What we’re about to say might hurt the feelings of Odd Future fans. We know it might hurt Tyler, The Creator’s feelings, and for that we apologize. But the truth is, Awful Records is closer to Star Trak than Odd Future ever will be.
There’s a tendency in hip-hop post-2010 to compare every new rap collective to Odd Future. That may be the press’s fault, or it may be the fault of artists existing, consciously or otherwise, in the shadow of Tyler, Earl, and friends, but it’s nonetheless noticeable. Almost overnight, Odd Future not only blew up, but became the standard against which every other emerging rap group was measured. It’s a shame their image outran their music. The laptop-driven, bedroom-produced music of insulated, inspired artists was in full effect by the time OF stepped on the scene, but their colorful, childish visual aesthetic allowed them to lay claim to the scene, either willfully or by accident.
Awful Records avoids the OF yardstick by hurdling over it. For all of Odd Future’s success, the group’s best musician has proved to be the R&B artist who was signed before all of them — Frank Ocean. The standout talent in Awful Records is hard to point out because none of them falter. Every artist does something worth listening to; none of it comes off as a joke, a gag, a waste of time. These are kids who sound isolated from a world they don’t feel like participating in. “I want to keep the brand pure,” Father, the group’s de facto leader thanks to his minor hit “Look At Wrist,” told Fader. “I’ve been trying to limit crossover and all that. Any time I’m like, ‘Ah, I should just go pay an engineer,’ I’ll be like, ‘Nah, f–k that. I need to sit here and learn how to do it.’” Their determination is evident in the furious stream of music they’ve released. So far this year, the 14 members of Awful Records have collectively dropped more releases than there are rappers in the group.
Rich Po Slim wasn’t a rapper, at least not at first. According to his Twitter bio, he’s the Dame Dash of Awful Records, but he was dropping guest verses and filming videos for the crew until doing the ‘Brawl EP’ with Father and dropping his own ‘Hubris EP’ earlier this week. It seems like the best rappers are often guys that sound like they stumbled onto their talent by accident. They ignore standard rap conventions and learn as they go, like getting thrown in the water and learning how to swim. Lacking regard for what’s “supposed” to be done, they forge their own ways of saying words on a microphone.That’s Rich Po Slim.
Rich can sound like he’s just winging it, but it gives his music an unorthodox appeal. When rappers say “f–k rap” they’re hard to take seriously. Usually they’re trying too hard. Rich raps without a filter. It doesn’t sound premeditated, and it makes his work immediate, like we’re hearing about his life in real time. Archie sounds a little more relaxed, but again, that makes him sound like a comfortable rapper, while Rich pushes the envelope. It could be that Archibald is simply more suited for the traditional rap fan, while Rich Po Slim is a little more experimental. Just listen to what Rich does to the end of ‘Nokia.’
Of all the Awful members, Archibald Slim is the one busiest releasing music. This year alone he’s dropped five of his own projects, plus a collab tape with Stalin Majesty. His work is influenced by a host of Southern forebears like DJ Screw and Three 6 Mafia as well as contemporaries like SpaceGhostPurrp and Lil’ Ugly Mane, but his music ultimately sounds like none of theirs. There is the faintest Neptunes inspiration in the work of Father and Archibald. Something about the acoustic sound getting duplicated digitally calls Chad and Pharrell’s style to mind, and the gathering of hard, unpolished MCs recalls the days of Rosco P. Coldchain and Fam-Lay. In the Fader interview, Father made sure to emphasize his lack of traditional training. “It’s self-taught. I didn’t learn how to do anything in particular, so I’m just playing with sounds. Me, in particular, I mimic the s–t I listened to when I was younger, like Timbaland.”
Truthfully, every single Archibald Slim release is worth checking out. They’re all concise, cohesive, and well-crafted. Awful might be DIY, but Archibald isn’t an amateur. His strongest tapes are probably his first, ‘Cognac,’ and ‘He’s Drunk,’ but one of the best things about Awful is how it’s members could pop up on any other member’s song. Rich Po Slim shows up on Archie’s “Put In Work” and drops a verse Pimp C would be proud of. Arch returns the favor on the more brash ‘Full Moon.’ Each Awful release feels communal, as if it’s borne from huge sessions where different musicians drift in and out to make contributions. When other regions wonder why they aren’t thriving, it could be because their isn’t a sense of artists supporting one another like there is in Atlanta.
Atlanta, while it seems like it’s on the cutting edge of the music industry today, needs a breath of fresh air. Yes, Young Thug and Migos have the biggest profiles from the city right now, but even their styles are getting a little over-imitated. The Awful crew has a rainbow of talent and their sound is a mix of the old with the new. It isn’t too jarring to scare away traditionalists – Archibald Slim uses samples because of “Big L, Nas, s–t from New York,” according to Father — yet the spirit of the squad is DIY as they continue wading in the waters without an (ostensible) record deal. They’ve only just begun, but what’s clear is the Awful boys have a vision. As long as they keep executing, they’ll have a loyal fanbase at their backs.