Atlanta rap has never exactly been hurting for weirdos; it is, after all, the city that gave the world André 3000. Lately, the city’s street-rap universe has been comprised of almost nothing but gifted space-travelers: Gucci Mane, Future, Young Thug, Migos, each of them an utterly singular artist in one way or another. And right now, there’s a whole new generation of space cadets working out their voices. These guys, who don’t necessarily come from a centralized scene, have a style completely different from the yammering street-rap guys, even though there’s overlap between their world’s. They’re internet creatures, curator types who know how to photogenically present their own idiosyncrasies. They pop pills and rap over woozy instrumentals and speak in dorm-stoner terms about how crazy the world is. ILoveMakonnen croons chillwave hooks about how dealing drugs is a shitty and boring job, a skill he’s somehow translated into a record deal with Drake. Rome Fortune dyes his beard different colors and makes songs with Four Tet. And a whole crew of muttering zone-out rap kids is coalescing around Awful Records, which is less a label and more a loose crew — 14 members, of different races and genders, slurring atmospheric threats over the bloopy synthetic haze of in-house producer KeithCharles Spacebar. Their Soundcloud page is a place where you can get lost.
At this point, it’s impossible not to compare Awful to the young, scrappy, genuinely unsettling version of Odd Future that first started showing up on our RSS feeds around 2010. The setups are similar: Kids sitting around each other’s houses, recording on each other’s computers, throwing shit up online so quickly that nobody really has time to process all of it. The aesthetics are similar, too: Airily blurry synth beats, pitch-shifted vocals, lyrics that use generalized shock value to smuggle in some seriously bitter and poignant society-has-abandoned-us sentiment. Last week’s Mixtape Of The Week was Young Hot Ebony, from Father, who right now is the most visible member of the crew. It’s a simplistic comparison, but Father is, more or less, the closest thing that Awful has to a Tyler, The Creator: A raspy-voiced provocateur who knows how to use bloody-minded sex-and-drugs talk to grab attention, who’s figured out how to turn idly mumbled phrases (“wrist wrist wrist wrist”) into genuine hooks. And Arcibald Slim, who just released his debut tape He’s Drunk!, might be the Earl Sweatshirt, or maybe the Mike G, of Awful. He’s the gifted low-key technician who seems happy to just rap, whose monotone flow has its own sort of gravity, and whose music is ultimately a whole lot more compulsively listenable than what Father is doing.
At a certain point, though, you have to stop with the Odd Future comparisons. (OK, one more: Slug Christ is Awful’s Jasper Dolphin.) Awful are working with an entirely different set of influences. The all-important thump of Atlanta rap shows through in the way Awful’s tapes are mastered, and the city’s long history of man-on-the-street drug-talk comes through, as well. On He’s Drunk!, there’s also a healthy dose of New York boom-bap in evidence. The beat of “Politics,” for instance, has the classic Three 6 Mafia yeah, ho! chant in its skeleton, but its drums are pure DJ Premier stagger-crack. “Life II” has fluttering congas and a lonely jazz flute winding through it. “HoldOn…” has an old-time backpack-rap sensibility, both in its hazy Fender-Rhodes-sounding warmth and in the burnt-out fatalism in Slim’s voice.
As a lyricist, Slim is solid and workmanlike, but expressive, too. His words are dark, but they’re not Odd Future dark. They’re built from the sort of darkness that happens when you realize that the only way you’ll escape a hopeless situation is through doing dirt and killing your own soul: “I see the future in my blunt burning, everything comes to an end / Like the point where good intentions starts to turn to a sin / You don’t eat if you don’t work / For what it’s worth, put it in / Call me worthless, I’ll for sure have shit to show in the end.” “StayBlackandDie” is about knowing that all he has to do to fulfill a stereotype is die. Plenty of Slim’s Awful sound like they’re fucking around in their raps; on “Shut Up,” for instance, Father gets in a few doofy lines about how he wishes a naked Chelsea Handler would interview him. But Slim is not fucking around. And in the short half-hour runtime of He’s Drunk!, he proves that he has things to say and that he’s fully capable of saying them. I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more from this kid.
Download He’s Drunk! at Soundcloud.