Live Review: Father and Awful Records Electrify at Brooklyn's Baby's All Right
In an age when every rapper's project seems to run long, having the courage to produce something short can be radical.
Father, an Atlanta rapper, showed the virtues of brevity on 2014's Young Hot Ebony, a streamlined set of 10 songs that offered a distilled dose of his unique style. Performing Thursday (Jan. 22) at Baby's All Right in Brooklyn, Father once again demonstrated that concision doesn't have to come at the expense of range, quality, or plain old fun.
Father hails from Atlanta, which many of hip-hop's fast-rising stars call home. The density of rap names in the city means that all of its music gets more scrutiny. And more scrutiny means more opportunities for new talent.
Along with a dedicated group of collaborators, Father runs his own label, Awful Records, which is taking full advantage of the opportunities the Atlanta rap scene has to offer.
"You don't need a major label in 2014," Awful's Rich Po Slim told Billboard last year. "[S]ocial media, we're kids of that...We make what's cool. The labels want us for that. We can cultivate that ourselves and make money off of that and never have to give them a dollar."
But you can't maintain your cool without a distinctive sound: there's a punk-like austerity to the music on Father's 2014 releases -- the L1L D1DDY EP and Young Hot Ebony -- that makes them stand out. The longest track doesn't crack four minutes; the shortest doesn't break two. And a Father beat, usually a sparse combination of hi-hats and low-end, makes one from DJ Mustard -- lean by most standards -- look overly fussy.
Father also sounds different from his fellow ATLiens. Compared to a rapper like Young Thug, who buries listeners with a barrage of energetic vocal quirks, Father plays it cool -- a slow burn, not a sudden explosion. He favors a flat delivery and a constancy of tone, which adds gravity to a hook like "wrist wrist wrist wrist." At other times, his affect creates humorous contrast: the amusing conceit of "Why Can't I Cry $$$" is made stranger when Father intones the title in a strange, slack monotone.
His show at Baby's offered a number of different ideas about what a concert could be. Obviously it's a performance. But why limit yourself? Father's show was also a karaoke event, a dance party, a chance to hang out with his friends, and an opportunity to share new music.
How many people were on stage at once? First four or five. Soon eight. Then at least 14. (Between a smoke machine and other sources of haze, it wasn't easy to tell.) Father may have been the name on the marquee, but this was a collective effort from start to finish. KeithCharlesSPACEBAR, also on Awful Records, was present, as was Rich Po Slim, who functioned as Father's second-in-command and main rapping partner.
Father would start each song in the middle of the stage, with his comrades respectfully arranged around the edge of the stage behind him. But by the first hook, everyone was creeping towards the middle. By the second hook, the stage was full of jubilant confusion -- a true musical democracy, where enthusiasm was the only thing that mattered.
The Awful Records group played several roles simultaneously. Shouting hooks? Check. Pumping fists? Naturally. Vigorous dancing? You'd be hard-pressed to find a more animated group of dancers anywhere. They sang, they ad-libbed, and they helped to raise the energy level far above that of most shows.
Audience participation also played an essential role. After working his way through a number of songs from his catalog -- "Young Hot Ebony," "Nokia," "Spoil You Rotten," "Why Can't I Cry $$$" -- Father queued up "Look At Wrist." Fans jumped on stage to join him as he acted out the song, and stayed as he played a track from another Atlantan: iLoveMakonnen's "I Don't Sell Molly No More."
Someone got their hands on a mic and joked, "clear the stage." No one stopped dancing.