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‘Atlanta’ recap: Rule No. 7 in Biggie’s ’10 Crack Commandments’ rules Earn and Paper Boi

The elephant is no longer in the room — if Paper Boi becomes a huge star, it’s going to be without Earn

Season 2, Episode 9 | “North of the Border” | April 26

This rule is so underrated / Keep your family and your business completely separated.

The Notorious B.I.G., “10 Crack Commandments” (1997)

Well, it finally happened. It finally happened. In a divorce that’s been building all season, Earn and Alfred (Paper Boi) are no more. Good.

In this “Robbin’ Season,” it’s Earn who is the victim, and as with the entire season, it’s about more than a physical theft. Think about it this way: In season two, Earn has lost his “home” (the storage unit where he sleeps), his girlfriend, Van (who was the only positive thing going for him), and now his job (which he was never good at anyway).

The premise of the entire episode: Earn is booking Al an unpaid gig on a college campus in Statesboro, presumably Georgia Southern University. Al’s not comfortable with the gig from jump but begrudgingly goes along because of Earn’s insistence that it’ll lead to a bigger spring break payday. But he buries the lead until the last minute — that not only is it unpaid, but they’re also staying in a girl’s dorm room.

Earn doesn’t understand what Al and the rest of us learned last episode: Paper Boi’s celebrity has multiplied to the point where he can’t be living reckless like this. Regardless, Earn, Al, Darius and Tracy (who appoints himself “security” for the small fee of $200) hit the road.

When in doubt, just talk about rap. The disgust is written all over Al’s face.

Not only is the young lady, Violet, more than willing to let Paper Boi stay in her room. Not only does she obviously want to have sex with him. Not only is there a footprint on the ceiling. But she tells him of a dream she had in which she (a crocodile) eats Al (a crane) and a powerful light shoots through her belly. But all of this could have easily been avoided if Earn wasn’t so cheap.

Things go to hell in gasoline pajamas at the gig when Violet catches him talking to two other coeds who are fans of his music. She pours beer on him. This prompts security (i.e., Tracy) to push her down the stairs. Earn catches her before she falls, but the damage is done. They leave, but not before being confronted by an angry mob of black students who want revenge for Violet’s near-tragic fall. Earn attempts to defuse the situation, but Tracy sets it off by knocking out the mob’s leader. The Flabbergasted Four run through campus until they’re “safe,” ending up at a white frat house.

By now, Al is pissed. He’s not getting paid. He didn’t even get a chance to perform. And all he wants is some weed — which he finds at the frat house, plus a lot more. White fraternities, especially in the South, have always been an odd topic, and the contrast here, with the pajama jam, is vivid.

There’s a dark and powerful symbolism at play as Al and Earn part ways in the shadow of the Confederate flag.

For one, the white frat had no clue the black student union was even having a party on campus — a sign of just how segregated the campus is. But they offer to smoke Al out, which is all he really wants. Interestingly enough, there’s a large sign with the year “1863” outside the house — the year Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The next thing we see is Al, Darius, Earn and Tracy sitting in a living room. A large Confederate flag is behind them, and naked pledges are in front of them.

One of the frat bros talks to Al about his deep love of Southern rap, in particular UGK. In part because Al is a recognizable rapper these days, but also because the frat bro felt like the only thing he could talk to him about was rap. The conversation is familiar for any black person who has ever been in the same uncomfortable position. When in doubt, just talk about rap. The disgust is written all over Al’s face.

It’s when the pledges leave, and Darius and Tracy go see “the gun room,” that Al and Earn have the conversation that’s been bubbling to the surface.

“I think we need to talk about the real problem,” Al says. Earn thinks it’s Tracy, whom he blames for the entire night going astray. But that’s just Earn once again either being oblivious to his own ineptitude or scared to hold himself accountable for the trip’s comedy of errors. Earn has repeatedly tried to game the process, only to come out on the short end of the stick.

Yet there’s a dark and powerful symbolism at play as Al and Earn part ways in the shadow of the Confederate flag. The foursome return to the dorm the next morning to find their bags on the front lawn, their clothes destroyed, their car damaged and Earn’s laptop stolen. In a fit of rage, Earn pulls the fire alarm.

What exactly were Alfred and Darius beefing over in the first episode?

The episode ends with Earn attempting to fight Tracy. He’s blaming Tracy, but really Earn is coming to grips with the fact that nothing in his life is going right. He demands Al pull the car over — a moment hilariously reminiscent of this Family Guy scene. Nevertheless, Tracy easily washes Earn, punching him repeatedly then dropping him on his face. A battered and bruised Earn stumbles back to the car as the credits roll.

What’s interesting about “North of the Border” is that it’s the first episode all season that ties in to previous ones. Until now, each episode lived on its own. The Band-Aid on Al’s nose is a subtle homage to last week’s “Woods.” Al mentioning how he wants a manager like Clark County’s dates back to earlier interactions. Dots are beginning to connect as the season, presumably, draws to a conclusion. Maybe soon we’ll find out the answer to a mystery that’s been bothering fans all season: What exactly were Alfred and Darius beefing over in the first episode?

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.