In theory, this should be a debaucherous celebration. Earlier this month, Father, the 28-year-old rapper, producer, and mastermind behind Awful Records, announced a joint deal for his label with RCA, as well as his new mixtape, Awful Swim, which released in full September 21 after a partial debut on Adult Swim’s website two days prior. To complete the satisfying rule of three, he also dropped a Wiccan house party of a music video for “Thotnite,” the mindlessly fun single that’s actually quite sex-positive upon deeper examination and pairs an innocent melody with the playful repetition of “Thotnite, Thotnite, Thotnite, Thotnite…” It’s not a stretch to believe he draws a parallel between slut-shaming and the Salem witch trials.
Neither is it a stretch to say Awful Swim is his best project to date, displaying a welcomed improvement in cohesion as it ebbs with the sultrier songs you play when you bring the party home and flows with the voracious anthems that fit best for the party itself. Father is known more for the latter, but both archetypes of his music have been refined; his humor and his earnestness, his charm and his sleaze, all operating in harmony.
Just a few years ago, Awful Records was one of Atlanta’s most intriguing collectives, a diverse roster of weirdos unified by their commitment to pushing sonic and cultural boundaries. With “Look at Wrist,” the infectious 2014 single, Father helped launch the career of frequent collaborator Makonnen. With Awful, he helped launch the careers of the lo-fi R&B singer-turned-actress Abra, the devilishly sweet Tommy Genesis, the massive lituation-to-be in Playboi Carti, and several other artists. Along the way, he also carved out a space for himself as a self-aware scumbag, a shameless narrator of raunchy trysts and drug-fogged nights over intoxicatingly sparse trap beats. There’s even an argument to be made that he’s the true father (sorry) of mumblerap, due to his insouciant delivery similar to Earl Sweatshirt—if Earl Sweatshirt were on lean and somehow also sounded less depressed. Despite achieving all of this by 25, or maybe even because of it, his prolific output has been all but halted since early 2016. The entire big Big Three is off the label now, but it has a new crop of promising youngsters in Big Baby Scumbag and the duo Danger Incorporated.
What began as plans to hit a Korean BBQ and then a club or a bar has turned into something more low-key. A party of five sits at the end the cavernous restaurant inside Soho House’s first expansion into Brooklyn, Dumbo House. Father is joined at this late dinner his manager and Awful co-president, along with two representatives from RCA. Today was a success. All the major players in music media covered the announcements, and the fan reaction only contained enough criticism to encourage Father to believe he’s made the right move. “If everybody’s fucking with it,” he says, “You’re probably just doing the same shit you’ve been doing.”
So why is an argument dominating the conversation?
Ok, maybe not an argument. But the discussion is plainly passionate. The topic: Is now the time to lock down a certain artist to a joint Awful/RCA deal? The artist has a respectable buzz and several forthcoming songs all parties believe have the possibility to become hits. Still, is it too early to commit the kind of bag that only comes from a corporation like RCA? His manager doesn’t think so. Neither do the dudes from RCA, necessarily. Even a small loss is a loss if the subject at hand doesn’t blow up the way they anticipate. Their job descriptions call for playing devil’s advocate when the time is right. And Father, who has never shied away from satanic imagery, is strikingly silent. He listens to his manager as he goes toe-to-toe with the the more vocal and more veteran of the RCA reps, for a solid 15 to 20 minutes before even saying a word.
The elephant in the room should be Carti, who began his career with Awful before moving over to A$AP and becoming who he is today. Instead, the elephant may as well be plastered on everybody’s foreheads like they’re rocking matching MAGA hats. Carti’s name is mentioned often—the purpose of the partnership is clear: to put Awful in a position in which it never has to lose another Playboi Carti.
We begin the night in Jersey City at the Airbnb where Father, his manager, and a friend are holed up for a few days while doing press in New York City. While Father, clad in a black Helmut Lang tee, black jeans, and black leather loafers, goes to work cleaning his grey Palace hoodie in the kitchen, I take in the modest scene. Recently renovated, the wide space features cement floors, exposed brick walls, and a large L-shaped couch tucked in the corner. Near the front door is a dining room table covered in takeout boxes, a three quarters-full 750 mL bottle of Bombay gin, and a 15 oz. bottle of orange juice. The space is nice, comfortable even, but hardly what I expected from the rapper who caught my attention with lines like “The smoke, the pills, the coke, youth in revolt/ That stuff you use to cope, just hand me the rope.” But the more time you spend with Father and his music, the more your assumptions about him are dispelled.
Father’s new mixtape contains many of the same proclamations, but listen deeper and you’ll find where his mind’s at now. “Killa” is a self-produced, flute-driven slowdown immediately following “Thotnite.” It’s similar to the down-tempo joints he’s routinely sprinkled into his catalog, but this time he cranked the bass to gel better with the full project (and because he remembered he’s from the South, he says). On it, he raps, “I don’t go out, I just kick back and count my scrilla.”
When I ask about his current social habits on the phone, a week after our night spent decidedly not partying, Father says: “I’m an old drunk now. I used to go out and get fucking wasted and argue and be about the fight and shit in public, like 12 deep at the function,” he admits. “Now it’s like your parents, when they get together with their homies and sit around a card table playing spades and drinking.” His birthday party in August was a small affair, with around 10 close friends joining him on a rented yacht off the Pacific coast.
Back at the Airbnb, Father ignores the Bombay next to him on the table and focuses his consumption on a rotisserie chicken he’s just brought back. While his manager gets his haircut to the left of me on the couch, Father faces me and talks about his tattoos. He has the name of his girlfriend of 10 years on his left forearm, which I’m curious about because what if they break up? He doesn’t care. If it’s a part of his history, it’s a part of him. He doesn’t want to erase it.
Father is hardly boring now; he’s simply reached the level of washed that often manifests in those in their 20s, 30s, or whenever the hell they get tired of increasingly worse hangovers, next-day remorse; and the growing awareness of vapidness abounds. Once you reach a certain point, how likely while partying are you to find something you haven’t seen before or won’t see again? A true-to-definition “awful” year, as i-D magazine anointed it in a headline about his 2016, helped illuminate these points.
While addicted to Xanax and prescription painkillers, Father recorded that year I’m a Piece of Shit, the follow-up to 2015’s Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First? He’d already quit by the time the accompanying tour started at the end of March, but the (relative) sobriety made him hate the music he made under the influence. After the first stop in Birmingham, Alabama, he stopped playing most of the new songs, making for a tour dominated by old material and a harder turn to alcohol to deal with withdrawals.
“I was mad as fuck on that tour,” he says. “Hated that tour. Upset like every single night, you know? Fucking tripping.”
This was merely the beginning of the fallout from his addiction. When he finally returned home to Atlanta, there was a full-on explosion. Still angry, he would post up with his girlfriend in the attic, where they lived and he worked on the appropriately named Mad as Hell, the first of two projects he appropriately shelved before releasing Awful Swim. Downstairs, people, often strangers, were always around partying. On several occasions he’d storm down to yell and break it all up. Once he even grabbed the speaker blasting music and threw it straight out of the window.
“I was living in—I don’t want to say a toxic environment—but there was just so much going on at one time, and I knew that I needed to focus if I was ever gonna get back into the mode of creating good shit. Watch the movie Mother. It was exactly like that, being like, ‘Shit, where’d you come from?’”
Eventually, Father got in a better headspace, buying a bicycle that he’d ride around the neighborhood while taking breaks from music. His lease was about to end, and doing nothing about it inspired him to say farewell to the ATL once it expired. He considered New York and Toronto, but after renting an Airbnb for a month in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, the city has remained his home.
“After the first couple of days there, we were both just like: ‘Yeah this is great.’ There was no bullshit anymore,” he says. “I honestly stopped drinking. I wasn’t doing anything. I was pretty straight-laced. I was just smoking weed for a good minute, and it was great.”
Another record began to materialize in Los Angeles, but the only song to become public was “Hearthrob.” He instantly knew it was better than his last mixtape and all the shelved material that followed. Critics approved as well, with Pitchfork writing: “Considering [Father] jump started his career with a feature consisting of a six line verse, his ability to craft unconventional sleeper hits is not a surprise. Yet, the less it sounds like Father is trying, the more impressive his continued success becomes.”
The loosie reinvigorated him and also caught the attention of RCA. At the same time, Adult Swim began to show interest in working with him, and by the end of the year he’d begin working on Awful Swim in earnest, leaving an uncharacteristic year and a half for him to tinker with that ‘not trying’-sound.
The public saw very little of Father in 2017, and in the rap world such a silence, especially after five projects in three years, can lead to prognoses of a dead career. It’s the same mentality that caused many to prematurely write off Playboi Carti in the two years between his breakout single, “Broke Boi,” and his eponymous debut mixtape, which would spawn two platinum singles and peak at No. 12 on the Billboard 200.
“People think I went broke, but I made more money this year than the one before, which was more money than the one before, which was…” Father says trailing off.
Little did we know, Father used this time to come back with a loaded arsenal, thanks to RCA and Adult Swim, giving his own album his largest platform yet and affording him a much better chance at retaining superstars on Awful Records. When Carti departed he signed with A$AP Mob—and A$AP Mob already had an RCA deal in place. Rap beef has developed from less, but Father’s at peace with what happened.
“I would never try to hold somebody from reaching their full potential,” Father says. “At that time period, I could not do more for him than A$AP. Some people around me get terribly offended when somebody doesn’t want to continue working or branding with us, but I don’t give a fuck. It’s business, bro! We can still be cool once you start working with somebody else.”
Genesis, who left for Downtown Records in 2017, expresses a similar attitude. “Having [Father] and the rest of Awful support me makes me who I am today—it’s a family, and that’s not something you transition out of,” she said to Billboard.
A representative for Playboi Carti was unable to send a comment before this piece was published.
Back at Dumbo House, the Legos are no longer objects of desire on the pages of a catalog (or on Amazon, for you youths); they’re in-hand, ready to build the future of Awful Records. Father isn’t going to waste time celebrating. After listening to his Awful partner spar professionally with the two dudes from RCA, he finally chimes in by validating both sides of the argument. “Is the buzz enough?” he asks. “Can you guarantee it’ll increase?” A few beats later he considers the other side: “You want to get into it early. That’s every business. We need to maximize our profit.”
Regardless of what happens next, the second coming of Awful Records is materializing as we grab a round of post-dinner drinks before calling it a night. Whichever route Awful and RCA decide to go together, with this particular artist or the ones following, Father won’t be making his decisions out of fear. He believes in the vision that’s already attracted future stars, and he believes his new deal is strong enough to foster the growth of a new crop of artists in as they move from budding to established to beyond. The approach stays the same. All that’s changed are the tools.
“I’d rather lose some shit I was unsure of then to lose some shit because I was so sure,” he says, concluding his thoughts on the debate for the night.
I ask him a week later how he’ll define success, and the possibilities of RCA aside, a No. 1 record isn’t his grail. “For me, it’s just doing something that people highlighly respect,” he says. “There’s a lot of people out there that have number ones after number ones but nobody respects. I like to be properly adored [along with] the negative, like ‘this is a great guy, non-problematic.’”
Oh, and he wants to be the old man with his own boat, too. “I always wanted to feel like I’m somebody’s elder,” Father says. “So it doesn’t really bother me if somebody’s like, ‘You’re old, bro.’ Damn right, nigga. I’m smarter than you. I’ve been around. Let’s go.”
- Photography: Bryan Luna