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Atlanta Officials Embrace Hip-Hop

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Atlanta Officials Embrace Hip-Hop

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Atlanta Officials Embrace Hip-Hop

Atlanta Officials Embrace Hip-Hop

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The city of Atlanta is making hip-hop a central part of its public identity. Officials say they see the music as a way of presenting a modern look and getting past images of the Old South.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Hip-hop often gets bad press. The shooting death this month of a Detroit rapper and efforts by Las Vegas officials to discourage hip-hop acts in the city are two recent examples.

By contrast, Atlanta is embracing the hip-hop community, making it a central part of its public identity. City officials see this as a way of presenting a modern look in getting past the images of the old south.

Joshua Levs has the story.

JOSHUA LEVS reporting:

It's a Friday night at a swank hotel in Buckhead, the upscale nightlife district. Photographers, camera crews from entertainment shows, and reporters are lined up facing a red carpet, catching shots of the night's headlines.

Unidentified Woman: Over here! Whoo!

Unidentified Man: Right here to your left. Wait a second.

Unidentified Woman: Over here! Thank you, sweetie. Thanks, Kris!

LEVS: That Kris they're talking to usually goes by another name, and he soon takes to the stage.

Unidentified Man: Ludakris, ladies and gentleman. Ludakris!

LUDAKRIS (Rapper): How you doing? Black people make some noise! Where ya'll at?

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

LUDAKRIS: Is anybody--everybody here intoxicated yet or no?

LEVS: This million-dollar party is the kickoff of a new magazine called Atlanta Peach, modeled after Miami's high-end glamour magazine, Ocean Drive. And for this city, homegrown stars like Ludakris are key.

Ms. ELIZABETH SCHULTE ROTH (Editor, Atlanta Peach): You know, Atlanta is the home to hip-hop.

LEVS: Editor Elizabeth Schulte Roth says hip-hop stars embody a kind of glamour.

Ms. ROTH: You know, there's nothing better than the hip-hop community and their cars and their jewelry. They have the styles, they have the flash, and you gotta love that. And we're just trying to emulate that.

LEVS: This is the hip-hop world many young people see and admire. It's about success. The magazine's first issue highlights local Producer Jermaine Dupri.

Ms. ROTH: And it's not just about the music. It's about the whole mogul world. I mean, he is an absolute mogul. He's bringing hotels, he's bringing a restaurant, he's bringing a vodka company. I mean, it's not just about--you know, hip-hop expands to so many reaches.

LEVS: It's a sign of the times that this magazine, trying to play up the city's strengths for readers and advertisers beyond Atlanta, is highlighting hip-hop. Many around the nation see Atlanta as a hip-hop Mecca, and local officials love it.

Ms. KATHLEEN BERTRAND (Vice President, Community and Government Affairs, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau): Hip-hop music has done so much for us.

LEVS: Kathleen Bertrand is vice president of community and government affairs for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city encourages hip-hop videos in Atlanta. And Bertrand says when the stars wear Atlanta jerseys and caps, it broadens the city's appeal.

Ms. BERTRAND: It really gives us an energy to a whole different population. This is not the meeting planner crowd. This is not the tradeshow organizer crowd. This is just this young, 25 to 45-year-old crowd. Many of them have money. They're in corporate America, but they love hip-hop music. And because of these personalities and stars and recording artists that are out there, they're viewing Atlanta in an entirely different way.

LEVS: And that's the goal. Atlanta wants to look modern and get past some old associations of the South, from the days of slavery and segregation. In fact, Bertrand brought up hip-hop when I was interviewing her about how the city deals with those older images.

Ms. BERTRAND: We try to position Atlanta as it is today: very vibrant, with an African-American population that's quite empowered, with a young, growing population here. We are the center of hip-hop music, and so we try to use all of those things to position Atlanta positively.

LEVS: The use of hip-hop to position Atlanta became clearer than ever when the city released a new anthem late last year by producer Dallas Austin.

(Soundbite of Atlanta's National Anthem)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) They say Atlanta is where you go to become your dream.

Unidentified Woman: In a world that has hope for all to be.

Unidentified Man: Hey, hey, hey…

LEVS: Mayor Shirley Franklin said it showed Atlanta is in touch with young people and built for the future. But it had detractors.

Mr. DICK WILLIAMS (Conservative Commentator): I think it's a risky business proposition. I've felt that from the beginning.

LEVS: Dick Williams, a conservative commentator, hosts a local TV program.

Mr. WILLIAMS: It brands Atlanta as a black city. And since convention and tourism is the single, most important ingredient of the city's success, you ought to be catering to major tourism, major corporations, major conventions. And those tend to be not white per se, but mainstream and white-oriented.

LEVS: He also feels the focus on hip-hop excludes many proud Atlantans. While the city is majority black, the metro area is majority white. Williams knows hip-hop appeals to white people, too. His kids love it. But there are many people, white or black, who don't associate with the music.

Mr. WILLIAMS: My main concern is that they've picked too narrow a part of what is white and black Atlanta.

LEVS: And he's worried about negative associations. They may be unfair, he says, but they're out there, and could scare off some executives.

Mr. WILLIAMS: If you said, as a hip-hop capital, you run the risk of having people confuse hip-hop with gangster rap, with thuggish behavior, with jeans down below the--well below the beltline, with undershirts, bling, bling, gold chains, the whole mess. And that isn't going to set well with corporate America.

LEVS: That image played a role in a recent controversy. The security director for a group of malls sent them a memo warning that the release of the hip-hop movie ATL could trigger behavior problems. No major incidents were reported. A spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department says there's no record of more violent incidents at hip-hop events in the city than at other events attracting a largely young crowd.

Still, some city officials concede there are drawbacks to strongly identifying Atlanta with hip-hop.

Mr. ROBB PITTS (Commissioner, Fulton County): There're positive and negatives associated with it, but I think there're more positives than negatives.

LEVS: Robb Pitts is the commissioner of Fulton County. He's bothered by images of violence and depictions of women in some lyrics and videos, and doesn't want Atlanta to come across as condoning them, but he likes positioning Atlanta as a home base for an exciting musical movement. He says the key is to work with artists who have cleaner images.

Mr. PITTS: It's just like athletics. I mean, the good guys, those who are articulate, who are--they keep themselves clean, they don't get in trouble--that's the crowd that we need to focus on.

LEVS: And as someone who has lived in this city for more than 30 years, watching so many changes, Pitts says he loves seeing a packed, diverse room of hundreds, singing and dancing together to a song about Atlanta.

For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs, in Atlanta.

LUDAKRIS: (Rapping) I got five Georgia homes where I rest my Georgia bones, come anywhere on my land, and I'll aim at your Georgia dome.

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