Lighting fireworks off your body and smashing up golf courses: Alex Russell recounts a winter spent with wavey Atlanta hip-hop family, Awful Records.
Father is upset. The chips and dip he had prepared yesterday have gone missing. He’s just distributed the contents of two bottles of blue-dot Ciroc vodka in record time. Someone asks why he doesn’t just buy the largest possible size. Then we remember that the quantity will deplete just as quickly despite the higher volume. Perhaps limiting ourselves to 750ml bottles will also minimise the mistakes we collectively make on any given day.
You see, Awful Records consists primarily of drug addicts — and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Perhaps the only thing that ties the members together is vice. The drugs collide, the music collides, and the result is Awful. The diverse musical ground covered by the group’s 19 members render their overall sound confusing to the uninitiated. Abra makes floral rap-pop, whilst Carti makes young, fly-robber hip-hop anthems. Father can cover a Mya song, whilst Archibald Slim spits about shooting himself in the leg. It’s a mess. Slot the pieces together though, and it begins to make sense.
I first met members of Awful Records a year ago this week. At the time, I was in New York slowly dying from boredom. After what was supposed to be a regular interview, the rap group ended up sleeping at my basement apartment. Father, the group’s founder, was on his toes by this point, propelled by “Look At Wrist” and “Nokia” (both tracks which featured iLoveMakonnen). Abra, Playboi Carti, Keith Charles Spacebar, Archibald Slim, and Rich Po Slim had all made the trip up to NYC for further exposure. A blizzard kept us all in close quarters for days on end; a proximity which created a lasting bond.
“See, what had happened was, last year was a rollercoaster,” remembers Father on his Wonderland shoot. “And now, I’m back in the park again.” From here, everything he says turns into a funfair-related analogy. Did he vomit on the year-long ride? “Probably so. I’m pretty sure a couple people behind me got a good splash. But, it’s not my fault. That was The Superman.” Eh? That’s a metaphorical ride, right? “[It’s] the one where your feet don’t touch the ground. And now I’m about to go on, like, The Ninja or something.”
Since last January, the collective have toured the world, put out several albums and countless music videos. Today, Father is on the verge of releasing a collaborative EP with famed Waka Flocka Flame-producer Lex Luger. Abra is about to tour Europe as a solo act with a second date recently added to the first at London’s Corsica Studios. Meanwhile, Carti has become A$AP Mob’s newest and most highly-anticipated weapon.
But Awful started as a media company. In fact, if you travel back far enough in time on their YouTube account, you can see the transition: at first there were event promotions and sessions, then came the music. With a network of producers, DJs, rappers, singers, videographers, editors, engineers, illustrators, graphic designers, writers and photographers to call upon, audio and visual content can be built in-house, utterly without compromise.
The next logical move, then, is scaling. Rapper OG Maco recently tweeted: “Awful Records is a black-owned future multimedia juggernaut.” Father is currently embarking on a stint of shows in order to invest in a cinema-grade camera, the Canon C300, conscience-free. Awful’s most prolific illustrator, Bootymath, will be holding his first solo art exhibition at a gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, Awful’s hometown, next month.
As I write this, I’m sitting in what has become the Awful headquarters: a house in Decatur owned by Father. Last month, the UK-based music platform Boiler Room came here for two weeks to film a documentary on the group. During that period, music was made, videos were filmed, and mayhem followed. One night, we broke onto a golf course. Another evening one of the crew attempted to light fireworks off his own body.
In Awful-land, everything is done low-key and without help – there are no professional studios in the house, no real offices. Productivity comes in waves: some members are able to make music every day, while others have sudden spurts of creativity. I may have met Awful as a writer, but my involvement is only limited by my ability to think on my feet: I’ve had to learn to DJ on the spot (which, incidentally, might be the most effective method); I’ve had to change the font on someone’s album art on the day of its release; I’ve directed, shot, and edited music videos. Things really only started taking off for the collective little more than a year ago; now it stands as a platform for its own growth. It’s a loose structure, but a structure nonetheless.
“We’re about to take over the motherfucking world,” says the label’s multi-talented rapper affiliate, Micah Freeman. “And it doesn’t stop in 2016. It doesn’t stop at music. It’s much bigger than that.We did it ourselves. No fucking major label cosigns. No advances, no nothing. All DIY. And we’re making it happen. True story.”
Now is the most pivotal moment for Awful. It is finally on its feet; it can either run somewhere or collapse. As it stands, the Internet allows even the lowliest bedroom producer to snatch for the zeitgeist. All you need is a laptop and the can-do way – the Awful way.