“Paper boi, paper boi, all about that paper boi.” By the end of Atlanta’s first episode, Donald Glover’s new hit show left many people humming the tune that jumpstarts the series’ main narrative. On the show, the song is performed by Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, the cousin of Donald Glover’s character, Earn Marks. The song starts off as most hit rap songs do: first circulated among the hood and the internet before blowing up once played on the radio.
Of course, the song has to be popular within the context of the series or else there would be no Atlanta. But would the song actually be popular in today’s rap environment? The straightforward answer is probably not. The problem that would stop “Paper Boi” from becoming a chart-topping track is not that the song isn’t catchy or good to listen to, but rather that the song is too reminiscent of an older Atlanta sound that does not garner as much popularity today.
In the real world, the song is performed by Stephen Glover, Donald Glover’s real-life brother and a rapper who also writes for Atlanta, including penning last night’s episode. Christopher Cobb — who goes by the name Chemist — produced the beat for the “Paper Boi” song. He has worked with Stephen Glover in the past and has created beats for other rappers like Nipsey Hussle and Tory Lanez. In an interview with writer Dan Jackson for Thrillist, Chemist stated:
He’s trying to capture that vibe of pure Altanta hip-hop scene, which seems to be a dying one — or maybe not a dying one but a changing one — that sound really comes from 2003 or 2008, when most of those synths were developed, those heavy horns and electronic synths. I used that whistle, which was very popular with Shawty Lo’s D4L tracks. I was just trying to capture the essence of Atlanta.
The song is so reminiscent of the early 2000s that it’s almost impossible to imagine it becoming a hit song in the late 2010s. Chemist also stated in that same Thrillist interview that the beat for the song was inspired by Atlanta rapper Rocko’s 2008 song, “Umma Do Me”, which was extremely popular when released. However, we can go further than that and say that the beat is almost an exact replica of “Umma Do Me” and other songs produced by Memphis producer, Drumma Boy.
Maybe the song seems familiar because it uses the same charging up SFX that is a staple in many of Drumma Boy’s songs. For example, both Young Jeezy’s “Put On” and Wiz Khalifa’s “Phone Numbers” are two very popular songs that feature this charging up SFX that usually precedes the beat drop. Perhaps the familiarity is caused by the beat’s simplicity. In addition to the charging up SFX, the sixteenth note rhythm that runs throughout the beat is also common in Drumma Boy beats. Either way, we cannot knock the feeling that the song does sound like something that is straight out of the early 2000s.
In this case, Donald Glover and the Atlanta writers accomplished their goal. They brought us back to the early, street feel of Atlanta. But, sadly, if you expected the song to be popular in today’s era of rap, it’s not happening. Although the sound of old Atlanta does rear its head sometimes, those popular beats of old have been replaced with a different sound — such as Big Baby D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty’s “Broccoli” or Bankroll Fresh’s “Walked In” — that causes people to dance more than bop our heads.
We are still waiting to see whether or not the full song will eventually be released, as it rightfully should. Maybe then we can definitively decide if the song would be a real-life hit or not. It might be something that can be enjoyed by the hip-hop purists, but the younger generation has definitely moved on from that sound. Since young people decide what is popular, the song is definitely not meant for this era.