WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Paper Boi and Earn spent the entire first season of Atlanta working to get the money and recognition they deserve. Success is finally coming in Season two, but with so many caveats it makes me wonder if it’s even worth it.
In last week’s episode (“Sportin’ Waves”) Al’s budding career is keeping him away from one of his favorite things: weed. He was robbed at gunpoint by his connect, and he can’t find a new dealer who’s willing to serve him without taking his photo and putting it on the net. And, in this week’s episode (“Money Bag Shawty”) he can’t even enjoy celebratory shots at a bar without a server asking to get put on.
Earn has to deal with his own troubles with success.
With the help from a distressed white woman who complained about his song on Snapchat (think of the mother who was upset over Vince Staples’ “Norf Norf” song) Paper Boi has earned his first gold plaque. And Earn received Paper Boi’s first streaming check in the mail, of which he gets a percentage. After losing much of his money last episode — after Tracy’s botched gift card scam — it felt like a relief for Earn to have a possible win again.
After all, he just wants to stunt.
Problem is that Earn can’t actually stunt with any of his new money. First, he and Van look to attend a movie and get VIP tickets. The theatre employee won’t accept his $100 bill, and when Earn offers to use his debit card, she says that she needs to take a photocopy of his ID and card. Meanwhile, a white patron standing behind them pays with a Benjamin with no problem (and in Georgia open-carry fashion, flashes his gun when Earn attempts to bring the racism to his attention.) He later attempts to go to a club with Vanessa, only for the club owner to kick him out, accusing him of using a fake bill.
During a limo-transported visit to Onyx strip club, Al hits Earn with the unfortunate reality: “Money is an idea…There’s a reason a white man can go into a bank and get a loan, and you can’t even spend a $100 bill.”
To redeem a day of disrespect, Earn goes to the strip club where he gets finessed the whole night: a 20% commission and a $200 minimum to get some dollar bills. At one point, he’s put on blast on the Summer Jam screen just so he could tip a dancer. Then, in classic Atlanta randomness, Michael Vick is outside of the club betting people on foot races. In his continued attempts to stunt, Earn takes him on and, of course, loses handily to the Atlanta sports icon.
After the first two episodes saw robberies at gunpoint, Earn was this week’s Robbin’ Season victim.
The episode brings to mind the constant criticism that poor black people receive: don’t spend money on frivolous things like Jordans or jewelry. We all know that Earn should be spending his money on getting his own place. But he’s taken so many L’s, he’s desperate for a W. When he finally gets money — which is so scarce for him to come by in the first place — the dehumanization remains the same. By the time he finally arrives somewhere to spend, he only wants to have fun and be respected. The same applies to people of color who are often criminalized: when the world stunts on you every day, it’s perfectly natural to want to stunt back.
But there’s still uncertainty behind how many more music industry checks Earn will be able to cash. This is the second episode in a row that Al has been introduced to another possible manager, and Earn’s fears seem to be getting closer to fruition.
Al gets that introduction during a studio session with Clark County, the rapper viewers were introduced to last week in a Yoohoo commercial. If the Chance The Rapper comparisons weren’t at a fever pitch last week, they certainly will be now: he has a squeaky-clean image, a cheery spirit, mainstream opportunities, and an anti-major label theology. It’s even funnier to imagine Chance as Clark County: a moody, ornery creative who sics his goon of a manager, Luke, on a studio engineer because he can’t stop the recording interface from crashing.
But regardless of his image, Clark County is using Luke’s relationships to nab Yoohoo commercials and movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, Al is getting offers for cocaine white cheddar Rap Snacks (which he turned down.) The good thing is that he’s apparently stable enough to turn down offers he’s uncomfortable with, and he’s made progress from last season; but one has to wonder, if he’s willing to stick it out with his family, or if he’ll move on to a team that can get him bigger opportunities.
After all, Paper Boi wants to stunt, too.
The Soundtrack For “Money Bag Shawty”
2 Chainz & Lil Wayne, “Mfn Right (Remix)”
King Krule, “Czech One”
Gucci Mane & Migos, “I Get the Bag”
Miguel Fresco, “Above Ground”
SahBabii, “Marsupial Superstars