Photo Credit: Ivan Lanz
LVRN, FRKO RICO, And Hennessy: Two Nights In Atlanta, America's Hip-Hop Capital [Recap]
When in Atlanta you do as the ATLiens do. If they pass you a bottle of Ciroc or Hennessy and a red cup, you better pour up. If they want you to go to Magic City — the city's most popular strip club — after a night of partying, you better go (and to answer your question no, this didn't actually happen). I followed this unspoken rule during the two days I was in Atlanta for Reebok Presents 3:AM.
3:AM in Atlanta centered on a collaborative capsule collection between creative collective and music label LoveRenaissance, better known as LVRN, and artist FRKO RICO. Both LVRN and RICO have achieved their respective success. Founded in 2015, LVRN now has its own record label through Interscope Records, serving as the home for artists like 6lack, Lou the Human, Spacejam Bo and Summer Walker. RICO provided artwork for Action Bronson's 2015 album Mr. Wonderful and Gucci Mane's post-prison release single "All My Children."
While coming together for this special collaborative endeavor, it's understandable why LVRN — which is made up of Justice Baiden, Carlon Ramong, Sean McNichol and Tunde Balogun — and RICO were in a celebratory mood. They were ready to introduce us to the city that inspires them — the city they call home.
Photo Credit: Ivan Lanz
Those two days were filled with festivities: rollerskating at Cascade (yes, the famed rollerskating rink as seen in T.I.'s ATL); eating, drinking and smoking hookah at BLUE, a Turkish bar and club; biking throughout the Little Five Points neighborhood; touring LVRN's recording studio and space in downtown Atlanta; trying on jewelry at Ice Box, a store frequented by local and mainstream rappers alike; and watching Brooklyn up-and-comer Sheck Wes perform in a warehouse.
Of course, these are small and curated slices of Atlanta, specifically exploring the city's relationship to rap culture. But LVRN and RICO were engaging tour guides, responding to questions about everything from who has the best lemon pepper wings (RICO recommends Atlanta's Best Wings) to the city finally being acknowledged as a pop culture incubator.
From film — Black Panther and The Hunger Games — to television — Atlanta, The Walking Dead, and Stranger Things — the entertainment industry has gradually made a home for itself in Atlanta. But the city's cultivation of rap artists also adds to this. Atlanta currently runs the rap game. The city's takeover of the genre came to a head last year when its beloved rap trio, Migos, released their second studio album Culture. The release featured the track "Bad and Boujee," which, through the power of social media and memes, became an inescapable smash hit throughout the world.
Now, everyone wants to sound like Atlanta. Surely, when Andre 3000 uttered the words "The South got something to say" over 13 years ago, he didn't predict this. And yet, everyone is listening to the South now.
With everyone's eyes on Atlanta, it's understandable that some people feel divided about its growth. This, along with the inevitability of gentrification, has changed what Atlanta used to look like — what it used to feel like.
Photo Credit: Ivan Lanz
"Atlanta is gonna feel like New York in 20 years," RICO said. This was a recurring sentiment the artist shared throughout my time in Atlanta. Now a father in his early 30s, RICO has seen this city change so much. He's seen houses, stores, bars and clubs get torn down and rebuilt as something else. He's seen streets once frequented by gang members and drug dealers now filled with mothers pushing their baby strollers and middle-aged men jogging.
He misses the old Atlanta at times. The chaos, the unpredictability — the funk.
"We're missing a lot of funk we used to have here," RICO said. "I like the opportunities, and companies coming and messing with the real Atlanta. But I miss the soul [that was here]."
RICO and LVRN's collaborative capsule is a reminder of that soul — a testament to the city's rich history. The shoes, which are the center of the capsule, pays homage to Atlanta — from its accentuated gum bottoms (a nod to Georgia's red clay soil) to its stripes (the colors are a reference to the city's public transport operator, MARTA).
The collection is also a reflection of the pair's hustle, working on their creative talents into the late night hour to cultivate something that honors Atlanta's past and present while looking toward its future.
"I remember growing up, the only shoe that we had that was dedicated to our city was FILA's "Forever I Love Atlanta" shoe," Justice Baiden said. "So for us, we wanted to try and create some shoes that are for the city and are a living and breathing reflection of it, and something that kids will want."
The choice to honor the MARTA on the shoe's colorway was inspired by a musician formerly a part of LVRN — Raury. According to Baiden, when Raury was 15, he used to get on the MARTA late at night and go to Baiden's downtown studio to record music.
That LVRN went with honoring the MARTA is fitting. Like the public transit system, the creative collective is trying to bring Atlanta together. And so far, they've done exactly that.
I've left Atlanta with a better understanding of the city thanks to LVRN and RICO. They admire and love this city and even as it continues to change they'll do what they can to maintain some of the authenticity and creativity that makes it what it is.