Atlanta (Recap) | Sportin’ Waves (S2 E2)

by Bryan Washington | via Vulture

America loves a rapper that finally makes it big, but it also loves crucifying them once they’ve gotten there. So in the second episode of Robbin’ Season, it makes sense that Al gets robbed by everyone: His plug of ten years steals his cash at gunpoint, the “tastemakers” at Not Spotify steal his time, white girls singing acoustic rap covers even strip Al of his story, and it’s a paradoxical reversal for our man. For the entire first season he couldn’t catch a break for being himself, but now that he’s finally “made it,” Al is finding that everyone suddenly needs him to be someone else.

Paper Boi isn’t the only one having a hard time performing: Earn is starting to realize that a manager’s shoes might be too big for his feet, while Tracy (yes, he’s still around!) spends the episode prepping for a job interview (“Some marketing job or some shit”). Everyone’s on stage, but no one’s really enjoying it, and “Sportin’ Waves” is a master class on the forces underlying those performances: code-switching and authenticity — or the lack thereof.

Because everyone code-switches, but it’s rare that we catch it on television. And when I say rare, I mean you just don’t see that shit at all. Partly because syndicated shows aren’t terribly conducive to dynamic characterization, but also because you seldom see those characters navigating different levels of class. They’re either rich, or they’re dumb rich. Or they’re deeply suburban. Or they occupy a space so privileged by the dominant culture that they bypass those interactions altogether. So the plots we know and love usually aren’t tackling how poverty interacts with wealth within the same season, let alone a single episode. Or how, in some cases, depending on where you are and who you’re with, you are literally performing. Or how performing is all some people can do.

We find ourselves with three performances in this episode: Al’s is the first, and its results are the steepest. He exchanges pleasantries with a business associate and promptly ends up robbed because, as his plug says, he’ll make the money back from the track. (Of course, Al isn’t making cash off of the track. As he’s told us before, “There is no money anywhere near rap.”) There’s barely a moment to recover before he finds himself in the glossy offices of Not Spotify, where he’s regaled with small talk (everything in the fridge is “all organic, gluten-free”), office jokes (“everyone calls me 35 Savage”), and the absence of a CD player in the entire building (“it’s a new state-of-the-art system — it’s all wireless, and fully integrated into the platform”). But Al isn’t having any of what Earn deems “a vibe,” to the extent that he walks out of a live performance. Later on, in his search for another plug (by way of Darius, who knows everyone), Al’s status as the next big thing drives those transactions to nowhere. In one, he immediately ends up on Instagram (“#igotthatpaper”), and in another, Al finds himself in a similar hell: a group chat he wanted no part in.

For better and worse, the catalyst for Al’s come-up is now a hinderance: his “authenticity” has become very much a drag. But in a moment when what we expect from our rappers, and who’s setting out to remold that paradigm, is expanding, the question of what they owe their audience is just as taxing. If a rapper’s hard on tape, is he obligated to maintain that persona the entire calendar year? Can heThe “he” here is very deliberate: female rappers aren’t allowed the same autonomy by the industry or the general public. If their male counterparts are held to bizarre standards, the women’s are Kafkaesque. take time off with his partner? With his twins? Or what if he has the opportunity to get the bag while he’s at it? What does he stand to lose when playing the game means playing a chameleon? As Al and Earn watch a young man literally dance on a table for a very white audience, Earn notes that the building “has a vibe.” Al agrees. But even then, before Al walks out on the whole thing, Earn is quick to concede that it’s all going to pay off in the end.

Click HERE to read the recap of “Sportin’ Waves.”

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