50th hip-hop anniversary pop-up opens in Atlanta
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution September 13, 2023
ATLANTA — Legendary Atlanta producers Dallas Austin and Jermaine Dupri are now in their 50s so it only seems apropos that they have teamed up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop by opening an Atlanta-focused pop-up experience at Underground Atlanta.
It’s scheduled to stay open at least through Oct. 23 but could be extended beyond that.
Austin provided a tour of the space to media on opening day earlier this month at 65 Upper Alabama St. It opens with a wall featuring a huge timeline embossed with the names of key acts from Atlanta going back to Mojo in 1982. It’s a mix of one-hit wonders, notable underground acts and iconic names.
The door entering the main room is imprinted with the lyrics from Dupri’s signature 2002 song “Welcome to Atlanta.” Inside, there’s a bar area with a back wall festooned with framed gold and platinum albums for recordings by TLC, Jazzy Phe, YFN Lucci, Young Jeezy, Arrested Development and Rich Gang, among others.
Several walls feature often iconic photos of some of the biggest acts in Atlanta hip-hop history including Ludacris, OutKast, Goodie Mob and T.I. And there are cases packed with vintage keyboards and mixers, as well as 1990s-era floppy disks. (There’s a disk featuring the sample “to the window to the wall” line from Lil Jon’s “Get Low” and a remix of TLC’s “Ain’t 2 Proud to Beg” dated Sept. 24, 1991.)
There is also a mishmash of memorabilia Dupri and Austin collected from their own archives and those of friends in town including promotional posters, a So So Def jacket and cassettes embedded in a glass case that resembles a boombox.
“I wanted to put everything in one space so they can really feel Atlanta,” Austin said.
On the back wall is a setup for a DJ to mix songs from the past three-plus decades while attendees mix and mingle. Austin said over the next few weeks, they plan to host parties, artist Q&A sessions, celebrity podcasts, live DJ sets and documentary screenings in a separate theater room.
“That’s why we are calling this more of an experience than a museum,” Austin said.
The experience doesn’t provide a lot of contextual information that would normally be available in a traditional museum, though that may be due in part to the fact this a bit of a rush job.
Lyle Baldes, director of events and activations for Underground Atlanta, said Austin really only came up with the idea in June as a way to highlight Atlanta’s contribution to hip-hop. Austin then brought in Dupri.
“It feels glorious,” Baldes said. “There’s nobody more well connected to the music scene than these two.”
Hip-hop started in New York City in the 1970s and in Atlanta, the rap scene only began to mature around the time Austin and Dupri showed up in the late 1980s. They attracted the likes of L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmond, who started LaFace Records. In the 1990s, Atlanta began forming its own sound, Austin said.
The experience, which will be open 11 a.m. to midnight each day, costs $10 to $20 during the day and up to $30 a night, when the bar opens, the memorabilia is stowed away and the DJ turns the place into more of a party spot.
Austin himself has a long history with Underground Atlanta. Back in 1991, when the space was still a bustling retail mall, a 20-year-old Austin opened a Rowdy clothing store next to a Foot Locker. He said they’d play loud hip-hop music and annoy neighboring retailers. He said he only lasted a year or so there since he decided to focus on other priorities ― like producing hit albums for TLC, After 7, Pink and Madonna.
He said folks like he and Dupri helped build the Atlanta hip-hop scene from the ground up. “We were like Vegas building the hotels,” he said.
After 9/11, he said the epicenter of hip-hop began shifting to Atlanta from New York. “Now people come to Atlanta to make it,” he said.
This experience, he said, will hopefully pave the way for more permanent places for tourists to celebrate Atlanta hip-hop beyond the Trap Music Museum.
If you go
The Atlanta 50 Years of Hip-Hop Experience
11 a.m. to midnight daily. Through Oct. 23. $10-$30; bar open from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Underground Atlanta, 65 Upper Alabama St. SW.