awful records: putting the fun into dysfunctional
When a bunch of outsiders joined forces and began making music, they didn’t just find each other, they made each other. Welcome to Atlanta’s Awful Records.
Abra wears top TOPSHOP. Pants Joseph.
Father wears jacket Marcelo Burlon of County Milan. Rollneck The Kooples.
Tommy wears top Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY. Trousers Henry Holland. Boots Dr. Martens.
Keith wears Top, trousers jewellery and shoes model's own. Belt Lanvin.
Lord Narf wears jacket Paul Smith. Corset Vivienne Westwood.
Ethereal wears jacket Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. Top and Jewellery model's own.
Awful Records are the creators of the most influential and experimental hip-hop coming out of Atlanta right now. An ever growing collective of like-minded individuals, their census currently stands at 17 young producers, rappers and singers, united in the music they're making and their incredibly tight friendships. The label and DIY empire is led by rapper-producer Father, who blew up when his impossibly catchy Look At Wrist ft. iLoveMakonnen + Key! went viral back in July 2014, setting the wheels in motion for the rest of the family. The golden-voiced Abra took centre stage this year with her killer singles Fruit, Come 4 Me, Crybaby, and most recently, Pull Up. As she embarked on a never-ending world tour, her best friends ensured Awful Records were the sound of the summer with their fast-paced release schedule of mixtapes, albums and homemade videos. They've got the world at their feet, and as Father's happy tribe continue to march through the music ranks; 2017 looks set to get a whole lot more Awful.
Hanging out backstage before their debut London show at the church of St John-at-Hackney, Father, KeithCharles Spacebar, Abra, Ethereal, Lord Narf and Tommy Genesis don't have much time to chat. They're soundchecking, catching up with Dev Hynes (friend, collaborator and tonight's special guest performer), getting lost in the backstage maze, having their photos taken with fans, and a couple of them are high as fuck; but their relaxed approach to professionalism is exactly what we've come to expect from this gang of outsiders. All in their mid 20s, their hearts beat to an Atlanta trap rhythm, with each artist bringing their own inimitable style to the Awful sound. As Father keeps things playful, Ethereal's mellow productions are inspired by a not so secret love of anime, ladies man KeithCharles is ever Chillin Killin and breaking hearts, and Lord Narf's nostalgic flow dabbles in WITCHCRAFT. Meanwhile, evil little sister Tommy Genesis has her own furious flow and open World Vision, and Darkwave Duchess Abra references 80s R&B as she delivers hit after hit.
Father decided to start Awful Records in 2013, after something of an epiphany. "It wasn't like a seek and find mission," Ethereal explains. "We had already been sitting in the same room together, and everybody kind of slapped each other in the face, like 'Hey! Wake up! We're tight as hell man! Let's do something with this!'" Realising their collective potential, Father rallied the troops around a shared vision of independence and they quickly become what they describe as a "well-oiled, drugged-out machine". A friendly gang of misfits with superhero names and strong personalities. "Whatever the fuck your name is, that's you, and we'll let you be and do exactly that," is KeithCharles's take on it. "My friends are the most accepting people on the planet, and that's real shit."
Unless you've been living without the internet, you'll know that Atlanta's music scene is incredibly hot right now. "We're known as the weird ones," Lord Narf says of Awful Records' place in it. "Our music sounds different to regular Atlanta music." Yes, they rap about getting fucked up, but rather than doing it in fancy clubs with bottle service and strippers, their world revolves around the home studio they record in, in the Awful house they shared until the lease ended last month. Although not perfect, it was their sanctuary and a safe space to co-exist, party, and collaborate on each other's music.
"When we were all under one roof it was cool, and it's attractive to have a really tight, cult-like family unit, but eventually that can start to wear down on the foundations," Father reflects. "It's good that everybody has started building out instead of up." Tommy Genesis agrees, adding that, "The cool thing about Awful is that it has allowed us all to develop who we are. It's only natural we grow as individuals." Now based in L.A, where she juggles writing her self-proclaimed "fetish rap" with shooting Calvin Klein campaigns, Toronto-raised Tommy G was adopted by Awful after a long online friendship. "I suddenly fell into this dysfunctional family," she says. "It was a new family for me, but it feels like I've known them forever."
Like a catalyst for the next phase of their journey, KeithCharles has relocated to NY, while Abra is living the tour life, and Father, Narf and Ethereal are looking forward to taking time to reflect on the past year and plot their next moves. "Everybody is evolving in so many ways and it's so cool to see," Ethereal smiles. "It used to be that we would split up and it would hinder us, because it slowed down the workflow and everybody's overall consciousness. But now while we're here in London, there's somebody in LA, in New York, in Atlanta. It's really cool to see everybody moving around."
As they continue to grow, to put more music out and start forging their own individual empires, things are picking up speed. "I guess it's like getting thrown in the deep end of the pool and you either sink or swim," Father says. "A lot of us are swimming. I mean, others are doggy paddling but some of us just went straight in." What stroke is he doing? "I'm at a good stride. I'm not like, deep sea diving or anything like that... it's not like I went for some crazy-ass million dollar deal or anything." But he could've done. He has been approached but never taken the bait, deciding against it. "I don't wanna lose my ability to do what I want, when I want. I get to be independent and learn from my mistakes; it's a slower process, but I feel like it's good for me in the long run. I understand how long I want to be in this game."
Having had a similar realisation, Ethereal woke up from his Atlanta daydream and got his very first passport for this trip. "I feel like, we did this, so we can do anything. It's not a game anymore. At this point it's waiting on us, so we'd be foolish to not move on it." In doing so, Lord Narf hopes to inspire others back home, telling us, "I want people in Atlanta who are musicians to see me in London and to understand that if they really want it, they can make it happen!"
The sold out show in the Hackey church unsurprisingly ends up being a fucking ball. "I used to be on the other side of the pulpit feeling not so much like myself," Abra tells i-D at the end of the night, referencing her strict Christian upbringing. "Then I was in the pulpit being exactly myself." The night felt important, inclusive, energetic and full of positivity. Like Abra in that place of worship, we witnessed the transformative effect of finding your people and running with it. Awful's tight little family might be a little dysfunctional, but their portrait looks pretty happy.
Looking to the future, Father is working on what may be his last record for a while. He hopes to step back from making music and get into executive producing, overseeing the label and bringing even more artists into the fold. "We've been kicking it for a long time now - we're eventually going to graduate, we'll be alumni, and there needs to be another class to come up under us if we're going to keep the brand strong." He also wants a house by the beach with a big desk and a big chair from which he can run shit. But for now? In the midst of the madness, what would they rate as the best Awful moment so far? "Everything," Abra enthuses. "The good and the bad. We've had a fucking ball!"
Text Frankie Dunn
Photography Ronan McKenzie
Styling Bojana Kozarevic
Hair Maki Tanaka using Bumble and bumble. Make-up Daniel Sallstrom at CLM using NARS Cosmetics. Styling assistance Lula Ososki.