Father was run-down on Sunday night, eschewing his usual cup of booze for honey and hot water, but that didn’t stop the Songbyrd audience from making strange, off-putting requests.
“You want me to spit on you?” the 28-year-old rapper asked a woman in the front row, incredulous at her request. At first, he protested — he was sick, after all — but eventually he relented, spitting into her mouth like a rap Johnny Rotten. She raised her arms in celebration.
Welcome to the Private Show Tour. Welcome to Awful Records.
Awful is the label-collective that Father founded back at Georgia State University. It features a dozen-plus rappers, singers, producers and creatives, has a creative partnership with RCA Records and helped launch dark-wave vocalist Abra and rap savant Playboi Carti into the stratosphere.
For the Los Angeles-based, Atlanta-raised artist and his crew, “awful” is a self-deprecating, self-defensive, self-fulfilling prophecy. Critics can’t insult them — they’ve already done it themselves — and it gives them creative license for things such as the spitting, or the raunchy lyrics, or the woofer-rattling beats.
Father served plenty of smut at Songbyrd, performing in front of neon signs for “Live nudes” and “Cocktails & dreams.” He worked his way through this year’s “Awful Swim,” an album made in collaboration with Cartoon Network’s late-night platform Adult Swim, rapping about sleazy sex, unglamorous drug use, designer labels, video games and pro wrestling (among other things) over sparse beats that juxtaposed sinister bass lines and twinkling melodies. And although he was under the weather, his performance didn’t suffer — he was as elastic and clear-cut on the mic as ever.
Take Father seriously, not literally. Since debuting in 2014, he has provided a weirdly sensitive counterbalance to hip-hop masculinity, hiding a foundation of sardonicism and sex positivity beneath a veneer of grime. His flow may be casually caustic, but there is a sneer and a wink to everything. As he rapped on his sibilant breakthrough single, “Look at Wrist”: “Never had to whip a brick, but I get the gist.”
Father gets it, and so do his fans. Smelling heavily of body odor and dank smoke, the sold-out crowd moshed and pogoed to every song. At one point, the DJ played a snippet of a track and the audience rapped the entire verse, a cappella. These songs are lullabies and playground taunts for self-described “scumbags,” and his fans proudly scream every word.
That was even the case on “Everybody in the Club Gettin Shot,” a song that was offensive when it was released in 2015 and continues to be so with each mass shooting. Father even admitted as much. “That’s so irresponsible of me,” he said with a chuckle after performing the song, “but it’s a slapper!”
Is Father actually glorifying “everybody in the club gettin’ shot”? Does he want to see “everybody . . . twirl then drop”? Of course not. He’s simply annihilating good taste in a nihilistic age.
When everything is awful, everything is Awful.