I pressed play on Father’s Young Hot Ebony mixtape this Sunday and I haven’t been able to listen to anything since. Sure, I’m late on realizing that Awful Records are probably the most promising new hip-hop collective of 2015, but they’re from Atlanta, and Southerners run on their own time too, so I think they’ll cut me some slack. (Plus, the rest of Stereogum wasn’t late — Tom hailed Young Hot Ebony as Mixtape Of The Week back when it came out.) A chunk of the independent label’s 15-member-deep roster has been up in New York for the past few weeks, throwing shows, parties, and introducing Brooklyn to their slippery, swampy sound. I missed the more official performance at Baby’s All Right last week that caught the attention of Billboard, but due to demand, the crew managed to squeeze in a warehouse-style show last night.
The show was being held at the Kymberle Project — a venue so obscure that it was billed on the flyer as just a random address in south Brooklyn — and the tone for the evening was immediately set by the sheets tacked up to separate the concrete floors of the space into rooms. This was not the label’s industry-peacocking show, but more of a casual party before heading back home. Earlier this week, Awful Records kingpin Rich Po Slim was discussing last night’s show on Dirrtwave’s radio show, and he admitted that demand from fans was the primary motivation behind adding another set during their trip.
The audience reflected this, a mix of younger kids and those so thrilled to be there that they broke out in moshing, even during the DJ set lulls between a handful of openers who varied widely in their ability to command the room. So when Father took the stage sometime around midnight, his ability to pump up the crowd was in stark contrast to the smattering of previous performers. Self-admittedly fucked up — and Rich Po even shouted out ‘shrooms from the stage— Father struggled a bit to focus on rapping, and the fact that the stage was barely an inch off the ground probably blurred boundaries further. Throughout the night the label also faced laptop and sound system issues—a product of performing in a DIY venue.
State of mind and technology aside, when Father launched into his tape’s eponymous track, or the caustic, dead-eyed “Why Can’t I Cry $$$,” he emanated sheer force. Father raps with the kind of casualness that mimics conversation, before he’ll effortlessly invert wording and rhythms to twist the meanings of entire phrases. Even more astounding is that according to his Bandcamp page, he produced or co-produced every track on Young Hot Ebony aside from one. And as good as he is at rapping — which is really fucking good — it’s the production that catapults him into another realm. The songs are more like ecosystems than anything else, layers of beats, bass lines, sound effects and ad-libs that whirr around each other in well-oiled synchronicity. Some of his looped vocal samples thrum with such an alien sound they remind me of frogs singing into humid summer nights, or the thick buzz of mosquitos. And his indolent delivery recalls the slow-as-molasses pace of Southern culture, never sluggish but so nonchalant it would’ve seemed almost accidental when he was rapping last night, if he wasn’t smirking as he did it.
My only complaint was some combination of these factors halted the show fairly early, leaving eager fans still hungry to chant the addicting chorus of “wrist wrist wrist wrist wrist wrist wrist” or ironically praise Nokia flip phones via his two most high-profile tracks “Look At Wrist” and “Nokia” respectively. (There was also a girl there begging him to play “Dossier,” and shouts out to that girl, because that’s my favorite song on the tape, too.) But it was still pretty charming to watch Father while he’s still in the stage of his career where he’s performing in a sketchy warehouse in the middle-of-nowhere Brooklyn. He’ll be on a much different stage soon.