout that era of his career, which attracted that type of fan base.

The music video crippled D’Angelo, he was already introverted and insecure about his looks, but then he wasn’t confident that people liked him for his music because the women were coming to his shows to see him, which is why Earn wasn’t given access when he wanted to See D’Angelo, because D’Angelo isn’t to be seen, D’Angelo is to be experienced, in the truest sense. D’Angelo became insecure about his work, but his label wanted him to release music on their schedule, D’Angelo suffered from writers block for years, the label cut funding, he disappeared until some mug shots appeared where he looked different, and then he came back years later, only to disappear again.

We all grew up hearing horror stories about the music industry. Everything from leaving artists broke, to the illuminati, human sacrifices, the me too movement, and everything in between, this industry is notorious for being fucked up. The thing Atlanta shows us is why it’s fucked up, and how it’s not particularly the music industry that’s fucked up, it’s the culture of industry, and when that is paired up against an artist who is already hypersensitive to begin with, the results can often be deadly. The music industry commodifies human beings. Music is human emotional expression, if the conditions aren’t right for the creativity or the creative to thrive then the consequences are literally deadly.

D’Angelo is a musician of the highest caliber, and that comes with a heightened level of sensitivity. Add that with the culture of industry that wants you to produce a product within a certain period of time, add to that the pressures of fame, the pressure of curating your perception, the pressures of success, the pressures from the media and the pressure from the label, and it’s no wonder why Yodel Kid died in the show, or real life artists like Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, and various others who were medicating themselves to deal with the pressures of the industry died as a result of it.

Rick Rubin and Andre 3000 have discussed this on a podcast. Andre 3000 said he wasn’t confident about his music, and he explained how he had been diagnosed with hypersensitivity and social anxiety, and Rick Rubin explains how that’s what makes Andre and other artists so talented. Artists like Andre and D’Angelo, are the introverted sketch in the back of the class types who’s talents were extraordinary and objectified by an industry that didn’t truly respect what it is that they are doing.

This episode dealt with value systems, cultural values versus industrial values, is a Grammy really valuable or valid for black artists? Paperboy said he makes music for the streets but the other rappers quickly remind him that the streets can’t pay his bills, to maintain his lifestyle, & that he would have to reach a wider (whiter) audience.

D’Angelo escaped the industry, and the show tells us why. Industry executives didn’t respect and nurture D’Angelo like they should have. I believe the peanut butter, chicken skin and seasoning sandwich with the soul music playing was a depiction of the culture, it’s a combination of things that taste good, accompanied with music that sounds good, that aren’t valued appropriately. Do the people that decide the Grammys and Billoard value Al Greens voice? Do they value peanut butter, fried chicken, or wonder bread? Do they value D’Angelo? The idea of soul food and soul music is that it fills the soul, art is an expression of life and an enhancement to it, but we live in a world of industrialized art.

The industry’s goal is the bottom line at the end of the day, but that’s not why artists are creating which is why artists like D’Angelo, Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, Yasiin Bey and more have stepped away from the limelight, because they feel like the industry is combatting against the human spirit.

It's a tale as old as time, the industry represents the rigid dogma and bureaucracy of the human species, while the artists represents our free spirits, creativity and endless curiosity.

Industries and institutions can become so bureaucratic and devoid of any humanity because they’re not humans, they’re a system that require people to operate it. The people in Earns pr firm weren’t people, they were a set of problems that needed to be solved. Amazon isn’t a human, it’s a complex network of operations, and the humans in it are expendable and disposable because there are a million other people who will do the work that needs to be done until a machine is able to complete the tasks.

In industrial jobs where the task can be completed in assembly lines and factories like building cars, homes or clothes, it’s easy to remove the human element, but art and especially music is a completely different thing. Musicians are sensitive people or else they wouldn’t be musicians, musicians need to express and experience emotions all of the time, you need to feel the emotions of the audience, you need to be in tune with your own emotions, with the emotions of other players. Many musicians like Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Lil Peep and many many more have died due to overdosing or suicide due to this heightened sensitivity.

We are D’Angelo because humans aren’t made for the constraints of industry, D’Angelo isn’t a product, he’s not an object and he’s not a commodity, he’s a talented human being sharing his gift with us. Great artists are just sensitive people that need to be nurtured like a plant instead of exploited and disregarded as the music industry is notorious for doing.

At the end of the episode Alfred is left alone at a bar contemplating his future after coming to the realization that he's been shielded from a lot of the negatives of the music industry by his cousin Earn, who is currently suffering from the industrialization of the human spirit and has to attend therapy for it.

This season is touching on sensitive topics in the most nuanced, hilarious and beautiful ways. I'm really gonna miss this series when its over. There's a new episoode coming out tonight and I'm excited to see where this series goes. We Are D'Angelo.

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