Never Trust The Plug: The Latest Episode Of ‘Atlanta’ Teaches The Value Of Integrity

Also, don't take your durag off for a white man.
Brian Tyree Henry on "Atlanta."
Brian Tyree Henry on "Atlanta."

Tucked inconspicuously in the corner of a dimly lit Atlanta underpass, Paper Boi is sitting in the backseat of his weed plug’s Chevy Impala. For some reason, the rising rapper is out on his own buying drugs without his homies or his common sense. His latest single is getting a lot of play in the city’s underground rap scene, his plug notes more than once. Paper Boi humbly nods, brushes off the references to his burgeoning fame and tries to lighten the awkwardness with a few jokes. It’s all fun and games until the regular, mundane weed deal goes bad, and his plug ends up robbing him.

Once again, an opening scene from the latest installment of Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” shows us that the name of the game is go get it or get got. Earn and Paper Boi (Al’s rap persona) were definitely victims of the latter in Episode 2 of the FX series’ second season, called “Robbin’ Season.” It is the first of many L’s incurred in the episode by Paper Boi, who fails to find a reliable connect, one who isn’t trying to take advantage of his newfound fame. And in truth, Paper Boi’s music career isn’t taking off quite like those of other rappers who don’t mind being exploited by white people. You know whose work probably is taking off though? Amber, a white girl who turned Paper Boi’s trap song into an acoustic cover for YouTube.

On this week’s segment of “Run That Back,” Julia Craven and Taryn Finley talk shit about shuckin’ and jivin’, institutions that hold black folks back and Earn’s dumb ass.

After being robbed, Paper Boi goes on the prowl for another dealer. He ends up finding a nigga who posts a picture of him holding several ounces of weed on Instagram before encountering a dealer whose girlfriend, Amber, is a stan. All of this leads to Paper Boi throwing his phone out the car window and driving off without it ― an ode to grandmas everywhere who complained you be on that damn phone too much.

Taryn: So. Episode 2. Let’s get it. *Birdman hand rubs*

Julia: So Paper Boi got got by his weed plug and I don’t know how I feel about this. It plays really beautifully into the “Robbin’ Season” theme but still ... damn.

Taryn: I knew what was about to go down as soon as his plug started overly complimenting his one hot track. “You doin’ ya thing man, respect” translates to “You ’bout to run me ya shit and you a celeb so you’ll be aight.” Paper Boi should’ve saw it coming too tbh. 

Julia: He should have. He was way too trusting of his plug and he didn’t understand how people would perceive his come up. 

Taryn: That’s really how it is sometimes, though, and it lowkey hit home. People you grew up around/grew familiar with see you got something good going on and kinda blow it up in their heads to “oh, they hot shit now” when it’s really “I still really ain’t shit, tbh.” That’s why Al was more over it than mad lmao. And the fact that the plug had the child lock on TOOK ME OUT.

And Paper Boi a fool for thinking he could find another plug just like that. He got a little clout now, he gotta vet drug dealers properly now.

Julia: Right! And he going around trying to find plugs with Darius’ ole lackadaisical ass like he vets dealers. Every dealer was his “mans,” and you can’t allow that kinda energy into your vetting process when you’re gaining fame.

Taryn: He should’ve known something was up when ol’ boy was sneaking pictures. Now his ass got caught slippin’ and ended up on the connect’s IG. Where they do that at?

Julia: Not only is he on dude’s IG, he is HOLDING OUNCES OF WEED! HE JUST GOT OFF HOUSE ARREST!!

Taryn: Smh. If he don’t start moving smarter, the feds surely will yank his ass back to county. Idk if it’s the lemon-lime kush he was smoking or what but this nigga got caught up way too many times in one 30-min episode. How you end up in a group chat with a potential connect and his girlfriend LMAO.

Julia: Oh, Amber. The unsung hero of this episode. If anything, this drama, which ends with Paper Boi dumping his phone and keeping his integrity, shows us how fame distorts every single aspect of your life ― and how frustrating that is. Bruh really did just wanna smoke.

And, you know, I’ve never met a white girl named Amber in real life. This is unrelated but it just dawned on me.

Taryn: Hell, I wanted to throw my phone after listening to Amber destroy a perfectly good trap anthem. Also, I wanna know how a rapper/drug dealer with no plug or supplies who’s making no money off his one hot song is paying for a new phone. 🤔

Julia: asdfghjkl WHO THOUGH? … But if anyone can get a phone with no money, it’s a hood nigga. That’s a proven fact noted in the Blacksonian.

Taryn: Damn. See, you got a point there.

Al, aka Paper Boi, and Earn.
Al, aka Paper Boi, and Earn.

Next up, we see Earn and Paper Boi at a streaming music company called Fresh, which hasn’t been seriously used to denote heightened levels of swag since the ’90s. The team is trying to get Paper Boi from the underground music scene and in front of a more mainstream audience. But since Paper Boi is a real street rapper, it doesn’t go too well.

Julia: This episode’s focus on Paper Boi was amazing. I loved the first scenes where we see Paper Boi and Earn at the radio station. And I love how intricately Glover shows that Paper Boi’s black ass will never fully fit into an industry overseen by white people.

When the producer didn’t have a disc drive and they had CDs, which: HOW HOOD IS THAT?! When Earn’s phone wasn’t updated enough to connect to their speaker system. When they saw the black rapper dancing on top of a table and surrounded by white people as if he were shuckin’ and jivin’ for them. And then when Paper Boi is put into the same kind of space when he has to perform and he hands the mic back to the white dude HOLDING A BANANA!!! It makes clear that he’s nobody’s monkey and he never will be.

Taryn: Yes! One thing I loved about the scene in the office was how it underscored how true Paper Boi is to his values and morals. He may be a drug dealer but he has integrity, dammit! Even with his interaction with Clark County (the one black rapper they talk to at the office) and his white manager, he wasn’t about to sit there and kiki with some white folks who use black slang to pander to and capitalize off of black culture.

And the scene where we see Paper Boi on the stage in the middle of the office and he says “where my real niggas at,” and we see a wide shot of all these white millennials behind MacBooks was everything. It was a direct metaphor of who the gatekeepers of mainstream hip-hop today are today and which black artists get the big deals and which don’t. And let’s talk about Earn’s dumb ass falling for the okey-doke with the gift card scam lmao.

Clark County (right) is an up-and-coming rapper.
Clark County (right) is an up-and-coming rapper.

Earn and Darius finally get paid for the dogs they sold in Season 1. Earn, who is very, very broke, decides to let Tracy flip the $4,000 to $8,000 and put it on a mall gift card (we know, we know). The scammed card shuts off about 10 minutes after Earn buys a pair of shoes and bruh loses all his money. Earn trudges into the mall parking lot only to discover that Tracy has left him stranded in order to go to his job interview, which, same.

Julia: Oh, Earn. Bless his heart. I don’t understand how someone can get stupider as the series moves forward but Earn does it! You let a nigga flip YOUR WHOLE CHECK?! YOU DIDN’T THINK YOU SHOULD ― IDK ― FIND A PLACE TO LIVE?! I’m pissed.

Taryn: I was irate at his ass. Earn is always looking for the come up in all the wrong places. But I won’t lie, I know a few niggas who’ve fallen for gift card scams. Earn just needs to acknowledge that he ain’t bout that life. I hope he flipped all that shit he bought after Tracy, the gift card scammer, gave him that 10-minute warning on the card shutting off. 

Julia: You know he didn’t, sis. Earn isn’t built for this. And I wonder when Earn will truly come to grasp with how much he isn’t built for it.

Taryn: Speaking of Tracy, he may have been a scammer but he was a quiet MVP of Episode 2. He took his durag off ― which he NEVER takes off, because his waves are that fucking immaculate ― for a job interview. After not only taking off his durag, he has a great interview only for this white man to tell him he has “potential” but they don’t have a job for him because they’re fully staffed. WHEN I TELL YOU I WAS PISSED!


Taryn: Tracy thought about keeping it cute but hit that white man with a smooth, “Fuck y’all! Y’all racist as hell!” 

Julia: When he knocked all that shit off the desk I cried.

Taryn: It’s like, if you didn’t have a job for me WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME?!

Julia: Exactly, and this scene really demonstrates the need for banning the box. Tracy is trying to do this right. He wants a legit job and he can’t get one. That’s so fucked up, and I love how Glover is showing us these small run-ins with institutions once you have a charge on you. You do the right thing? No job. You gotta pay to go to anti-drug classes? Oh. It’s all a jig, and I love how Glover is unraveling it.  

Taryn: The jig been up. I say this all the time, but “Atlanta” is so damn good.

Julia: It’s the best fucking show on TV right now and I’m willing to swing over that.

Taryn: I’d take off my wig and square up on sight. Idc.

Julia: dfghjkljhgfsdfghjkl

Taryn: So there are two systems this episode tackles, right? Tracy’s an ex-con who can’t get a job and Paper Boi’s a rapper who can’t get a break in the music industry. Both of them are unapologetically black af, hood af and that ain’t changing (and it shouldn’t). But the (white) world they’re trying to navigate to get ahead doesn’t want them because they aren’t “packaged” in a certain way. A big reason why Al has to trap in the first place. Paper Boi ain’t making money, so Al has to find a new plug and get back to the streets.

You know who probably is making money, though? Amber.

Julia: And then you have Earn, who’s trying to get Paper Boi into these spaces, and I think this is why Earn won’t be his manager come the end of the season (just my prediction). Earn is more willing to appease whiteness. Paper Boi isn’t.

Taryn: Earn also knows (or thinks he knows) how to navigate those spaces, which is alluded to when Tracy is asking him how to “talk to these white folks” before his job interview.

Julia: And that’s a great point. I wonder if we’ll explore why Earn correlates these spaces with money so deeply. I get it ― to a degree, you have to assimilate to come up. You either appease whiteness or you dance for them and entertain. But I wonder what Earn’s personal thoughts on that are.

Taryn: Yea, so many people associate wealth and success with whiteness and playing the game gets tiring, which is probably why Earn didn’t last at Princeton. (I really wanna know how he got kicked out, btw.)

Julia: As do I! I think we should really know more about Earn because the show thus far hasn’t dug that deeply into him.

Taryn: Also, I just realized that this nigga’s name is also his motivation: Earn. God, Donald Glover is such a fucking genius.

“Atlanta” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.