ATLANTA – It's no secret that Atlanta is one of the country's great cultural capitals and is home to many power brokers in music, fashion, and the arts – a city that has had some of the biggest names in rap, R&B, and music since the 1980s Hip. Hops and has seen explosive growth in the entertainment industry over the past decade (thanks in part to Georgia's generous tax credits).
Some of the most important creators of the Internet live and work in this powerful metropolis.
In Atlanta, 15-year-old Jalaiah Harmon created the Renegade, a dance that TikTok took over in late 2019 and remains one of the app's best-known viral trends. Here, Lil Nas X turned "Old Town Road" into not just a hit single, but the biggest thing on the internet. This is where YouTube stars record their videos with millions of viewers, and some of TikTok's biggest viral videos and trending challenges started with an occasional weekly get-together called TikTok Thursdays.
The creators of Atlanta are notable for the way they defy prevailing notions about the influencer economy. Like most people who create content online, they work hard, are focused, and have a deep understanding of the internet. But they don't show any of the aspirations or attitudes that characterize the better-known TikTok stars of Los Angeles. There's drama – it's the internet, after all – but also an overwhelming sense of community and camaraderie.
Another important difference concerns the race. The creators of Atlanta are mostly black. In Los Angeles, on the other hand, most influencer collectives have no or very few black creators. And while many of the biggest trends on the Internet are being created and driven, black creators get fewer branding deals and are consistently paid less than their white counterparts.
But the new generation of entertainers in Atlanta is hoping to change that. In the past three weeks, two entirely Black Gen Z-designed mansions, the Collab Crib and the Valid Crib, have opened in town about 30 miles apart. Its members want to cement Atlanta as a hub for online talent, and hope these homes will give their status some degree of legitimacy within the larger creator ecosystem.
"We're trying to work together and build each other," said Devron Harris, 20, a member of Valid Crib.
Bursting the White Creator Bubble
In the past year, mansions full of young influencers have proliferated in the US (in Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas) and around the world (France, UK, Mexico, Spain and Russia). Perhaps the best known is the Hype House, which was founded in December 2019 and sparked a boom in the Los Angeles area – the hub of celebrity, trends and influencer culture.
"We are motivated by houses like the Hype House or the Sway House," said Omar Williams Colon, 19, a member of the Valid Crib. After all, its members have closed high-paying brand deals, signed with top talent agencies, invested in startups, and started their own product lines.
The valid crib took shape in the spring while the Georgian protection order was in place. The 20 developers have connected online and exchanged messages via Instagram DM and Snapchat. In July, the group met in person and began renting Airbnbs, where they worked as a group on videos that they then posted on social media.
In November, they rented a seven-bedroom brick home on a quiet cul-de-sac about 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta. It's charming and suburban, with black-eyed Susans lining a small concrete path in the front yard.
The house is in the final stages of renovation; The stairs are still unfinished and the floorboards are being laid. But in the last few weeks the members of the group have moved in their belongings. (All common areas are unfurnished, although their landlord plans to provide furniture soon.)
"At the moment our house is still being charged, I would say," said Williams Colon. He's already put a lot of effort into his own room, installing colorful fairy lights on the ceiling and painting a geometric design on one of the walls. "We try to bring in our own mood and style so that when people see it," Oh, this is a valid nativity scene. "
The Crib Collab, whose members live in an 8,500-square-foot mansion south of downtown, was conceived by Keith Dorsey, 32-year-old executive director of Young Guns Entertainment, an Atlanta talent management company. He sorted his talent list and recruited the group's eight members, a mix of young talent and more established stars. Many of them do not believe in the possibility of living and working together.
"I still think," Am I dreaming? Is this really real now? “Said Tracy Billingsley II, 25, a member of Collab Crib, known online as Tray Bills.
A new american dream
Together, the members of these two houses are responsible for dozens of viral trends. O'Neil Rowe, 19, of the Crib collab, created dances to songs by DaBaby, Roddy Rich and Lil Yachty, all of which started on TikTok. His own single "Snappin" has already been featured in 20,000 TikTok videos.
Valid Crib and Collab Crib developers are regularly featured in large meme and Instagram accounts such as Worldstar and The Shade Room ("Instagram's TMZ," as the New York Times put it a few years ago). D’Aydrian Harding, 19, a member of the Valid Crib, founded his own “TikTok cult” (an open fandom, not an ideological group).
Although the followers and fame that came with the job reaffirmed themselves, Billingsley said he sees the freedom and power to be a creator as the most attractive part of the job.
"It's the aspect of entrepreneurship," he said, "working for yourself, being your own boss. A lot of people in our generation don't want to work for someone these days. A lot of people start their own brands and really work for themselves. That is really the American dream now. "
The developers of the Collab Crib recently launched a 90 Day Blitz where they plan to post each post at least three times a day across all platforms. They write down the goals for the number of followers and meet regularly to discuss metrics and brand results.
"At Valid Crib, it's this or nothing," said Richard Bimpa, 19. "There's no going back, it has to go. We all work hard and grind. It's to do or die at this point." Mr Bimpa said, he currently posted five videos a day on TikTok and four on Instagram and taught himself to edit YouTube videos.
The fight for funding
Although the valid crib was organized organically, Mr. Dorsey now administers both groups. "I have more executive control over Collab Crib and the structure of the house, logistics, planning and the overall concept of the house," he said. “When it comes to Valid Crib, they got their own house and negotiated their own deal. I let them control their own thing. "
However, given the pandemic, he also had to act as a public health advisor for both groups. He made sure members of the Crib Collab tested negative for Covid-19 before moving in and has tried to limit the number of visitors to the house for the time being (although he hopes the houses can serve as a home base for the future wider Black Creator Community).
His primary focus, said Mr Dorsey, is "to keep their promos flowing". Sponsorship was a challenge, however. While many creator houses have gotten easy cash and boxes of free branded products, Mr. Dorsey faced an uphill battle in finding a supporter for the Crib Collab. Several brands have missed opportunities that didn't arise, and one potential backer has chosen to put money behind an all-white creator house instead. One home furnishing company replied that the population did not match its brand and declined to even take a call.
Color creators have seen this type of brand discrimination for years. Accounts like @InfluencerPayGap draw attention to the pay gap between black and white influencers. Black creators are featured less often in branding campaigns. You have described feeling like token at brand sponsored events and being treated worse. On TikTok, as on other social platforms, white creators benefit from black culture and, as writer Jason Parham recently wrote in Wired, “steal the viral spotlight”.
"Racism even plays a role in the algorithm and why black creators tend to have smaller followers," said Chrissy Rutherford, a digital creator and founder of 2BG Consulting, a branding consultancy that focuses on diversity and inclusion. "A lot of brands have complained that there are no black creators with bigger followers, but have you ever thought that you are basically just hiring and following white creators and giving them likes and options?" It works both ways. "
Eventually, Mr. Dorsey got Dubsmash, a short-form video app with close ties to the Atlanta developer community, to join Cash App, a mobile payment service, as the primary sponsor of the Collab Crib.
Dubsmash also helps the group negotiate branded deals and offers media training and career mentoring. Instagram has made some money depending on developers supporting Reels, its new short-form video feature. The sleeping pill company Casper provided mattresses. (The current nursery did not receive any third-party funding, and the members of the house split the rent by room.)
"The Black Creator Community has been underestimated and underfunded, despite being arguably the largest contributor to social media," said Barrie Segal, director of content at Dubsmash. "This moment is long overdue and we are very pleased that the careers of the makers are growing as a result."
"Atlanta takes over"
The developers of Valid Crib and Collab Crib aim to fundamentally change the system and show that mainstream success can be found outside the LA bubble.
"We're starting a wave that isn't for people who look like us," Dorsey said. “We could have easily moved to LA, but we wanted to point something new away. Everyone in LA is struggling to get a seat at the table while in Atlanta we build our own table. "
Some creators feel they are treated more fairly outside of Los Angeles as well. "There are more options than a black man or woman in Atlanta than you would get in LA," said Mr. Harris of the Valid Crib. "People are more willing to work with you even if you don't have that many followers."
Both houses plan to release merch and product lines and hope for close partnerships in the Atlanta music and entertainment industry. They have also gotten involved in politics, encouraging their supporters to register to run the Georgia Senate runoff elections. After the pandemic, they are also planning other face-to-face events and meetings.
But these next few months will be crucial. The hype on the internet is ephemeral, and without the proper press or reinforcement that comes with big brand partnerships, some homes are gushing. Developers are well aware of the volatility of online success, and those in Atlanta plan to keep producing more content in the coming weeks.
"Hopefully we'll be in a bigger house in a year," said Mr. Harris. "More valid crèche members are graduating high school, so hopefully they will move in." (Not every member of a creator house lives with their employees.)
"We want to be the largest creative house on the east coast," said Billingsley.
Theo Wisseh, 18, member of Collab Crib, nodded in agreement. "We want to be one of those brands with one of the toughest fan bases that sell out everything in two minutes," he said.
That base already seems to be growing.
"It's the new Hollywood. YouTube, Instagram, it's taking over," said Malachi Collier, 19, a black creator who lives in Georgia and follows what Mr. Dorsey and the Crib and Valid Crib collabs are building. "It's another Market for our culture, which is why Atlanta is taking over. "