Having relocated to L.A., the Atlanta rapper rapper brings his deadpan flow and subversive sense of humor to some of the strongest production he’s had yet, yielding a refreshingly mischievous album.
Father’s music has always been flippant. That was part of the draw: He absorbed bleak topics like police brutality, selling drugs, and gun violence and warped them into shrug-worthy fodder with his alluring black humor. The nasal monotone of his flow is so blithe and dry that everything, no matter how weighty, sounds as casual as eating dinner. His breakout project, 2014’s Young Hot Ebony, built its momentum around the cult hit “Look at Wrist,” in which the Awful Records patriarch plainly admits, “Never had to flip a brick, but I get the gist.” Songs like “2 Dead, 6 Wounded” or “Everybody in the Club Gettin Shot” (from 2015’s Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?) were similarly glib. But that trait is what makes Father so magnetic; he practically begs people to be offended—if only they could stop nodding.
Mischief abounds on Awful Swim, his latest album. He takes the same acerbic style and adds more money, swag, and nonchalance. “Wrist got too heavy to pick up that bitch’s calls,” goes one line of the hook on opening track “Mirror, Mirror.” It lands as both a callback to that breakout single and a delight in how far he’s come. The Atlanta native and his crew inked a new deal with RCA earlier this year, and he’s relocated to Los Angeles. As far as major label debuts go, Awful Swim, which is also in partnership with Adult Swim, is a strong and remarkably vintage showing. It is a reflection of an artist with so little to worry about that all he can do is watch cartoons and crack jokes; it is also, perhaps, the refuge of a person who hasn’t lost touch with the real world.
The album is fitted around ’90s-kid and millennial pop-culture staples. A sampling of the array of references includes “Empire,” Mulan, Justin Bieber, Talladega Nights, Vampire in Brooklyn, Blade, “Rick and Morty” (of course), and one clever turn of the mid-aughts Trap-A-Holics drop. The hook of the cartoonish-sounding “Sephiroth” is built around the waist-length hair of the “Final Fantasy” character. Meltycanon’s video-game-inspired production is a fitting backdrop for Father’s zippy lines (their earliest collaboration was 2016’s “Heartthrob,” which features Father rapping over a jewelry-box melody), and he handles the bulk of the production here, with six total credits. He and Father, who self-produced five tracks, have a symbiotic relationship: Meltycanon’s toy-chest style set against Father’s slurred delivery sounds like an alternate universe or a pleasant trip.
“Only You” is a subdued haze of a club banger, propelled by guitar and a twinkling music-box sound, where Father’s idea of “romance” is something like “All these drugs in this bitch/But only you I wanna do.” The Rico Nasty-assisted “On One” chooses the drugs instead; her bursts of energy pop in contrast to his laidback cadence. But tucked into all the vice and hedonism are offhand comments that suggest Father isn’t interested in completely checking out. He may have graduated to Hollywood, but on the slinky “Private Show,” he knows nothing has truly changed: “Scary nigga, I’m a spooky black/You should probably alert your neighborhood watch/Every time a nigga move on the block/Crackers pull up with that burning cross.” A keen sense of racial awareness pops up over and over—particularly where the police are involved. “Keep starin’ in the rearview/Hope 12 don’t get me too,” he declares on “Sephiroth,” and, later, on “Dragons,” “12 shoot at me nigga, bet I shoot back.”
Despite those fleeting moments, Awful Swim is, by and large, a playful release. As Father counts his money, collects women, and lobs threats to no one in particular, he genuinely sounds like he’s having a good time—inasmuch as his deadpan flow can suggest excitement. It’s a further realized version of his subversive humor combined with some of the strongest production he’s had yet. The time he spent away, slowing his releases from prolific to occasional, proved beneficial. He has managed the often-complicated feat of refining without compromising the unique qualities that drew so many to him in the first place. Free of the self-loathing emotion that many SoundCloud rappers default to and the self-righteous commentary that exists at the other end of the binary, Awful Swim is truly lighthearted at a time when a lot of rap really isn’t.
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