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Atlanta's Season 4: Time, Earl Sweatshirt & 808's & Heartbreak

The 4th and Final season of Donald Glover's Atlanta just came out with its first 2 episodes. This is my favourite show, and the first 2 episodes of this new season are exactly why.

I thoroughly enjoyed the third season, the creative direction & cinematography hit a whole new level with directors like Hiro Murai and Donald Glover taking bold visual risks, the series got way darker, more surreal, and delved deeper into social issues, showcasing how capitalism and racism go hand in hand across the globe, with the season being primarily set in Europe. There were some hilarious moments, some truly creepy moments, and some series highlights like the eighth episode “New Jazz” which might be my favourite episode of the entire series so far.

Donald Glover said his seasons are following the chronology of Kanye West albums, the first album being College Dropout with Earn being a Princeton Dropout, the second season being Late Registration with Alfred moving up in the entertainment industry but not fully breaking out, the third season is Graduation with Paperboy being a full blown superstar and traveling the world, similar to how Kanye was a cemented superstar, so the 4th season is 808s and Heartbreak, and with the first episode being centered around death, and the second episode being mainly centered around therapy, the 808s and Heartbreak influence in this season is already very apparent.

The show has always centered around the characters socioeconomic situation, the main point of the plot was for Earn, who was homeless during the beginning of the series, to manage his drug dealing viral rapper cousin Alfred through the music industry, so they can both get out of their predicaments.

The show is a surreal exploration of that place where race, culture, poverty, wealth, fame, crime, corporate interest, & white supremacy all collide, which is the existence of the black person, but more directly the rapper. Rappers are worshiped by some, feared by some, there’s a stigma on the term, there’s a social expectation, a look that comes to mind, a certain uniform, and even if that’s not what rap is, that perception still exists, especially for a street rapper like Paperboy.

What is a rapper? Who is a rapper? Who is a rapper to society? What is a day in the life of a rapper? What is the average life expectancy of a rapper? How different is it being a rapper to being any other vocation? What are the socio economic ramifications of being a rapper? What are the sociological impacts of it? How does it affect an individual and those around them? All of these questions were being explored, and the series got increasingly weirder as the characters delved deeper into the world of being successful rappers, because it really is that weird of a path in life.

The third season had a scene where Tupac was literally killed by a white woman, who suffocated him with a white sheet, as a room full of people watched, which to me was very literally saying that white supremacy killed Tupac and we all watched it. Everyone watched Tupac suffocate to death, the media, the fans, the labels, black people, white people, he talked about exactly what he was going through in his music, he told the fans in interviews, and nobody stepped in to help him, even remotely, until his untimely demise. Tupac was signed to Death Row records and we all watched his execution, but that’s kind of the deal with all street rappers, as seen in the drill genre. Fans watch these kids talk about their actual situations in the street, the rappers do interviews, the kids keep count of the kills they have, they make music about their dead friends, and everyone watches their slow euthanasia like its a movie, similar to Van and Darius watching Tupac.

The first episode of the fourth season went back to why everyone fell in love with the show. This episode has all of the main characters back in Atlanta following their own narrative thread that brings them all to the same location by the end of the episode. Darius must evade a scooter-bound stalker; Al gets caught up in a scavenger hunt; Earn and Van become lost in their local mall.

We don’t know how many years have passed since the European tour but the episode starts with Darius returning an airfryer to a target thats being looted presumably during the 2020 riots, he’s then followed by a Karen with a knife on a wheelchair who thinks he’s stealing, an ode to the actual wheelchaired knife toting Karen from the 2020 riots (who was also really sprayed with a fire extinguisher) Darius spends the rest of the episode running away from her. Paperboy goes on a scavenger hunt through the music of Blueblood, who we only hear through his posthumously released experimental music (that I haven’t stopped playing since I watched the episode) Earl Sweatshirt plays the deceased rapper, who many are calling an ode to MF DOOM. Van and Earn go to their local mall and end up trapped in a timeless vault of their exes.

The unifying theme of this episode is Time. Darius left Alfred in traffic to return an airfryer, something that should have just taken moments, but the store was being looted, then the Karen made it her mission to chase him with a scooter, without any proof that he sprayed her with a fire extinguisher, or stole anything from the store. At one point Darius stood on top of a box and told her that she can’t get to him anymore, and she said she’d wait till he came down and Darius just ran through a fence and told her to get some help, the last scene of the episode was the sound of her wheelchair. That woman was willing to spend all of her time enacting her own form of justice. That's a very surreal yet true statement about the real life Karens, the white woman 'speak to the manager' types that make everything their own personal business, they make themselves police officers, and certain things that normal people would just ignore become their duty to uphold. Trying to stop looters isn’t any of your business, yet you’re willing to spend your time, while you’re in a wheelchair, trying to be some type of hero, and most of the time not only are you not a hero, you’re actually racist, entitled and wasting everyone else’s time.

Paper Boy’s narrative starts with him being stuck in traffic, which is an example of wasted time. He was originally supposed to go to the airport, but while stuck in traffic Darius asks him where he’d go if he doesn’t like traveling anywhere, after becoming derailed in traffic by a fan recording him, Paperboy embarks on a scavenger hunt based on Bluebloods lyrics when he sees a restaurant that’s mentioned in the song. Bluebloods scavenger hunt involved zoo pies, swimming pool at the local rec center, mangas, an arcade, a 3D movie, and finally ending with entry into his funeral. Paperboy finds Bluebloods wife there and she tells him she helped set the scavenger hunt up for Blueblood, he put everything he had into this posthumous album while he was sick, she thought more people would show up but only 5 people showed up.

“I remember he used to talk about the culture. And how he was doing it for the culture. So… When he found out he was gonna die, he decided to do this. He was pretty sick towards the end, but... He still managed to record an album and plan a scavenger hunt. T-shirts, comic books... Barbecue sponsorships. You're the fifth person to show up. I think he expected more people. I'm actually surprised, too. I mean, all you had to do was listen to the album. He put so much effort into it, but I guess you don't always get back what you give. He just worked so hard. And I just wish he had had more fun. 'Cause that's all it is in the end.”

Blue Blood seems to be an ode to MF DOOM who was known for his concept heavy albums, underground experimental styles, as well as fans finding out about his death months later, and not being really aware of his real name or life outside of rap. Blue Bloods character is also very reminiscent of J Dilla, who notoriously created an album on his death bed, barely being able to tap his MPC board and having to get his mother to chop his samples for him. Dilla was willing to give everything he had for the culture.

Blue Bloods wife said she wished he had more fun, but I think the entire episode was showing us how he had fun. The rappers name is Blue Blood, Blue Bloods are typically people of a noble birth or aristocrats, usually throughout history aristocrats are afforded a certain level of financial stability and comfort which allows them to practice their creative pursuits and have recreational activities, successful rappers are that class of people that have afforded themselves a certain level of luxury, and have a lot of free time, but once you can do anything, you don’t know what to do anymore. Paperboy used to rap for fun when he was drug dealing, now he’s a successful rapper, he can fly anywhere but he doesn’t like it anywhere, and the thing he used to do for fun is now his job. Blue Bloods death impacted him because he enjoyed his music, because he is a fan of rap, and Blue Blood put all that work into the album because he was putting his life into the album, for the culture, Paperboy being the culture. Paperboy explains to Blue Bloods wife that his music meant a lot to him.

Kurt Cobain once said “there’s only a few people that really love music, and they’re all musicians” Blue Blood was dealing with his own mortality, and talking about actual steps you had to take for the scavenger hunt through the lyrics, but most people don’t even listen to lyrics, most people just vibe to songs. Most people don’t really care enough to go on a scavenger hunt for an artist, but that doesn’t stop certain artists from putting their heart and soul into projects.

The amount of work Blue Blood put into his albums resonated with me because I’m an underground artist that builds entire worlds through music & art only for it to be experienced by a handful of people, but I do it because I love it. It’s fascinating that Donald Glover created this character because he’s one of the artists that pioneered intricate worldbuilding as seen with his album Because The Internet, an album that featured screenplays, short films, stage performances, websites, apps, and more layers than any person could ever extract in one lifetime, and Gambino is obviously a much bigger artist than Blue Blood seems to be, but it still does speak to the fact that regardless of how much work & time you put into something, sometimes you really don't get the same back, and at the end of the day it really is just fun.

Van and Earn had the most obvious relationship with time as they went back & got trapped in their local mall and kept meeting people they dated in their past, the mall had no concept of time as seen by the moment where one of Earns exes said she had been lost in the mall since Now You See Me 2 was playing in theatres, which was 2016. Van meets a boyfriend of hers that had been working at the same AT&T store from a decade ago. I believe this mall was supposed to represent how it feels going to the local mall you grew up around, and sometimes so much in your life has changed, you've seen more and gone through so much, but you’ll see people in the same place, working the same jobs, frequenting the same locations for their whole lives. Earn and Van find their way out of the mall when they find a weird dark door that they don’t know what’s on the other side of. Earn tells Van to stay back so he can scope the other side and she tells him she doesn’t want him to leave her behind like all the other women, and Earn tells her he could never leave her like them, they go through a dark corridor where we only hear sounds until they end up in Blue Bloods funeral with Paperboy.

This episode was everything I originally loved about Atlanta, it was hilarious, layered, profound, surreal and absurd. The new episode comes out tonight and I'm really excited. Glover said that these last 2 seasons will be one of the best seasons in television in history and its really been hard to argue after seeing what they were able to achieve with the previous season, I'm looking forward to how this plays out.

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