It’s a chilly weeknight in the Hasidic part of Williamsburg, and Awful Records is taking over. In a few hours at the local venue Baby’s All Right, the Atlanta record label and crew’s benevolent overlord, Father, will play his first solo New York City show. For now, Awful has congregated at the 10th-floor loft of a buddy, an odd place with a rack of antlers on the wall, an impressively curated VHS collection, paint splatters, ferns, and a startling view of the bright Manhattan skyline. And they’ve gone about setting themselves up with a well-earned little pre-party.
Smoke rises, cans are cracked, bottle caps are removed. The music drops in and out at deafening volumes as the assembled jostle for control of the auxiliary cord. (“Finna jump on that pussy,” says the voice on the stereo.) More friends stream in, smiley and warm, decked out in yellow ski masks or elaborate head wraps adjusted just so. A girl in an M&Ms coat, ’90s Björk buns, and a safety-pinned septum wishes Awful’s Rich Po Slim a happy birthday, to his confusion. Because it’s, uh, not his birthday? “Oh well,” she retorts, sleepily. “We gon’ turn up anyways.”
In the middle of the scrum sits Father, wearing a mustache, glasses, and Thai Buddha head necklace. He’s 24 years old, unassuming, and winningly polite; for now, he’s keeping his real name off the record. And since the breakout success of his ILoveMakonnen-featuring Internet hit “Look at Wrist” and his sneakily great album Young Hot Ebony, he finds himself nursing both his own fledgling career and the prospects of the scrappy crew he created — currently one of the most promising young collectives working in music.
“For the most part everyone calls me Father, or ‘Fat,’” he says, by way of introduction. “Once it really got booming — basically, when the summer hit, and everything was really going up — it was like: ‘OK, guys. We can’t walk around saying each other’s real names anymore.’”
For a minor anthem, “Wrist” sure is a strange number. The beat is harsh and clanging when it’s not totally spare. The intro is preposterous: “Yoooaaa,” Father drawls. “Look at God.” And the refrain is mostly that titular, historically underlooked body part, said over and over and over: “Wrist, wrist, wrist, wrist, wrist, wrist.” The feeling of a mature adult music fan, off somewhere alone, listening on expensive headphones and muttering, in response, What is this shit? is almost palpable. In other words: It is perfect.
It’s also, like most of Young Hot Ebony, slyly subversive. “I want my wrist so cold, pneumonia in my fist,” Father brags, taking stunting into the realm of the absurd. “Never had to whip a brick but I get the gist,” he follows, undercutting legions of would-be coke-rap dons with a quick wink and a pat on the back.
Appropriately, it was his immediate predecessors in the lineage of buzzing rap crews that got it first. “I’d heard from various people in A$AP,” Father recalls. “And just different shit from all over: [Odd Future’s] Earl [Sweatshirt] being like, ‘I fuck with you. Tyler [the Creator] being like, ‘I fuck with you.’ It went up real fast.” Perpetually obsessed with any well-defined nexus of creative flourishing, attention from the music media followed suit.
Awful goes 15 deep. But that’s just officially: There are always buddies and producers and managers floating around and crashing on couches in “the barrio,” the communal apartments they share in East Atlanta. They are a low-key socialist utopian dream. They all make music, with releases from some of the more senior members — like Archibald Slim and KeithCharles Spacebar — already garnering small waves of attention. The plan is for everyone to get it. All animals are equal. No animals are more equal than others.
“We’ve sat and assessed other groups,” Father says. “How their dynamics worked out. You have a lead act, and you have a second, tertiary, fourth [act] … and oh, this person’s the weed carrier. What kind of shit is that! That’s the old crew model. That’s not how we run.”
They got lucky, really: They actually like each other. “It’s shocking, honestly,” he says. “Being around people all the time and not getting sick of them. And then when you leave you’re like, ‘Damn, what are my friends doing?’”
Awful follows a simple, familiar philosophy: Do it yourself. Or, as Father put it in a recent tweet, one that pinged from West to East to an infamous serial killer from 16th-century Hungarian high society: “This not Star Wars, aint no ancient Chinese secrets, I avoid old n----s at all cost, u heard of Elizabeth Báthory.”1
For the record: Bathory tortured and murdered hundreds of servant girls; it was rumored, but never actually confirmed, that she bathed in the blood of virgins.
Repeatedly, Father becomes indignant at the idea that some might consider him above his friends. “I don’t dictate over anybody,” he says. “People look to me for advice in rap shit, and I’m there to put my hand on your shoulder. Like, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job!’ [But] I trust in everybody’s decisions. That’s why I fucked with them from the start. It’s more about encouraging people to be themselves. So I guess that kind of makes me dad.”
But there is the hard fact that Father has gotten on first. And so, OK, maybe some animals are a little more equal than others.
Following his minor burst of fame, he says, his crew told him: “We’re all looking to you. You are leading this pack.” And the name, Father — “it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Let me go ahead and drill in,” he says. “I’m actually very good at this. I’m not fucking around. We are all very good at this.”
Father was a sophomore at Georgia State University in Atlanta, studying visual arts and film, when he decided to make his move. “I was doing graphic design since I first got Photoshop,” he says. “I was already filming videos. Everything was self-taught. And I’m sitting there in class and it was all good information. But — a medium close-up? I can learn that myself by just doing this. Why am I sitting here writing down vocabulary terms?”
The idea was to collaborate with local artists on videos and visuals, but that quickly shifted to building himself and his crew. “Rather than getting paid from other artists that I don’t even like that much,” he remembers thinking, “we can get paid for this. Very well.” It became Awful Records.
He dropped out, telling his mom, who works as a nurse, to trust him. And suddenly, Father wasn’t just an aspiring entrepreneurial record exec, but a musician, too. He started taking writing seriously, scribbling lyrics and poetry and spare thoughts in his phone and on his computer. “Initially I was very technical,” he says. “Bars were just sentences to me. Eventually, I kind of — they would say ‘dumbed it down.’ I feel like it’s being more clever.”
Father has no interest in wasting time, and so everything on Young Hot Ebony has been stripped down to its bare necessities. The pinnacle is “2 Dead, 6 Wounded,” his best track so far. After a news clip announces the grisly body count, Father spools out a string of deadpan threats. They are utterly unemotional, and all the more terrifying for it. According to Father’s manager, whenever a similarly phrased news report comes out of Tuscaloosa or Topeka or wherever, they see a small uptick in social media followers.
“Saying the most with as little words as possible,” he explains. “It’s kind of what Twitter’s done. If you can shorten a sentence down to four words, I feel like you’ve done way more work.”
Before he was Father, he worked at food trucks, at a BBQ spot, as an ice cream man — even at a hospital, transporting dead bodies. (“The only thing that fucked with me is I had to move a dead baby. I was like, I’m not fucking with this.”) His last gig, as a bar back, he wasn’t feeling much either.
He’d talk to his coworkers about his music a little, but mostly kept his head down, a muted version of himself. “That was pretend me. Fake me. ‘Oh, hey guys, ha ha — what’s up, customers!’ Once I was able to dissolve that other part, that was me being real me. Me being how I am now. Fat. Father. The bad guy. Awful Records.”
It’s time to head to Baby’s All Right, and the party slowly disperses. The music is shut off. Father gets his photo taken near the plants, snatching his glasses off his face before he does. A slim Awful associate — with a splint on his hand from last night’s skateboarding accident — asks the proprietor of the loft, a white dude with a modified samurai haircut, if he has access to Percocet.
No, the proprietor responds. But he does have Xanies. They both agree that wouldn’t help — those just put you to sleep. Eventually, they settle on Advil. At least it’ll help with the swelling. Then the splint guy pulls out his cracked phone and shows us the gruesome video of the doctor cracking his finger back into place.
In speech and manner, Father is reassuringly calm. He’s happy to have heard that he sold out the venue. He’s happy to dwell on his newfound ability to pack these bars and small clubs. He’s also happy to daydream of more.
“Just keep building until it doubles, triples, quadruples,” he says. “Till I got a million followers on Twitter and I can go to Miami and parlay and kick it and not worry about money. And we getting goddamn Madison Square Garden status. That type of shit.”
But first — maybe a visit to the old job.
“I’mma get a couple more chains, and a lot more gold on me, and I’mma walk in there and be like — ‘Everybody at the bar, shots! Shots for everybody at the bar!’”