TV Review: Atlanta, 4×3, “Born 2 Die”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews season four, episode three of Atlanta, "Born 2 Die," in which Paper Boi discovers a possible new means of keeping his image alive.

During my time writing about FX’s Atlanta, I’ve made it no secret that Paper Boi-centric episodes fascinate me the most. Here’s a man who has risen from the streets to make a name for himself rapping. He doesn’t know everything, but he’s self-aware and conscious enough to call out those who aren’t being authentic. At the same time, he realizes over and over how he has to play the game to get further in this life. “Born 2 Die” gives Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles further perspective on what it means to have advanced in his profession. Meanwhile, Earn has an epiphany thanks to fake D’Angelo.

Given the arenas he’s been playing at, I’m curious what sort of event Paper Boi was at that involved performing for a large assembly of Jewish people. If it was just a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, that must have been one hell of a gig arranged by Earn. Regardless, this whole setup involving a father trying to show concern for his son by recruiting Paper Boi as someone who can be shadowed appeared to have red flags all over it. Al is weary of the proposition, especially since it involves “being bought,” but a million dollars to spend a week with some kid – hard to pass up.

This being Atlanta, of course, things take a turn in another direction. Paper Boi is given no mind when arriving in a studio full of young white teenagers rapping. Instead, we watch him talk shop with Bunk, a man who seems to know how to play the game. In “The Most Atlanta,” I speculated about this final season being one where Al works at figuring out what his legacy will be. This episode teases out the idea that he could potentially pursue a new avenue to ensure he keeps making money to live a more affluent lifestyle.

Is that really what Paper Boi is about? While the show has consistently managed to hold off on actually letting us listen to too much of Paper Boi’s music (it’s next to none, if anything), we have been following Al’s journey in trying to be smart on how to play his fame. He doesn’t like taking selfies or getting too deep into the social atmosphere, but he loves rubbing elbows with those in power. He enjoys making a point of having his status be known but is not about being used.

This plays into the YWA meeting, as you can clearly understand how warped Al finds the concept of needing a “young white avatar” to stay relevant. He’s told many things that make a weird level of sense in an obviously skewed way. It’s enough to have him pursue one of these kids for the sake of holding onto talent that can make him more money. And yet, he is well aware of what little need he has to shepherd a young white kid when it comes to knowing how to deliver informed bars to the public.

It’s not for nothing, however. Some kind of time jump leads to Paper Boi at the Grammy’s, with the kid he signed (Yodel Kid) nominated for an award after going platinum in three weeks. This whole scenario is ridiculous, and the show knows it. Twisting things even further, Yodel Kid is said to have OD’d before for the ceremony (which made him a lock for the win). Al can’t believe it, but he also concedes that managing is not for him. He doesn’t need a YWA to get anywhere when he already puts more thought into what matters to him when it comes to informing whatever message he wants to get out into the ether.

During all of this, Earn is on his own message. After talking back during a meeting when it came to the management group having to rethink how to best satisfy a client who’s a “Karen,” Earn is now in the position to go and sign D’Angelo. The neo-soul artist feels exactly like the kind of oddball get this show could achieve if it wanted to, but that doesn’t end up being the point. Instead, the show treats his existence as some sort of mystical/existential concept that Earn needs to learn to understand if he’s going to get anywhere.

With that in mind, it’s incredibly funny to watch Earn enter a Rally’s bathroom and spend a week inside a chamber fitting of the lobby for Men In Black headquarters (minus the giant fan). Once again, watching Atlanta match up its surreal atmosphere with legit comedy is one of the great joys of this series. However, watching Earn enter another dark abyss to ideally find what he’s looking for speaks to Earn’s personal journey.

We don’t know what’s going on with his potential LA job yet, but I’m curious if this interaction with a man occupying a space that is a part of D’Angelo (or whatever) hints toward Earn’s eventual decision. Regardless, it remains true that Earn is at least in control of how he conducts himself as a manager. “It’s not about what feels good. It’s about what survives,” Earn states to Paper Boi when asked how he can do his job. There may have been a shakiness in figuring out the industry, but Earn has found plenty of success in legitimizing what should matter most.

This was a good week for introspection when it comes to one of the two key relationships on this show, Earn and his cousin Al (the other being Earn and Van). Both have seemingly figured out ways to get that higher status anyone from the hood may be reaching for. Figuring out what to do next is all part of the plan at this point in the series, and hopefully, it means more than just landing a YWA.

Bonus Tracks:

  • Lil’ Rick Moranis is just too good of a rap name.
  • “Rally’s? In Georgia?” – Earn really had to step in and deal with a lot of nonsense this week and put up nearly no fuss in the process.
  • “Optics is everything.” – Paper Boi getting advice he can’t help but laugh at.
  • “Let me experience D’Angelo.” – The magic words.
  • The non-D’Angelo made a peanut butter sandwich with spices, chicken skin, and Wonder Bread.
  • Yodel Kid died and then won a grammy for his album, “Born 2 Die”
  • “That was weird” – Not a lot of Darius this week, but he makes his point.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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