Something awful this way comes
Meet Father. He’s the unofficial poster child of one Awful Records – a collective of young artists and musicians hailing from rap’s current epicentre Atlanta, Georgia that are neither awful nor a record company, at least in the traditional sense. You might have heard of Father via his micro-single “Look at Wrist”, either through the iLoveMakonnen feature or perhaps you heard its chorus’ unforgiving repetitiousness in a Vine video somewhere. You might have even only come across it recently, when videos of Tyler, the Creator and Father performing the song live surfaced online a few days ago. The most likely scenario though is that you have no idea who Father is and hold no knowledge of the collective he represents. If that’s the case then consider yourself lucky, as I’m about to take you through a quick tour of one of the most exciting developments to happen to hip hop in 2014: Awful Records.
In a nutshell, Awful Records is an independent venture that eschews the traditional format for producing and releasing music, scouting and promoting talent and generally just being creative in the new millennium. Comprised of anywhere between 11 and 15 members (the number changes all the time), Awful Records is a group of musicians and artists that work out of a small apartment in Atlanta. This collective is sustained through creative talent and energy alone (with a keen sense of contemporary social media marketing strategies to boot), and based upon the releases that came out in 2014 it must be a wellspring.
Before we delve into exactly what makes Awful Records tick, it’s well worth briefly going through their roster of talent, as it's the variable that perhaps makes them most appealing. Aside from Father, whose minimalist aggression is instantly intoxicating, there is also Ethereal, the most subdued of the group whose trip hop/cloud rap styles recall a druggier Frank Ocean or Tricky; Archibald Slim, the straight-up tricked-out OG character of the group who sounds like a lean sipping OutKast; Richposlim, Awful’s most outlandish and trap focused member; KeithCharles Spacebar, the futurist of the crew whose recent release KEEP[COUNT] is probably the darkest of the collective’s output so far; Slug Christ, the group’s only white member and therefore resident art-school weirdo; as well as GAHM, Stalin Majesty, Lord Narf, Pyramid Quince, LuiDiamonds, Abra, Micah Freeman and Playboi Carti. At least, I think that’s all of them.
If you’re thinking Wu-Tang or Odd Future you’re on the right track, as Awful Records are a collective first and foremost, utilising the multiple talents of the group to propel and develop the individuals within. Where Awful differs from the aforementioned groups however is with its methods of production and distribution. Whereas Wu-Tang and Odd Future both developed a cunning group mentality early on, Awful seem to be pooling their creativity and subsequently dishing it out through a larger number of streams. With each member frequently found collaborating with one another – including through guest spots on another’s song or production credits on another member’s release – the Awful crew are utilising the spark of inspiration and excitement of spontaneity in ways that benefit each member as well as the whole.
This can be seen in the insanely prolific output of the group over the course of 2014. There would have to be at least one mixtape/album released every week through Awful Records, and that goes without mentioning the number of songs that repeatedly appear on each member’s Soundcloud profiles as well. Archibald Slim for instance (my personal favourite of the crew) has released at least seven recordings this year, three of which surfaced in the last three months. On his best release He’s Drunk, there are guest spots from Father, Stalin Majesty and Richposlim with production credits from KeithCharles Spacebar. Even the cover art was shot and edited by Richposlim.
Everything comes from the nucleus (the two-bedroom Atlanta apartment) and everything gets fed through the Internet’s endless digital streams. Another great example is to look at the actual film clip for Father’s “Look at Wrist” (which was directed by Father himself and someone credited as Dexter), which literally takes place in an apartment that may or may not be Awful’s headquarters. Grassroots eat your heart out.
The best part about all of this though is that the music that is filtering out of Awful is fantastic, and not just the strange bedroom ramblings of wannabe hip hop stars. If I was to recommend some releases to begin with it would be the aforementioned He’s Drunk from Archibald Slim, Ethereal’s Blackli$t and Father’s Young Hot Ebony. Not everything that Awful releases is golden (statistically, due to the overwhelming output, it can’t be), but most of it is definitely worthy of a listen. Here is a group of artists determined to develop an individualism based upon immersion in culture and cultural practices alone, and what do you know, it might just work. I almost don’t want the crew to get any bigger and risk the temptation of lucrative record companies looking to swoop in and capitalise. We can only hope they take Chance the Rapper’s route and keep it in the family.
Awful Records is the perfect musical microcosm for 2014, and the level of exposure they are receiving is perfectly in line with their low-key practices. A direct combatant to the clogged drain that is contemporary hip hop, with its dwindling major label numbers and surging underground/internet stylings, Awful Records are the antidote to a genre that has clearly already reached its apex in terms of cultural influence and power. Taking the power back then seems the only logical solution, and who better to do it than a group of young, impassioned and clued-in individuals whose only ambitions seem to be good tunes and good times.
Where do you sign up, you ask? Here might be a good starting point. Just don’t sign on any dotted lines.