Bankroll Fresh and 2 Chainz Producer Mr. 2-17 Is Reviving Atlanta’s Crunk Era
Mr. 2-17, 22, couldn’t have been more than ten when Atlanta’s Ciara dropped her debut album, Goodies, in 2004, riding high on the “crunk” wave brought in by Lil’ Jon. When 2-17 was just entering his teenage years, his hero, Soulja Boy (who he’s hoping will read this and reply to his tweets), had the whole world “cranking that” and hitting the “Superman” dance in every party nationwide, if not via cell phone ringtones on every block. Despite his youth, he was old enough to be permanently moved by both styles of sound—styles that allowed Atlanta to rest comfortably reclined with its feet up, at the top of the charts and in the realm of hip-hop. With artists like T.I., Jeezy, Ludacris, Yung Joc, and Usher dominating mainstream from the middle through the tail of the decade, everyone wanted to throw the “peace up, A-town down” well before “trap” was understood (also birthed in the “A”).
It’s a nostalgic feeling Mr. 2-17 is out to restore with his music.
And while the rest of hip-hop is currently stuck on the trap trend, the Eastside, Atlanta native and creator of Hottlanta, a cinematic gem documenting and celebrating the city’s vibrant music and dance culture, is turning the dial back to Atlanta’s feel-good music of days past. Here’s how.
Mr. 2-17 was offered scholarships to HBCUs for band, but had other plans.
“From like pre-kindergarten, I was always into music programming,” says 2-17 through FaceTime, in a heavy southern drawl through gold teeth. “In fourth grade, I began playing instruments. I was in a concert band playing trombone and the tuba. I started making beats in 2006; that’s when I started making beats digitally, but I always had a music background. My dad is a guitar player. So when I started playing musical instruments—like an actual instrument—from fourth grade all the way to my senior year in high school, I was in the marching band. I produced my first song in like 2008. I could’ve gone to any HBCU I wanted to go to because I played my instrument that well, but I decided to stick to producing music and pursue it out in the world, rather than go the educational route.”
His band knowledge still comes in handy.
“I take everything I learned from band and music classes, and put it directly into my beats,” he says. “I learned how to do my basslines from band; how to sync my bass with my melody. A lot of producers don’t know how to do that. They just go in and put the bass any kind of way. I specifically do mine a certain way that I learned because I’m a bass player. Playing the tuba, I learned how to match the upper-register instruments, like the flute and saxophone. We had to play a different register of notes, and that’s how I’m so good with my basslines. Everything I learned in band and music class, even though I’m doing hip-hop, it’s a direct correlation to what I learned in school.”
He describes his music as an “original ATL” sound.
“What we have right now, the new way of Atlanta, is a lot of trendy stuff—a lot of trendy records, swag type of things, trap-style beats, like as far as the Migos flow, the Young Thug flow, people such as Lil Yachty. All of these people are the new school. Me, I like sticking to the old school. When I make my music, my references are 2006 T.I., 2004 D4L, 2007-2009 Soulja Boy, Dallas Austin, Jazze Pha, Crime Mob, Lil Scrappy, [and] 2003-2005 Lil Jon. I classify them by eras and years because after a certain amount of years, they stop making music like that. When you hear me, you can hear what D4L would sound like if they made music today; what Soulja Boy or Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz would make in music if they still made it today like they did back then. I call it ‘ratchet’ music.”
“Back in the day, you could hear a song and be like, ‘Oh, I know they’re from ATL.’ But now, you won’t know they’re from ATL unless they say they’re from ATL. When you listen to me, you know it’s from ATL. I love the new wave of music. I love all of it. I respect it; I love listening to it. But as far as me, my sound and my music, I’m sticking to the original roots of the ATL foundation.”
He met Bankroll Fresh and 2 Chainz by first being a cameraman.
“One day, a DJ was interviewing Bankroll Fresh for a blog site. I was just recording with my camera,” Mr 2-17 says. “At the end of the segment, I went up to him and was like, ‘Bankroll, what’s up, man? I’m 2-17. I make beats, and I got a camera if you need some camera work. Let me know.’ So we exchanged numbers. He was real cool, real humble.” Three months later, the two finally reconnected at Travis Porter’s house for a recording of Bankroll in the studio. “It was Bankroll Fresh, Strap from Travis Porter and Spodee.” 2-17 says. “After it got done, I had a beat in my jump drive I made just for Bankroll. I was like, ‘Hey, man, check this out.’ So he checked it out and he loved it, then hopped right up on it. Ever since then, he kept me around, from August 2014, all the way up until him recently passing away.”
From that relationship, 2-17 also got closer to Street Execs management, Travis Porter, and subsequently, 2 Chainz. “Bankroll was like, ‘Hey, man, 2 Chainz is working on Trap-A-Velli 3. Send him some tracks,’” 2-17 says. “So I sent like probably seven tracks, and out of those seven, he picked two.” One was the beat for 2 Chainz’s “El Chapo Jr,” and the other, “Blue C-Note,” wound up on Chainz’s latest album.
“Bankroll was like the new Young Jeezy,” he continues. “He was repping for the South. He was real. He wasn’t making up anything in his music. He was a good representation of the streets of ATL, and with him being gone, who’s to fill in that spot? He was up next. The only other person I would say is doing a good job of it is 21 Savage. We’re from the same hood. He’s authentic, and that’s what the game needs. It’s a lot of fake in the game, and that’s what I don’t like.”
Good vibes are important for 2-17 to create in the studio.
“I gotta be in a good mood—not necessarily happy,” he says. “If I don’t have a haircut, my music is not going to sound good. I gotta feel good about myself, and whenever I have a fresh cut, I always feel good. I can’t go to the studio hungry because it’s going to be distracting me. As long as I’m feeling good, I got some food, I’m good and in a clear headspace, then I come in, and I start working. Prior to that, I listen to music when I first wake up in the morning. That’s one of the first things I do. I go to Complex just to see what’s going on, DJ Akademiks to see what he’s talking about. I see what’s going on in the game, then when I do come to the studio, I load up my program, and I just start making stuff.”
“During daytime, I use the white light bulb, but at nighttime, I’ll turn that light off, and I’ve got the red light,” 2-17 adds. “I’ll turn that light on just to keep the mood and so it won’t be so bright.”
Mr. 2-17 says follow these three tips to make it.
“You can’t do it over the Internet,” says 2-17, who says in-person interactions are key. “When I was I starting off, I was really in the street. And when I say ‘in the street,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean in the hood, in the ghetto, in places you ain’t got no business being. That means out in the real world physically, face to face. I’ve seen producers with a lower quality of beats get some beats placed just off of relationships. I got all these placements, not by me being talented, which I am, but I got my placements by relationships. You gotta be connected; that’s the first part. Once you get your connection, you gotta have some banging beats. Don’t sound like somebody that’s already out now. The real is always going to prevail, so if you’re trying to copycat, it’s only going to last for so long before it wears out. Try to hone in and produce your own sound to the best of your ability. Third, you gotta be a likeable person. I got to where I’m at because people like being around me. That goes back to being out in the physical world. Market yourself to where people want to work with you. You just gotta be patient, man.”
While he doesn’t hate on Desiigner, Mr. 2-17 says Atlanta is a united front against outsiders.
“He’s doing his thing. That’s what I’ll say about anybody,” 2-17 says. “Hey, man, get it while you still can. But down in ATL, I know DJs who won’t even play his records. But that goes back to ATL being unified. We ain’t going for all those outsiders trying to steal our swag,” he says with a laugh. “We’re not doing that. ATL, we’re sticking together.”