Atlanta is one of the best new TV shows. Brain child of multi-talented Donald Glover, it portrays (in Glover's words) black experience, via (roughly) following the travails of Glover's character as he tries to manage his cousin's budding rap career. The best review I've come across, and well worth reading, is at The Verge . The show is witty, surreal, smart, subtle, beautifully shot, and excellently acted. I've laughed, experienced a range of emotions, and had my eyes opened. I can't speak to how adequately it captures black experience, but I would still recommend it to anyone 45-ish and under, and to anyone older who is curious about younger generations.
One of the things that really struck me was its (sparing) use of music and how it immediately aroused my attention to the contrast with most film and TV which, of course, has been primarily aimed at white audiences. Now, everybody loves the well placed song that triggers just the needed mood, and enlivens the action. It makes us all wish for a soundtrack at certain moments of our own lives. It is very often nostalgic. Think of the use of music in Forrest Gump for an anything-but-subtle version of this. But often the nostalgia is more hip, edgy: think of (more recent) Martin Scorsese and especially Quentin Tarantino who make virtues of finding forgotten, but-not-too-forgotten, songs from a bygone era of pop music to carry out their versions of this practice. It is often a "cool" rock song from the 60's or early 70's. If it is ever by a black artist or group, it is usually one that has a tradition of being hip or cool within the parameters of mainstream culture.
We are all familiar with the trope of an embattled protagonist summoning the courage to do the hard thing that they have to do and, as they set out to do it, a rousing, bold song cuts in, shining god-like upon them to buoy their determination. A particularly clever, funny version of this happens with one of the recurring characters in one of the episodes in Atlanta. And the song used, which made the episode for me, was Funkadelic's "Hit it and Quit it". Now, there is some reason for Funkadelic to fall within the wider parameters of what's "cool" in mainstream culture. Samples of its music powered some of the most popular and memorable periods of hip-hop, after all. But most of those samples came from Funkadelic's late period, when it began to move more toward dance rhythms and keyboards, like its counterpart band, Parliament. Because the latter was also sampled a lot, and because the collective was known as P-Funk, most people today associate a few funky dance songs with "P-Funk". But "Hit it and Quit it" comes from Funkadelic's early, psychedlic guitar-driven years. And that hasn't been included within the mainstream parameters of coolness yet. Perhaps that will now change. (Although, it should be noted that "coolness" is, explicitly, the antithesis of being funky in the ethical universe of P-Funk).
The best uses of songs in film/TV meld with the events in a way that alter and enrich your understanding of both the song and some element of the movie--a character, plot line, event, etc. And the very best uses help you see the world itself in a new way. Atlanta achieves this brilliantly in the last episode with a "minor" 90's hip-hop hit. One that is oft forgotten, but not-too-forgotten. Everything about it just works, and I encourage you to watch the series to find out why.