premiere: awful records' ethereal and archibald slim share their new collaborative ep
Atlanta’s lords of darkness link up for 'Slum Beautiful,' a clutch of sensuous, menacing tracks.
It's 2016, and ATLiens have invaded. Many of the game's major players and brightest up-and-comers have been beamed up from Atlanta to the national stage — on the strength of buoyant trap beats, experimental cadences, and, most recently, anime-inspired dresses. Yet, amongst all this forward-thinking genre blending, what becomes of Southern rap's canonical conventions: richly layered production stylings and molasses-thick lyrical flows that never try too hard? Awful Records' Ethereal and Archibald Slim have proven excellent guardians.
Slum Beautiful, the pair's new collaborative EP that makes its premiere on i-D today, flexes the best elements of the South without feeling like a textbook revival. The sample-heavy, gritty sound turns to laconic trumpets ("Mud") at one moment, lo-fi video-game style synths the next (standout "Do What We Do"). "It was a dark time surrounding Awful's come up, a dark time in general. In a lot of the verses and in the recordings I feel you can hear the grit and the aggravation in our deliveries," Ethereal explains. "At first it was a very grim, droll vibe; but after months of sitting on the album we both feel it has blossomed into something beautiful that we can look back on. Slum Beautiful — a dichotomy. Ugly but pretty. Diamond in the rough."
We catch up with Awful's architects to learn more about it.
Obviously, it's not your first time working together. What keeps you reconnecting?
A: When we first met, [Ethereal] was already making music. I had just begun to really take it seriously, and I would always turn to people to see what they thought. Ethereal always encouraged me to keep going and ever since then, we just bounce ideas off of each other. It's a friendly competition, but at the same time, it's symbiotic.
E: I met Archie through Fat and KeithCharles SpaceBar when I first started chilling with them back in 2011. Archie was coming around to do various business transactions and would sit in on sessions. I started to pick up on the type of music he listened to, and I was genuinely intrigued because I didn't know anyone else making that style of music at the time. We both connect on a certain level with music and our mindsets, and have a love for the same vices. We've been through so much in a small amount of time and even though this is our first collaborative project, we draw from each other musically so much already. I truly feel like he's a brother to me; we always have each other's backs.
What are some aspects of each other's work or style that you think makes for such an excellent pairing?
A: A lot of people lie in their music. A lot of people try to make music that sounds like what's hot. I think we push each other to go more outside of what we would usually do just for the fact that we both pride ourselves on being original.
E: When I first heard Archie's music I was excited because it was a sound I was straying away from reluctantly, because I believed there was no stage for it anymore. He essentially drew me back into one of my favorite styles to produce. Since Awful's inception, we have always traded tracks and passed beats back and forth between each other in hopes to inspire one another.
It's so excellent to see Alexandria in the mix. Why did you want to get her involved with this project, and what do you think she brought to it?
A: We both love her music. She's so pure and versatile that it was easy to get her to collaborate with us. I feel she evened it out a little because it's a pretty dark tape overall.
E: Alexandria is an extension of me, honestly. She is definitely her own being, but if you see my name you are most likely going to see hers too, hahah. We got her involved because Alex is Awful's Angel and we felt she would more than for sure balance out the album's bleak areas. She is the beautiful to our slum.
Ethereal, FACT Mag recently called you and Alexandria Awful's Aaliyah and Timbaland, which I think is very accurate. How have you guys grown together over the past five years?
E: We get this comment so much; it can be overwhelming living up to others' already amazingly placed bars, but I also love and enjoy hearing this because I know Alex and I are on the right path to being musically immortal. We have learned and taught each other so much about each other's direct crafts; engineering and mixing a singer is much more work than running boards for a rapper. I make sure to try and produce music that pushes her and challenges her writing and recording skills, as opposed to giving her a track that sounds like the rest of the Top 40 hits out right now. Plus, I have to add Aaliyah and Tim are one of the greatest duos ever. Ever. So this just reminds me faithfully that we have our work cut out for us.
It's already been such an excellent year for Awful. What are you guys most excited about for the future?
A: Our friend Dexter just got out of jail and has just been producing nonstop; I'm working on a project as a follow up to one called Don't Call the Cops. I'm excited to see how that does, and also to see how everyone else is going to grow musically because there is always room for growth.
E: To have come so far in such little time while staying true to our motives has been dope. The ability to retain our individuality as a whole in such a gripping industry is what we are most focused on, and to see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is really cool. We just want to do what no one else has. One day at a time.
Text Emily Manning