Atlanta Picks a City Anthem: "The ATL"
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-anthem11dec11,1,4765995.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&ctrack=1&cset=trueAtlanta Tune Skips a Beat in the 'BurbsBy Jenny Jarvie, Times Staff WriterATLANTA ??? When Dick Williams heard his city's new anthem, he was aghast. The 60-year-old Fox television host ??? who sings in a choir ??? could understand only one line: "Get 'em up, get 'em up, get 'em up, get 'em up, get 'em up, let's go ???.""Not," he said, "a good line for a city with a high crime rate."Now that Atlanta is the first city in the United States to have an official hip-hop anthem, residents are agonizing over the meaning of the song.Mayor Shirley Franklin commissioned Dallas Austin, a hip-hop producer based in Atlanta, to write the anthem as part of her Brand Atlanta campaign to attract tourists and businesses to the city.Yet ever since "The ATL" ??? an up-tempo hip-hop and R&B fusion song ??? debuted in front of 70,000 football fans at an Atlanta Falcons game in October, Atlanta residents have critiqued its rhythm, its melody and its lyrics.One suburban reader of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution complained that the song told the world to "bring your boom-box and your bling-bling to Atlanta," and another said he could no longer identify with a city that had abandoned family values in favor of "gun-blazing, Ray Lewisadmiring thugs."Sarah Lattimer, a partner of LattimerMoffitt Communications, the marketing firm that conceived the idea of an Atlanta anthem, admits she was shocked by the critical interpretations of the song. " 'Get 'em up' is a club reference," she said. "In a dance club, people throw their hands in the air."Lattimer said she still believed that "The ATL" articulated the soul of Atlanta. She expected the song, which is performed by contemporary R&B artists including Monica, Ciara, Jagged Edge, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of TLC and Sammie, to enter the Billboard Top 40 and become part of the repertoire of Atlanta's high school bands, orchestra and nightclubs.She cannot explain why suburban residents took offense. "I can't speak for the suburbs," she said. "I don't know what goes on there.""The ATL" underlines the difficulty of defining Atlanta, the bustling, entrepreneurial capital of the New South. Although almost everyone here agrees the city has moved past "Gone With the Wind," tensions linger when it comes to shaping an identity that can unite urban and suburban, black and white, young and old.Atlanta has a reputation as progressive, but there is still a divide between the predominantly black city and the predominantly white metropolitan region. According to the 2000 census, the city of Atlanta is 61% black; the wider metropolitan area is 29% black.In the last decade, Atlanta's hip-hop scene has flourished, inspiring comparisons with Detroit's Motown and Harlem's jazz. OutKast, Usher, Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri are among Atlanta artists notching platinum records and Grammy awards.Still, many Atlanta residents are unaware that their city has become a hip-hop hub and that artists based in Atlanta ??? Young Jeezy, Dem Franchise Boyz and D4L ??? dominated last week's Billboard rap charts.Austin ??? who wrote "The ATL" but declined to be interviewed for this article ??? has worked with artists as diverse as TLC, Gwen Stefani, Madonna, Boyz II Men and Aretha Franklin.Yet, in a sense, hip-hop's presence in Atlanta is underground: It is played in basements, recording studios, strip clubs and night clubs in the south of the city.Dupri is Atlanta's most successful hip-hop producer and has worked with Usher, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. The Grammy winner and founder of So So Def Records said the city lacked awareness of its hip-hop industry."Atlanta is a music mecca, but you don't feel it," he said. "When you go to Nashville, the city sounds like country music. When you come to Atlanta ??? when you arrive at Hartsfield airport ??? you don't hear the hip-hop."Dupri, who recently signed a deal with EMI Virgin Records estimated to be worth $20 million, said he thought hip-hop could be lucrative for Atlanta.This year, a Georgia State University report estimated that the annual economic impact of Georgia's commercial music scene ??? which is concentrated in Atlanta ??? is close to $1 billion.Yet many Atlantans scoff at the notion that the commercial success of Atlanta's hip-hop industry could translate into a broader business plan for the city.Even though Williams, the Fox host, conceded that his children listened to hip-hop and that he battled them for control of the car radio, he said he believed that promoting Atlanta's hip-hop culture would deter businesses and conventions from coming to the city. "The city's decision to choose a black anthem is not smart marketing," he said.Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr ??? who wrote a newspaper editorial criticizing the "unintelligible moaning" of "The ATL" ??? said many suburbanites worried that Atlanta's city leaders were reluctant to embrace a broader audience. "There's a sense that the city's too parochial, that it is only looking out for the city of Atlanta," he said.S. Craig Watson, associate professor of radio, TV and film at the University of Texas in Austin and author of "Hip-Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement," said many Americans did not distinguish between commercial R&B hip-hop and hard-core gangster hip-hop: "Someone who doesn't know a lot about hip-hop just hears 'hip-hop' ??? and with that comes the stereotypes ??? the idea of young urban black men who are dangerous."For his part, Dupri does not fault what he calls the "stogey fogy people" in the suburbs for failing to embrace hip-hop. "They don't know about me," he said. "Nobody has informed them that this is their music."Among those not entirely ready to embrace the new anthem is former mayor and civil rights leader Andrew Young, who is on the Brand Atlanta committee. He said he had spent years trying to find an anthem for Atlanta." 'The ATL' is still not the song I'm looking for," he said. "I'm 73. I'm looking for something I can sing."A rhythm and blues fan, Young does not like hip-hop ??? apart from OutKast, which he said he believed was crafting a more sensitive and civilized form of the art ??? but he appreciates that it expresses the vitality and sadness that goes with the Southern tradition.Like country music, he said, hip-hop says: "I'm going to make it anyway."