After bringing the cast back home in its season premiere, Atlanta shifts gears to pick the brain of its two main characters, Earn and Al, whose diverging career paths and newfound financial comfort push them to take on new challenges, no matter undesirable they may seem.
In this case, it’s Al who gets to star in Atlanta’s “Born 2 Die”, a title that’s both a riff on the popular hip-hop motto or maybe a nod to one of Prince’s last recorded songs, but more importantly the name of the hit single from one of the “colorful” artists that provide most of this episode’s comedy. See, this entry doesn’t take long to get going, as Paper Boi’s fame has made him a desirable act on Atlanta’s fanciest bar mitzvahs, which in turn lands him the opportunity of a lifetime to coach a young man’s coming of age ritual into the world of rap.
Fortunately, Brian Tyree Henry gets to flaunt his acting range in Bullet Train or other films and shows, however, here in Atlanta Al is always gonna be Al, a short-tempered man of few words who has to endure a difficult relationship with the music industry because, well, Paper Boi’s gotta make money somehow. A million dollars is enough to get Paper Boi to set foot in the same studio as Benny, Lil’ Rick Moranis, Yodel Kid, and the latter’s pregnant girlfriend, none of which seem to have what it takes to write a proper hook or a few verses.
It’s here where Al meets Bunk, a fellow rap connoisseur that briefs him on the importance of musicians securing a financial future, and although his dismissiveness of regular investments like stocks makes him seem like he’s about to get Al into crypto, the YWA is something much more interesting. Atlanta takes a swing a many of the young white hip-hop artists of today, such as Justin Bieber and Jack Harlow (Post Malone is off limits), referring to them merely as Young White Avatars that talented rappers need to stay in the game for longer, making money as producers and managers for artists with a wider appeal.
Al’s reaction is exactly what any Atlanta fan would expect, nevertheless, it’s not like Earn is having a much better time having to tidy up the public scandals of racists authors over at his new job, thus preferring to go out and try to sign a Banksy-style reclusive artist known as D’Angelo. His quest lands him on a mysterious Rally’s franchise that’s more like a prison inside, where he must pass D’Angelo’s trials to prove his worth — what this really boils down to is representing that all jobs come with a load of things no one wants to do, whether it’s peeing in a bucket in the world’s worst waiting room, or driving down to high schools to find your own YWA.
Atlanta always picks a different way to get introspective with its main characters, whether it’s Van’s Amélie adventures in Paris or Al’s nasty trip in Amsterdam, these are just vehicles for something bigger. By all accounts, Al and Earn have made it, they are now more independent of one another than they’ve ever been, which is something the series reminds viewers constantly of, yet no matter how their career progresses, there’s still a lot of unpleasantness to deal with.
In Earn’s case, his journey seems like an extension of his failed attempts to find himself in therapy, and though his peanut butter baptism may not be an explicit revelation of what’s to come, his failure to book D’Angelo might play into his job prospects in Los Angeles, and whether he decides to stay back home with Van and Lottie or him deciding what he really wants. For Al, this is just one more instance of him learning that not everything can go his way, that he has to bend the knee sometimes towards the music industry, even if that means taking Yodel Kid under his wing.
To be clear, this is not the same Walmart yodeling kid meme from a few years back (though he’s doing quite well on TikTok), Yodel Kid is the classic archetype of the artist that goes downhill due to his substance abuse. It’s funny to see Yodel Kid book a ticket to the Grammys for Al in just 11 days because that’s how virality and music often works nowadays, and if anyone can comment on hip-hop current state it’s Childish Gambino.
Sadly, Yodel Kid becomes victim to his own success just as quickly and Atlanta’s biggest payoff here is seeing his girlfriend accept his posthumous Grammy while the gang watches. In the end “Born 2 Die” is a metaphor for life and one lesson Al and Earn are learning on the fly, no matter how much they think they’ve figured out things, life always throws something new at you — It’s also far from the funniest or smartest avenue the show has found to deliver these kinds of messages.