In the lobby of Public Hotel, he says it a few times, in between his thoughts on politics, the music world and Awful Swim.
Tell me about your Awful Swim. Is it a collaboration with Adult Swim?
Yeah. Initially, I was just aimlessly making music trying to figure out what I wanted my sound to be. I wanted to reference my old sound while also pushing forward and making it more accessible to a wider audience. Before I was very SoundCloud. Like, one time for my bio—I don’t know who the fuck at Apple did this, but they called me ‘the deadpan rapper.’ I was just kind of figuring shit out, and then the Adult Swim connection happened—via Twitter. My homie reached out to them and was basically like, ‘Hey, when we gonna make this Awful Records x Adult Swim thing happen? Like, fuck, we’re all from Atlanta.’ They responded and said, ‘We fuck with ya’ll. Come to the office next week.’ It was immediate.
At the same time, my life was transitioning already—I was already cleaning things up and sharpening the tools in my shed. So, that’s really what has changed—the content hasn’t. The sound overall is what I was doing before—now, it’s just a lot more advanced.
That’s such a dream come true! Everyone dreams of tweeting someone they like and them actually responding. But you’re a big Adult Swim fan. So, what are your favorite shows?
Frisky Dingo was one of my first favorite shows. Boondocks is tops—that’s probably my number one. Pretty much Frisky Dingo and Boondocks I would just play them over and over all day, then to go to sleep.
That has to have some serious subconscious influencing. Do you think it’s affected your music?
I think so. The narratives that I talk about—they’re very profane, and like a slight social commentary. But I try not to get into politics.
I just genuinely don’t care anymore. I have an opinion but I don’t care enough to share it.
Do you feel as a black man there’s pressure on you to be vocal politically?
There definitely is. But I continue to not care. And honestly, I don’t think anyone wants that from me. I’ve never rocked that stuff into my music or my career, period. I never talk about it, but I poke fun and say things in my music so you know where I stand. If you listen to me, you know that either way—with or without the shits.
Coming from Atlanta, did you ever feel pressure to make a certain kind of music? If so, how has your style evolved around it?
Initially, I was making strange shit and people were just like, ‘Uh...this is…nice?’ Then I got more into trap. Eventually, I found a place in the middle where I could be whatever I wanted to be and the city of Atlanta could be like, ‘Hell yeah, that’s nice,’ or ‘Fuck it.’ But it was still weird shit. So, it worked out. But really, New York taught me how to rap and make beats, so a lot of my early shit sounds like Wu Tang, with a lot of fantastical shit that only makes sense to me. Since then, I’ve refined and simplified what I do, and learned the bare shit needed to make something slap. That’s where I’m at.
Do you see yourself ever returning to ‘the weird shit’?
For sure. I want to do some real Frank Sinatra shit. In my music, I have a very high pitched voice, but I have a very low range. My voice is mad deep if I want it to be, but right now my sound is usually high-pitched and chipper. So, I want to explore my range. Especially as I’m getting older—I’m just on some chill shit these days.
You directed your music video for the track “Lotto” featuring ABRA. Tell me about that process.
That one wasn’t as difficult as the other ones because I had a reference for it. I wanted that to be very similar to “What Means the World to You” by Cam’ron. I didn’t do it scene for scene but I knew I wanted the same feeling in my video. I played the song and was just like, ‘That’s it.’ The rest of it was playing around on the spot with the shots and seeing what I could get away with. We ended up using a lot of green screen, and all the locations look magnificent—casinos, rolling down the strip. But you can’t really do that without a permit. There was this one shot that I wanted so bad, where they’re in a hot tub on the back of a stretch limo riding down the strip [in Cam’ron’s video], and I was just like, ‘Is this real? I need that.’
“Thotnight” was way more of a challenge. I wrote that one out scene for scene—in full. Like, a whole narrative. I like videos that have some kind of narrative to them, but nothing too tight and constraining to the point where it’s not fun anymore. We got all these people out to this house two hours out of the city on a fucking party bus. It was isolated as fuck, and by the end of the night, there were no Ubers, so everybody was stuck in the house partying. That gave us a lot of organic shots in addition to the narrative. I’m supposed to be this demon that gets summoned in the middle of the forest by these girls running around a fire. I’m the Party Demon—getting people to rage and drink.
In an interview once, someone asked if you were a sex cult. You replied ‘not anymore.’ Were you ever?
Let me put it this way—there was a point in time back in Atlanta, where I had this weird group of friends and we were constantly together. We would be 20 deep in the house just chilling in that bitch. People in the city who we weren’t cool with would be like, ‘Why are they always together? What the fuck are they doing?’ There were always girls with us, just because they liked us as a crew. We were cool, and nonchalant, and not pressuring them, like, ‘What’s up girl?’ So, girls could really be themselves around us. Other people saw that as us hoeing them out and fucking them. So, yeah, at one point, I did hear the rumor that we were a sex cult, running orgies in that house.
Oh, so that’s what was happening in Atlanta before you signed to RCA.
No, I’m talking about way back. I mean we’re sexual people—girls and boys, and we love each other at Awful. We’re a close knit family and shit happens. When you’re around somebody a lot that stuff ends up going down—we might have a lot of Eskimo brothers and sisters. I think that’s also why people said that. ‘Cause they’re like, ‘Oh ya’ll are always fucking each other.’
Why is that such a bad thing, though?
I don’t know! We were always just the weird kids running around the city in all black, looking mean as shit, but actually being really nice people. We just looked unapproachable, so we ended up being really misunderstood.
What about before you signed to RCA—did you turn down any deals?
It didn’t seem like any of them cared about the vision. It was all about the money. They’d make an offer and I’d be like, ‘I’m gonna make this myself in the next two months without you. I know how much I’m earning is gonna double next month, and then double again. Fuck it.’
I forget who said this but an artist said something like, ‘If some old white dude wants to pay me 40 million for a deal, that means I can make 80 million on my own.’
That’s what I thought. The first person offered me 50 grand, and then I made 100 on my own right after. I continued doing that and talking to more people, and the deals started getting sweeter and sweeter. But at that point, I was so drugged out. I wasn’t in the right mind set to make that kind of decision. So, I didn’t go through with it. You have to be paying attention and I just wasn’t at that time. Then RCA came along, and it was perfect. I don’t want a giant 20 million dollar deal—I want to feel like I am organically collaborating with another business. That’s what I’m doing with RCA.
So, you felt like they understood your vision?
Exactly. Everyone else was obsessed with my single, or my image, rather than my brand as a whole. I remember back in 2000-something, I was in a meeting with my eyes rolling back in my head—I was so high. They called my manager like, ‘He’s so provocative, we love it!’ They loved that I was high. But RCA was into the happier shit I was doing. They heard “Heartthrob” and were like ‘Yo, let’s work together.’
Do you feel like this new album has a more positive energy?
It’s very free—free love, free love energy. I mean, it’s on the fuckery. People constantly tweet at me like, ‘Man, this album makes me want to drive 90 down the street and go fuck my ex girlfriend.’ But I’m just like, ‘That’s still free energy. That’s you going with the flow and having fun.’ It’s not always healthy, but it’s about you enjoying yourself.
Free will—it’s you making that choice. Are you Satanist?
I mean, I’ve read into it, but I don’t align with anything in particular. I don’t associate myself with that. My music plays around with it, but it’s all just naturally how I think. I can’t get with the title.
What about when you’re looking for new artists—what do you look for? Like, when there’s someone you really fuck with, what do you see in them?
I hate seeing something and being like, ‘Oh I know that’s gonna do well because it’s trendy.’ I like taking risks on something that’s quirky or sounds weird. Like, I have a very annoying voice—I hear it sometimes and I’m just like, ‘God damn.’ But I be looking for someone who could rap, and it may not be perfect, but it’s different. I like singers who don’t sing perfectly. Those people are more creative because they need to come up with ways that work for them. It’s like, if you’re not perfect pitch, you better be a great fucking writer and come up with clever cadences, have creative production, and not sound like that shit on the radio. Like with ABRA—when I met her, I was like, ‘Oh my god, her shit is so fire.’ Then, in 2014, Awful was like, ‘We need you.’ There was a feminine energy to the crew always, but we needed that more in the music. I wanted to expand by adding her, and she was down. So, it went from there.
Did your name used to be Father’s Liquor Cabinet?
Yes. It was some stupid shit. I was like 19. I rapped on a friends song back in 2011, because they knew I could write and were like, ‘Holy shit, you’re good.’ When they were putting the song out they asked me for my name, and I was just like, ‘Uhhhh... Father’s Liquor Cabinet?’ I wanted people to think I was a band. But I shortened it, because I was tired of people walking up to me and calling me the whole fucking name. Do you know how irritating that shit is? You wouldn’t go up to Guns ‘n Roses and be like, ‘What’s up Guns ‘n Roses?’
I mean, you could, but you would sound dumb as shit. So, what’s next for you? I read you want to do a movie.
Yeah, but I also want to do a book later down the line. I want to get a writer and have them come in and just sit, and reminisce, and talk for hours—get drunk and go through the history with everybody and then put it together and make it make sense from everybody’s perspective. So much crazy shit has happened, and I would have to talk to everybody, because there’s a story there. A lot of tragic shit happened in Atlanta—a lot of wild shit happened, too. Imagine 18 fuck ups dong whatever they wanted. It was crazy.
Right. When I was reading about you last night, I realized that everything people know about you is really curated by press, except for maybe what you put on Instagram. But if you had the choice, how do you want people to see you?
I don’t think about it too much—I just go with it. When I first started rapping, I wanted to appear as this mischievous, deviant, cult-type character. That’s what we were doing, so I guess that’s how we came off. And I fucked with it. But now, I want people to perceive that I’m smart and business-minded. God damnit, almost satanic.
But not a Satanist.
No, not a Satanist. I’m just really ‘Fuck it.’ I don’t know if people realize that. But I am extremely ‘Fuck it.’ I mean, I care, but if something doesn’t happen, I don’t mourn. I’m like, ‘Fuck it, let’s move on.’ Seriously. Sometimes I even wish I cared more. But I think that’s why my career is where it’s at—I’m not Beyonce, I’m not Drake, but shit’s cool. I be coolin’. And I’m not a try-hard. I just don’t give enough of a fuck. I care about my music—that’s the one thing that I know will be fire. Everything else? Fuck it.
'Awful Swim' is out now.