Rap Capital: The Rise & Reign Of Atlanta’s Hip-Hop Empire
The dominance of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene has been discussed often, but not in the way Joe Coscarelli covered it in his new book, Rap Capital. Joe, a New York Times music reporter since 2015, spent four years and interviewed over 100 sources to get the contemporary story about Atlanta’s culture-defining music scene.
Characters are what move the story forward in Joe’s book, not discography, record sales, or cultural relevance. Lil Baby is featured prominently, as is his mom. Joe’s relationship with the hit rapper dates back to 2017 when Lil Baby was still a mixtape artist. Another recurring character is Quality Control Music’s Kevin “Coach K” Lee, who has deep-rooted ties with the city’s most well-known artists across eras.
Joe came onto the show to take us through the book’s journey — both for him to write it and the characters themselves. Here’s what we covered:
[2:40 ] How the book came together and finally clicked
[6:42 ] Role of Quality Control’s Coach K in Atlanta story
[10:11 ] Lasting effects of pandemic on music industry
[12:38 ] Which era of Atlanta hip-hop to focus on?
[14:09 ] How streaming helped launch Atlanta rap into the mainstream
[16:10 ] Building trust with his sources despite racial differences
[18:10 ] Did Joe receive any pushback while reporting?
[20:19 ] Evolution key to Atlanta rap’s longevity
[25:05 ] Adapting Rap Capital into a movie
[29:45 ] The crumbling of mainstream culture
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Joe Coscarelli, @joecoscarelli
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[00:00:00 ] Joe Coscarelli: I wanted to tell the story through characters, through people, not just, you know, you can run down the discography of all the amazing Atlanta musicians, right? You can go through the label history, read the reviews. But I always want to sort of pull back like, who's behind these people? Who's behind that person? So that's why I think, you know, mothers were huge, fathers, you know, friends, people who are around these artists growing up, I wanted them to be human characters, and I wanted the side characters to be as big of a part as the famous people 'cause I think they're as crucial to the equation.
[00:00:30 ] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to the Trapital podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:58 ] Dan Runcie: Today's guest is Joe Coscarelli. He's the author of Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story, and he's a culture reporter at The New York Times. And this book that he wrote, Rap Capital, I cannot recommend it enough. If you listen to this podcast, if you read the newsletter, if you watch any of the clips from our conversations or any of the posts on social media, this book is made for you. It's a street-level epic about the most consequential music culture today, Atlanta Rap. Joe put so much thought and care into how the book came together and tying everything from the Atlanta murders that happened decades ago and how that shaped the rap culture and the broader culture for black folks in Atlanta that we see today, and how that led to someone like Lil Baby, how that led to someone like Coach K having such an influence over hip hop music and the culture for decades now. This book was a great opportunity as well to have a trip down memory lane. A lot of us understand how influential Atlanta's been, but it was great to have it be told from a unique way. We also talked about broader trends happening in the streaming era right now in music, what a movie or film or TV show adaptation could look like for Rap Capital, and more. Here's our conversation. Hope you enjoy it. All right. Today we had Joe Coscarelli, the author of Rap Capital: An Atlanta story and read the book, really enjoyed it, and I got to ask because I was going through the synopsis and you said this was four years in the making, and I got to imagine with a book like this, there was some point when things started to click in that four-year process. When did you feel like things were coming together for you?
[00:02:40 ] Joe Coscarelli: So I knew that there was a book in this stuff because I had done a handful of stories through my day job at The New York Times about Atlanta. I started this beat in late 2014. So., You know, my first couple years on the job, streaming was really taking over and specifically rap music and streaming. So I just found myself over and over again talking to the same group of people, right? I did a Migos Story, did a QC story that featured Lil Baby, one of his first interviews. I wrote about Drew Findling who's a lawyer in the book that's all over the news these days in various capacities. So I knew from those stories that there was something here. But I didn't know what it was going to be. I knew I wanted to not just tell a history, but follow characters in real-time as they tried to make it. That's something I always want to do in my work. You know, so my favorite art ever is like Hoop Dreams or a music documentary like Dig!, which follows two bands across a long period of time. One of them makes it, one of them doesn't make it. That's always what I want to bring to my reporting is this idea of a journey, right? And it doesn't even matter what the destination is, but following, specifically artists and musicians as they're trying to make something out of their lives, that to me, is just a timeless tale, right, of ambition and dreams, and so I knew I had a handful of characters that I wanted to go on this trip with, but I didn't really know how it tied into the broader story of Atlanta until a real marathon brunch interview with Lil Baby's mother, Lashawn. He was, you know, he and I had a rapport at that point. I'd interviewed him a few times. I did talk to a lot of people around him, and he was kind enough to set me up directly with his mom. And, you know, we sat down at a brunch place outside of Atlanta. And, you know, she said, I asked him, I asked Dominique, her son, we're like, what do I tell him? And he told her tell him everything. And she really did, her whole life story became part of the book, especially the foundation of the book, in the first part. And she had such an incredible life on her own. You know, I hope she writes a memoir someday. But when I learned really that she had been friends in school with an early victim of the Atlanta child murders, which were happening on the west side of Atlanta in the late seventies, early eighties, that she had a firsthand relationship to that historical event that I feel like really left its mark on the city. And she was open. She said it sort of affected the kind of mother that she became, and I think ultimately helped set Dominique, Lil Baby, on his path. And all of that could be traced to, like, something she went through as a kid that also spoke more broadly to Atlanta and the way it has developed socially, politically, culturally, especially Black Atlanta over the last 40, 50 years. So that was a real breakthrough moment for me, and I knew that I could start with her story, which in many ways was also the story of Atlanta in the last, you know, half a century.
[00:05:30 ] Dan Runcie: And in reading that first piece, too, I could see how much care and thought was put into it from your perspective of going through what happened with those murders and then how that traces directly to someone like Lil Baby because it's hard to tell the story of Atlanta hip hop without doing all of that. And that's something that I think is often missing with so much of the discussion about Atlanta's run, which is why I feel like your book does stand as its own and is able to have a unique voice and perspective on this.
[00:05:58 ] Joe Coscarelli: I appreciate that. Yeah, I wanted to tell the story through characters, right, through people, not just, you know, you can run down the discography of all the amazing Atlanta musicians, right? You can go through the label history, read the reviews. But I always want to sort of pull back like, who's behind these people? Who's behind that person, you know? So that's why I think, you know, mothers were huge, fathers, you know, friends, people who are around these artists growing up, I wanted them to be human characters, and I wanted the side characters to be as big of a part as the famous people 'cause I think they're as crucial to the equation.
[00:06:31 ] Dan Runcie: And of course, Lil Baby is one of the central characters. Another one is C