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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
5/31/2004 2:44:24 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Outkast.

The city that introduced the world to Coke is trying to teach the world to sing a different tune: hip hop. After a decade in the wings, Atlanta, headquarters to the world's best selling soft drink, has come centre-stage as an American, and therefore, global hub for the hip hop industry. Acts such as OutKast, Usher and Ludacris, and producers including L'il John have all emerged from this city of the Deep South to challenge the music business's traditional focus on Los Angeles and New York, and reinforce Atlanta's image as a boomtown for creative entrepreneurs.

Michael Maudlin, chief executive of the Artistic Control Group, estimates that Atlanta artists and producers could account for as many as one in five US chart acts. Further, a study by Georgia State University put the economic impact of the commercial music scene on the state at close to $1bn, with more than 8,900 jobs created.

The push now is to ensure that the city has the infrastructure - in financial, architectural and marketing terms - to turn a series of breakthrough acts into a long-term growth story for the local economy in the way country music has done for Nashville, Tennessee. Shirley Franklin, Atlanta's mayor, has convened an informal task force to enhance Atlanta's music reputation by opening more live venues in the city and drawing in major awards shows. SunTrust Bank recently opened a private banking unit to cater to hip hop acts, similar to that it opened in Nashville or in Miami to capitalise on the boom in Latino music.

Urban music, which includes hip hop as well as R&B, is the second-biggest seller category in the US - it outsold rock in 2002, and was a close second last year. It generated almost a quarter of the $11.8bn of US music sales in 2003. Its stars are now major elements in celebrity campaigns for Volvo and other blue-chip brands seeking to appeal to racially mixed young audiences, though Ludacris saw a sponsorship deal with PepsiCo revoked because of his controversial lyrics. But anyone visiting Atlanta would hardly know that the city is a hotbed of the genre.

"I still see the infrastructure of the music business in Atlanta and Miami as a work in progress," says Brian Williams, senior vice-president of the private banking group at SunTrust Bank. "The infrastructure you find in these two cities is about 10 years behind Nashville."

There are no kitschy tourist traps or watering holes, where the next generation of stars perform while waiting to be discovered - as there are for country music in Nashville. Atlanta's hottest studios, which have produced countless Grammy-winning albums, could be mistaken for abandoned warehouses.

"The thing that's exciting about Atlanta is it still has that underground feel," says Mauldin, father of Jermaine Dupri, the mogul producer behind acts such as Kris Kross, Lil Bow Wow and Janet Jackson.

"As mainstream as Usher and OutKast are now, it doesn't feel mainstream here. There's still that underground, street-level vibe. It's something about being in the South."

OutKast, whose double album Speakerboxx/The Love Below follows years of toiling in relative obscurity, have sold more than 3m copies of their release which topped charts from UK and Europe to Japan. It is the biggest Atlanta act to break in recent years. Aficionados of the scene, however, say that the duo's music is not typical of the trademark Atlanta sound - known as crunk - which relies on heavy dance club beats.

But how did Atlanta - like New York, Seattle, Chicago, Liverpool or Manchester at different times before it - become so closely associated with one musical genre? Or turn itself into a magnet for wannabes, and the service sectors which support them, as well as a must-see for media observers looking for the next big thing?

"Part of it was that the West Coast rap scene died after Tupac died," argues Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, an associate editor at Vibe, a magazin

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