Awful Records is one of the most important independent labels in the Atlanta hip-hop scene, jump-starting the careers of Playboi Carti, iLoveMakonnen, KEY! and more.
Like almost all legendary rap crews, Awful Records began as a group of friends. Forming in 2010 when Father met Archibald Slim and Stalin Majesty at Georgia State University, the trio soon linked up with fellow Atlanta natives Ethereal, Rich Po Slim, Micah Freeman, and Playboi Carti, who all went to high school together. KeithCharles Spacebar and Dexter Dukarus started going over to Ethereal’s house to make beats, and high school friends Lord Narf, Pyramid Quince and Lui Diamonds joined the equation soon after. Slug Christ was introduced to Awful after his band’s bassist sold KeithCharles some weed at a concert. This whole crew moved into a house together (and then another after the first one got trashed), and Awful Records was formed.
Awful set itself apart from other labels with its independent DIY aesthetic, with in-house production, engineering, videos, graphic design and merch. Father produced and engineered recording sessions. Rich Po Slim shot videos and did PR. Zach Fox became the group’s graphic designer under the pseudonym “Bootymath.” Having complete control over all aspects of their output was a crucial component of Awful’s play-by-its-own-rules philosophy.
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Much of the world was introduced to Awful Records through Father’s 2014 breakout single “Look At Wrist,” featuring iLoveMakonnen and KEY! With hilariously self-aware lines like “Never had to whip a brick, but I get the gist,” the single was a refreshingly fun take on the hyper-serious trap music that dominated Atlanta at the time. The simplistic, self-produced aesthetic brought comparisons to lo-fi rap pioneers Soulja Boy and Lil B, who Makonnen shouts out with the line “Super chef Makonnen might sprinkle serotonin.” What really makes “Look at Wrist” stand the test of time is its authenticity. No record executive was telling Father, Makonnen and KEY! to do any of this music – it was simply three friends having fun. This organic creativity came to define the spirit of Awful Records, and set the label apart from its peers.
One of the members who exemplifies the label’s unhinged creativity the most is rapper/producer Ethereal. With beats ranging from trap, boom bap and R&B to garage, jungle, and drum and bass, Ethereal has set himself apart as a one-of-a-kind producer. “Ethereal is a legend,” Playboi Carti told DAZED in a recent interview, “Without him, I don’t know where the f*ck I’d be.” Producing some of Carti’s earliest songs, including “Beef” and “Freestyle 4 The People,” Ethereal helped popularize a synth-heavy, video game-inspired sound. Ethereal has also notably worked as the sole producer for the singer Alexandria on her albums Rebirth (2014) and Cut of Cloth (2017).
In 2017, Ethereal convinced Awful to sign Faye Webster, an alt-folk singer and photographer from Atlanta whose colorful portraits include those of Offset, DRAM, and her middle school friend Lil Yachty. While a folk singer may seem like an odd contribution to a rap crew, Awful’s strength lies in the sheer variety of its artists. Since members regularly feature on each other’s work, Awful Records’ best songs are often a cross-pollination of various genres and influences. The 2018 single “No Way,” for example, combines Ethereal’s laidback delivery and synthy trap beats with Lord Narf’s frenetic, double-time flow and Faye Webster’s soothing singing voice.
Another one of Awful’s standout artists is the self-described “Darkwave Duchess” Abra. Father reached out to Abra in 2014, after discovering her acoustic guitar cover of his song "Spoil You Rotten" on YouTube. She joined Awful in 2015, and soon released her debut album Rose. Writing and producing the entire album herself on a laptop and USB mic, Abra crafted a hauntingly beautiful mix of R&B and 80’s-inspired darkwave. At over 14 million views, her music video for “Fruit” remains Awful Records’ most-watched music video today.
Abra - "Fruit"
The only guest to feature on Abra’s Princess was Tommy Genesis, an experimental rapper from Vancouver who signed to Awful in 2015. Sometimes rapping, singing, speaking or even screaming on a variety of menacing beats, Tommy’s unpredictable nature fits perfectly into Awful’s anything-goes style. In 2015, Awful Records released World Vision, Tommy’s debut album, featuring production from Father, KeithCharles Spacebar, and Tommy herself, as well as a duet with Abra on the closer "Hair Like Water Wavy Like the Sea." Tommy Genesis released her second album in 2018, for which she extensively collaborated with super-producer Charlie Heat.
As one of the founding members of Awful Records, Lord Narf has steadily worked towards becoming one of the best rappers on the label. His Witchcraft album spans an assortment of dark, witch-inspired sounds, including the apocalyptic highlight “On My Tab.” Produced by Awful O.G. Dexter Dukarus, the beat for “On My Tab” conjures up apocalyptic Lex Luger-style strings, and Lord Narf rides the beat like she’s the one responsible. Up next for Lord Narf: a collaborative tape with up-and-coming producer Meltycanon, who combines cute and innocent-sounding samples with menacing trap beats.
Though not officially signed to Awful Records, Meltycanon has been behind the production of some of the label’s best records in the past two years. By the end of 2015, Father was in the midst of a drug-induced slump, uninspired by the music he was making while under the influence. This is when Meltycanon sent Father the beat for what would become one of his most popular songs: “Heartthrob.” Opening with the lines “Better call the cops / I'm 'bout to run up on your block” over what sounds like a toy piano made for 5-year-olds, the ironic cuteness of “Heartthrob” perfectly suits Father’s sarcastic style. In 2018, Father continued working with Meltycanon for his collaborative album with Adult Swim, Awful Swim.
Today, Awful Records and its affiliates are burning brighter than ever. iLoveMakonnen has gone on to have massive success with the hits “Tuesday” and “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” while at the same time staying true to himself – whether that means recording LSD-fueled trap bangers or heartfelt piano ballads. Makonnen’s collaborative album with the late Lil Peep is set to drop this year. Fellow “Look at Wrist” collaborator KEY! just released his breakout album 777 last year with Kenny Beats. Dubbing the album his “Reasonable Doubt moment,” KEY! shines on 777 with hard flows, eclectic beats sampling everything from gospel choirs to Björk, and hilarious one-liners like “Run inside your sh*t, I need an ESPY / No Scantron, don't test me.”
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Zach Fox is also up there as the Awful Records member to watch for in 2019. After working as the label’s illustrator, internet comedian, and host of the radio show “BRUH with Awful Records,” Zach Fox has been trying his hand at rapping – and overwhelmingly winning. Last year, Fox dropped “Square Up,” a ridiculously aggressive banger produced by Kenny Beats, and “Family Function” with Father, on which he steals the show with lines like “I dropped my strap at the Soul Train Line.” Zach Fox recently posted on Twitter that he’s looking for beats, so it’s very possible we could be expecting a full project from him in the coming year.
Since its inception almost a decade ago, Awful Records has been continuously innovating the Atlanta hip hop scene as a free-spirited, DIY rap crew. “I’m completely stumped as to why this sh*t works,” Ethereal said in the Boiler Room documentary Awful Days. “It completely spells ‘disaster.’ But for some reason, Awful Records is like a well-oiled, drugged-out, machine.” Ethereal, Father, Abra, Lord Narf and Co. have been influencing hip hop with their experimental and diverse sounds for years now, and they’re only just getting started. With talks of major motion pictures in the works, as well as several albums to come soon, Awful Records is sure to be impacting the game for years to come.