“Everything’s personal with the music,” Jody Fontaine of AG — that’s Avant Garde — Club states intensely. He’s sitting on the back porch of the Los Angeles home that the entire group inhabits, frat-house style. The young MC/songwriter is just one component of the explosive 14-member crew, a San Francisco East Bay Area-spawned collective that houses everything from a production company, to graphic designers, to videographers, to self-proclaimed “fashion guys”.
The idea of authenticity is one they stress throughout their conversation with Billboard, reiterating that everything the group creates — from their lyrics, to their visuals, to their fashion choices — is genuine, pure, and unlike anything you’ve experienced before. “That’s the whole point of AG Club. It’s like a break away from reality.” Jody shares. “F–k the rules.”
Though the guys insist they all play an equal role in the group, today Jody — who is best known for his clever lyricism, sharp delivery and being an A$AP Rocky doppelgänger —serves as one of the two unofficial spokesmen, pausing thoughtfully as he fields the greater half of Billboard‘s questions. Baby Boy, the group’s R&B-leaning singer/songwriter assists at his side, and the pair are joined by videographers Manny and Ivan, two other of the groups’ early members from their 2017 inception.
As children of the Odd Future and A$AP Mob era of the internet, AG Club, to many, is the modern-day incarnation of a hip-hop boy band — though the boys themselves stress that they are “genre-less.” Initially coming together via Twitter and deciding that merging their talents into a group would be symbiotic, the boys have been steadily amassing fans and accolades, thanks to a consistent output of music, and in-house-created visuals that resemble short films rather than traditional music videos.
Their listener count on YouTube alone is at 10 million, while their total streaming count over the last 12 months is at 30 million plays and growing. “MEMPHIS”, the group’s 2020 breakout single, has earned them features from A$AP Ferg and NLE Choppa for the remix, and landed them on over two dozen streaming playlists and Viral Charts internationally.
Now, the group has dropped a series of well-received singles leading up to their debut album, a two-part work titled FYE (F*CK YOUR EXPECTATIONS). Though the name may initially register as an aggressive, if not anarchic statement, Jody and Baby Boy explain that the title is simply an ode to their distaste for confinement, a suggestion for listeners to approach their project with an open mind. “We didn’t want people to have this idea in their heads of what our next move should be. Because that’s just gonna fuck up your listening experience, if you’re expecting us to make ‘MEMPHIS’ 15 more times,” they explain.
The first part of FYE is a nine-track effort that dropped April 2, and the second portion is out today (April 30). Sam Truth, redveil, and ICECOLDBISHOP are featured on the project, and the album is sprinkled with skits and genre-bending songs spanning from “riotous” to ”slow and sweet,” as Jody describes them.
Just days prior to the first release, Billboard caught up with AG Club to discuss FYE, rock stars, their nonchalant attitude, and more.
You said in a previous interview that when you started making music, everyone from your area ‘was chasing the specific sound that didn’t align with what we wanted to make.’ What is that sound that you’re referring to?
Baby Boy: Everyone from our city was trying to make a party sound. That same cadence and same subject matter.
Did you go grow up listening to Bay Area music? If you had to name just one musical influence for each of you, who would it be?
Baby Boy: I didn’t start listening to Bay Area music until high school. I never was exposed to Mac Dre, all that. My mom would play a lot of reggae, my grandma would play Michael Buble around the house, my dad played a lot of Tribe Called Quest, and things like that. Ultimately that’s what influences my interests [and] how I dress.
Jody: Frank Ocean, or Tyler, the Creator would represent the entirety of the group. Just anything out of the Odd Future era was very inspiring since we were kids at that time they came out. They made it look really practical — being an artist at such a young age and having a TV show, and creating art that influences an entire generation.
What would y’all be doing if it wasn’t music?
Jody: Since around second grade, I wanted to be a rock star. I didn’t even know that I could make music. I watched this special on Bret Michaels when I was in elementary school, and I was like, ‘Damn, I want that. I want to be that person’. When you’re a kid it feels like everything you do, unless you’re a certain type of person, nobody f–ks with you.
When I was a kid, I would look at rock stars and think about how anything they did, people just thought was fire because it’s them. They could walk outside with a trash bag on with rubber bands as a fit and people would say, ‘That’s so futuristic. When in reality, it’s trash.’
How do you guys take the A$AP comparisons, especially since you guys worked with Ferg on the “MEMPHIS (Remix).”
Jody: I listened to a lot of A$AP Mob growing up, but even Baby Boy or someone who didn’t listen to much A$AP Mob knows “Shabba.” That shit went f–ing nuts. It was inescapable. Off just that alone, if A$AP Ferg didn’t have a single other song in his discography, getting that call still would have been nuts.
We were losing it [when he got on the song]. When people make the A$AP Mob comparisons to me, I understand them because I see the energy. We got that youthful, rebellious energy that was really prevalent in the A$AP mob s–t. In everything A$AP did, from Rocky videos, to the singles and their projects, their overall branding was just youthful rebellion, energetic, [and] ‘we don’t give a f–k’. That’s where we are, too.
What led you to the album title, F*CK YOUR EXPECTATIONS? Is that because you feel certain expectations imposed on you from your fans or from the world?
Jody: F*CK YOUR EXPECTATIONS is more-so encouraging fans, or just anyone who listens, to have an open approach to all the things that we do. If you don’t have expectations, you’re willing to accept whatever it is we put out.
Talk to me about the album cover.
Jody: First of all, f–k Shia LaBouf, but the original photo is Shia Labouf with a paper bag over his head that says, ‘I’m not famous anymore,’ and he wore that to a red carpet and it was him rebelling against the the idea of being a celebrity. And when we first started working on FYE, that was the idea. Like, ‘f–k being a celebrity, f–k being a superstar, I just want to make music and do whatever I want to do.’
Why release the album in two parts?
Jody: We split the project in two so that it’s less to deal with for the fans, and it’s more digestible, so that we can really give people a chance to feel every single song. All 18 tracks — the skits — we thought is a lot cooler than having to try to compete with like 200 million f–kin’ albums that are dropping at the same time.
I see that. It’s like an encore. I know a lot of artists these days, they try to go viral on Tik Tok or they care a lot about getting a No. 1 hit.
Jody: We don’t really take that s–t seriously. We’re still heavy consumers, we’re not fully just artists. So we know what that looks like. Besides putting out cool promos and making cool videos and visual things to go with our music, it’s just not natural for us to really push the [music] in your face to where it’s like, we’re making a TikTok every day or we’re doing all these other things to try to push the sh-t. If you f–k with it, you f–k with it. And if you don’t want to listen to it, it’s OK.
You’ve dropped some singles and videos from FYE already. Are you happy with how those singles are being received?
Jody: I’ve seen pretty cool responses. The point of dropping those was to give two kind of tastes for what the album will be. “UGUDBRU” and “TRUTH”, [are] like, riotous, crazy sh-t. “YouTube” is a slowed down, sweet type of song. And I feel like people get what we’re trying to do — that there’s gonna be many different sides to this album.
What do you want fans or new listeners to take away from this project?
Jody: We’re just trying to have fun. That’s the whole point of AG Club. It’s a break away from reality. Everything that we say, all the stories and all the stuff that goes into the music, it’s something like a time capsule of adolescence. We want you to feel heard and seen. We make music that we wish we would have had when we were younger. We’re just putting on for the hometown, too, and just trying to let them know that this shit is possible. You know, we’re learning that every day.
What do you see for you guys in the future?
Jody: We want to take over everything. Take over media. We want to put on for everybody we know. And create safe spaces within media that represent all people. That represent young Black kids, Hispanic kids, [and] Asian kids. Kids who need certain things. We want them to be able to see that — feel that. We want to have TV shows, movies, [and] specials on networks. We want to have our own network [and] make sure there’s no leaf left unturned as far as that [media] goes.