“And I have never believed the brothers who claim to 'run,' much less 'own,' the city. We did not design the streets. We do not fund them. We do not preserve them. But I was there, nevertheless, charged like the others with the protection of my body.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, 'Between the World and Me'
JAY-Z, in his most celebrated sermon of 2017, sent a direct message to the young and rowdy about their beloved neighborhoods and the reality of ownership. He gave the advice of a sensible elder, attempting to deter violent attachment to street corners and blocks, homes and housing projects not owned by those who claim them with their presence. Coming from the man who wrote “Where I’m From” in his youthful late 20s, Jay knows that loyalty to cities, areas, and properties runs deeper than the right of possession—it's identity.
Lil Jon’s “Throw It Up” was an early introduction to this connection, for both Atlanta and me personally, with the '03 single displaying crunk pride and the extension of selfhood based on birthplace or place of residence. People would shout from the top of their lungs as the proud Eastsider demanded you represent. Inkless bodies began being covered in its area codes or with the names of neighborhoods; fights between opposing schools, territories, or sides of the city were a common sight. People all around me became devoted to place because identity is directly connected to the environment. Spartans discovered their Sparta, Trojans clung to their Troy. In love and in war, on stoops or off the porch, it was their birthright to claim this sacred ground.
I saw it in people and peers, but I mostly heard the manifestation of hood devotion in hip-hop. For every rapper, there’s a place synonymous with their name. A home that they represent. An area portrayed as their own. It’s marketed in their music, commemorated in names of labels or albums; the beautiful intersection between art and domain is depicted within the culture’s DNA.
“I’ve got such strong ties to the city of Atlanta that people forget I didn’t move to Georgia until I was nine,” is how Gucci Mane opens the first chapter of his best-selling autobiography. Bessemer, Alabama, Gucci’s birthplace, has mattered little since Gucci’s legend became inseparable from East Atlanta and Bouldercrest Rd. His name is synonymous with Atlanta, especially the Eastside. East Atlanta became bigger than a birthplace; it's where he found the streets that inspired his growth into an early, complicated manhood; it's the location of a legendary Texaco where he sold drugs alongside future rap partner OJ The Juiceman; it's the setting of stories and experiences that would later be transmuted into rap lyrics and now a book, immortalizing both man and stomping ground.
"A Buick Regal, 8's and Bose / On Bouldercrest, I'm selling dope / At Texaco, where Mr. Kim keep saying / Get away from stove" —Gucci Mane ("I'm A Star")
Following his initial success in rap, Gucci―as a renowned artist―returned to East Atlanta and opened Brick Factory, the creative hub where he gathered the likes of early, passionate artists like Young Thug and Peewee Longway, Rich Homie Quan and Young Scooter, Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It. The Brick Factory was the site of Gucci's final fallout with Waka Flocka, it was the sad setting of Slim Dunkin’s murder, and eventually, it was the lonely palace mistakenly chosen for Gucci’s short stint of house arrest before drugs and paranoia led to his final prison sentence in 2013. In its last days, the Brick Factory became the prison he built, a parallel to Pablo Escobar. The best and worst of times from the first half of Gucci’s career can be traced back to East Atlanta, to Bouldercrest Rd.
Once released from prison, a clean and sober version of Gucci didn’t return. Instead, he migrated north of Atlanta to conclude his house arrest, record, and make his grand re-emergence into society. He was a new Gucci, both physically and mentally. There was a physical separation from his old hood, but it didn't break the connection; stories of East Atlanta and Bouldercrest Rd were enclosed in his book. He delved deep into his history, leaving little to question. He named chapters "Texaco," "The Zone 6 Clique," and "A Nightmare on Moreland," further establishing landmarks of his past often nodded to in his music.
Guwop's most famous landmark is the Texaco off of Bouldercrest Rd, often mentioned and regarded as a stable of his drug-dealing past. Gucci Mane returned to the infamous gas station recently, and even made a post with the caption: "Face I make when they say Guwop don't run Bouldercrest like #ElGato."
In retaliation, rising Atlanta artist Young Nudy responded with an Instagram post of his own, outside the same Texaco, discrediting Gucci’s claim and countering that Bouldercrest is really being run by Nudy and his collective, PDE. He also noted that Gucci isn’t around the hood anymore.
The key takeaway from Nudy's response is his use of the word "run," and the charge that you can't "run" an area you're never in. On the surface, this is a rather petty exchange of territorial claims, far from newsworthy and something only bottom-tier gossip blogs framed as a brewing beef. Yet, on a deeper level, this is a great example of the natural progression of hierarchy. Gucci has been away for so long that a new crop of kids has moved into his sacred ground. The old will always be replaced by the young.
Even if you never leave your old stomping grounds, replacements will eventually sprout from the soil, and you'll see them as someone old once saw you. Young Nudy isn’t shying away from where he's from, a bold approach that could very well lead to his positioning as the new face of East Atlanta street rap. His label is Paradise East Records, paying homage to Paradise East Apartments, a complex in Gresham Park, Georgia on Bouldercrest Rd. Anyone who listens to Nudy knows this; he is very vocal about where he's from and the stories that tie his identity to the area.
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"Flat Shoals daily, daily strapped up, who want smoke with me? / Catch me on Gresham at the Texaco, I'm drankin' lean / Right there on Bouldercrest, I'm gassin' nigga, yeah / Hellcat, you know I'ma just pass a nigga, yeah" —Young Nudy ("Bermuda")
For the unfamiliar, Young Nudy isn’t some unknown eager to make a name off Instagram feuding with Gucci. Since the release of his 2016 Slimeball mixtape, the East Atlanta born and raised rapper has slowly accelerated into one of the city's biggest emerging street rappers. He is the cousin of 21 Savage, who he toured alongside last year as an opening act, and was featured alongside 21 on the remix to Tay-K's breakout single "The Race." He also opened on the road for Playboi Carti—two tours with two of Atlanta’s hottest.
Co-signs can assist a young talent, but for Nudy, it is his music that has accelerated following the 2017 release of Nudy Land, his third mixtape. With features from Offset and Lil Yachty and bubbling bangers like “Loaded Baked Potato” and “Barbecue,” Nudy is in the process of hitting his stride, with fans constantly clamoring for more—a movement in the making.
Nudy’s buzz mirrors the early beginnings of 21 Savage's career, as both achieved early success for their raw authenticity. A street rapper without respect is just a poser waiting to be exposed, but those embraced for their realness are championed. Nudy’s post about running Bouldercrest earned him comments from Metro Boomin, Young Thug, and Waka Flocka, all in their own way giving a nod to the young bull’s testament. Not as a showing of disrespect to Gucci—Flocka's laughing emoji not included—but acknowledging the Paradise East Apartment resident as official.
Nudy’s style of rap is loose, somewhere between effortless rambling and charismatic braggadocio. His voice is far less menacing than that of his cousin, but it carries a distinctive, laid-back tone, barely above a library whisper. Think mischievous but filled with bravado. He isn't the loudest in the room, nor the most intense, but every word carries a weight of legitimacy. There’s an obvious bridge to an unpolished, early Gucci when his raw edge and thunderous production compensated for recurring motifs and nonexpansive lyrics.
Nudy isn’t reinventing street rap, but there’s electric chemistry between his voice and the blistering rattle of frequent producer Pi'erre Bourne. It’s too soon to tell how big Nudy could become; short-sighted naysayers assumed 21 Savage wouldn’t be bigger than a local act, but his current stardom proves how wrong they were. Any attempt to predict Nudy’s trajectory would be premature, especially since, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn't used his status as a fellow East Atlanta rapper to connect with Gucci. Even 21 had an entire EP titled Free Guwop. and after their collab last year, it's likely one call could make it happen. Yet, instead of reaching out to the celebrated icon in order to carry the torch, Nudy is working on lighting his own flame.
Vacant kingdoms are to be seized, not formally asked for.
Nudy and Gucci's Instagram posts remind me of the egotistical tug-of-war between T.I. and Shawty Lo over Bankhead, the West Atlanta hood from which both rappers hailed. A battle sparked over a nonexistent crown that mattered between two men, and their loyalty to their birthplace. Of course, the main difference between the two is that T.I. and Shawty Lo were peers, while Nudy is a decade younger than Gucci.
It’s been 13 years since Gucci Mane’s debut album, Trap House, and his breakout single, “So Icey.” Since then, we have witnessed a man go through Hades and back, a modern-day Orpheus but in the pursuit of stardom. Becoming the best version of himself meant removing the toxic habits that always led to his downfall, and removing himself from the environment of his checkered past. It doesn't change history, but personal change doesn’t come without letting go.
Gucci can’t rule Bouldercrest and live his best life on the outskirts. He can visit, but it can never be how it once was.
Street rappers who are able to survive, and not end up dead or in jail, must eventually adjust to a life disconnected. That’s where young men like Nudy and 21 come in, to build upon their old spots and revamp their old themes. You can be Avon Barksdale, but eventually, Marlo Stanfield will rise and conquer. If Nudy and 21 are lucky, they'll have the opportunity to grow old and watch as the new youngins arrive and replace them. As Nudy’s manager, TP, told me: "Changing of the guard happens in everything except politics, right?"
Change is happening in East Atlanta. Change is happening to Atlanta hip-hop. Resist if you want, but change is happening.
By Yoh, aka Clayco Yoh, aka @Yoh31