In the third episode of Atlanta season four, Paper Boi considers mentoring young white rappers and Earn has a cathartic meeting with “D’Angelo.”
With the fourth and final season of FX series Atlanta in full swing, Earn (Donald Glover) decides to continue his healing process with the help of a fake D’Angelo. The Jamal Olori-written episode “Born 2 Die” begins with Earn in a professional meeting about rebranding a white female author who pulled a gun on a Black delivery man. Although the author’s memoir became a New York Times bestseller, the delivery person filed a lawsuit against her. Seemingly disrupting the meeting, Earn asks if the company would consider focusing on other clients, promising to bring Voodoo vocalist and singer D’Angelo.
Like Paper Boi attempting to understand the cause of Blue Blood’s death in season premiere “The Most Atlanta,” Earn hunts for D’Angelo on his own, stumbling upon a Rally’s. On the side of the fast food restaurant is a restroom sign marked “D’Angelo” with an upside-down stick figure. Earn enters, discovering that it isn’t a bathroom but a prison-like portal with a seated guard reading a magazine and a floor pillow bed.
Holed in the room for a week, Earn is triggered by Dasani being the only water available. After a moment of angst, Earn sits in a lotus position, breathes deeply and says “Who is D’Angelo? We are D’Angelo. Let me experience D’Angelo.”
Somehow, Earn cracks the code, coming face-to-face with a faux version of the R&B legend, who listens to Al Green while preparing a chicken sandwich. Apparently “D’Angelo” has been waiting for Earn’s arrival, too, telling him exactly what a D’Angelo is.
“A D’Angelo is a complex network of men, women and D’Angelos spread across countries, earth and light. You have proven yourself worthy of our visage. So now you are a protector,” he says, spreading peanut butter on Earn’s forehead á la Simba from The Lion King.
Although Earn is disappointed, D’Angelo offers him another revelation.
“Since you were eight, you always had a dream where you were swimming and below are hands grasping to reach you,” he says. “You struggle to keep them from pulling you under. You fight to stay free. Why are you so certain the hands intend to harm you?”
The entire scene feels like a fever dream, or perhaps another step of Earn therapizing himself, as he thanks D’Angelo but declines to sign him.
In a dual storyline, Paper Boi attends a “Young White Avatar” seminar titled “Ready For A Grammy,” with middle-aged Black rappers who co-sign young white rappers.
“Everybody in here can rap they asses off. But if rapping meant you made money, then Cassidy would be a f**king billionaire,” the meeting’s host says.
The mentors envision monetizing off of Grammy-winning white rappers, as the rappers in the room are considerably old and under-appreciated by Gen Z-ers. Paper Boi later offers to mentor a teenage white rapper named “Yodel Kid,” made with the likeness of country singer Mason Ramsey. Paper Boi later attends the Grammys in support of Yodel Kid, who dies from a drug overdose before receiving his first Grammy for his eerily-titled album Born 2 Die.
Both Paper Boi and Earn are experiencing their own respective ego deaths through musical pursuits. As Atlanta gets more introspective toward the series finale, the two characters might face their own reckoning until meeting each other halfway.