After a four year hiatus, FX’s Atlanta is back tonight. The Emmy-award winning comedy follows the exploits of Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover) as he strives to manage the burgeoning rap career of his cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), Alfred’s stoner best friend Darius Epps (LaKeith Stanfield), and Earn’s erstwhile lover Vanessa “Van” Keefer (Zazie Beetz). The show is, on its surface, a surrealist comedy about navigating the rap game, but that’s a reductive view—Glover and his writers merely use that as a device to deftly comment on the complicated nature of the Black experience in America.
Atlanta takes inspiration from everything from David Lynch to Tiny Toons, but some of scenes in the show are inspired by the real life absurdities of the rap game. With season three set to premiere tonight, GQ is taking a look back at all the times when Atlanta was inspired by things that have actually happened in rap.
Paper Boi’s Selfie With The Cops In the second episode, “Streets On Lock,” an agitated Paper Boi gets bailed out of jail by Darius after being involved in a shooting incident. As he’s walking out of the police station, an officer insists on getting a selfie with the rapper. Paper Boi begrudgingly obliges as the elated officer chants, “One more for the Instasluts.”
Something similar happened to Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz in 2013 when he was arrested for marijuana possession by Maryland State Police. Chainz posted the picture—where he looked slightly more amused than Paper Boi—on his Instagram but lamented in the caption, “Locked me up and then Wanted pictures smh.”
Rappers vs Bloggers Season one’s “The Streisand Effect” introduces us to social media personality Zan, an annoying blogger who first tries way too hard to befriend Paper Boi in person, before trolling him relentlessly online. Paper Boi eventually confronts Zan for talking trash and exploiting hip-hop culture before walking away exasperated by the lengths Zan would go for online fame.
Zan is definitely a composite character. A blogger having such a combative relationship with the artists he covers is reminiscent of DJ Akademiks, who has similarly covered/trolled/beefed with everyone from Shy Glizzy to Vic Mensa to Meek Mill to Freddie Gibbs. However, Akademiks rose to infamy after Atlanta premiered so it’s more likely that plotline was inspired by someone like DJ Vlad, who got roughed up by Rick Ross and his goons in 2008 after blogging about Ross’ past as a corrections officer. (Ross ended up paying Vlad $300,000 in 2010 over the incident.) At the same time, considering Zan’s character was racially ambiguous, had multiple jobs, and had a propensity for taking photos in front of butts, maybe it was also inspired by 40 Oz. Van?
The Biebs Atlanta was brilliant from the jump, but one of the show’s greatest strokes of genius was casting a black actor (Austin Crute) to play Justin Bieber in “Nobody Beats the Biebs.” In the episode, Paper Boi is excited to play in a celebrity basketball game only to have Bieber suck up all the attention and love despite acting like a complete jackass.