The Southern US state capital of Georgia has been well established as hip hop's North Star for decades. And with that stature comes the weight of expectation. How does the city's cultural scene keep reinventing itself? Photographer June Canedo met a new Atlantan collective of artists and musicians who are helping to rethink the world's most popular music genre – Father and the Awful Records cohort – Abra, Danger Incorporated (Louie Duffelbags and Boothlord), Danger Ethereal, and Faye Webster.
Photography and interviews — June Canedo / Stylist — Tess Herbert / Makeup artist — Ashley Gray / Hair — Chaise DeBow
Atlanta, Georgia has been punching above its weight in terms of music, especially hip-hop, for a long time. From OutKast through Ludacris, Gucci Mane, Young Thug and many more, this Southern US state capital – current population just under half a million – has generated a creative community unlike anywhere else. So unique that it’s been the undeniable north star for Southern hip-hop for close on two decades, and arguably all US rap in recent years.
But like any real cultural community, the Atlanta scene isn’t simply powered by chart hit artists – the city is also steeped in a rich musical history that takes in R&B (Usher, Toni Braxton anyone?), gospel and soul, and earlier in the twentieth century, blues and country music. You can hear the history of American music in Atlanta.
Enter Awful Records – a loose collective of artists with Atlanta as their hub, but active internationally, and currently a core creative influence in the city. Its central figure is Father – a determinedly DIY artist who made the transition from designer and photographer to music over the past five years. All the artists know each other from Atlanta: Abra, Faye Webster, Ethereal, KeithCharles Spacebar, Meltycanon, Slug Christ and Richposlim to name some of the 16 member collective.
Hip-hop is the thread through the Awful crew, but true to the founding spirit of that genre, Awful is far from being constrained by any category – compare the dark and slowly unfolding R&B of Abra to the alt-Americana country-tinged music of Faye Webster, and you get an idea of the cultural breadth Awful Records takes influence from. Like its home city.
Abra in Atlanta, Georgia. The artist recently released her new single, “Novacane” as part of the 2017 Adult Swim Singles Campaign, and will make her acting debut in forthcoming film Assassination Nation, directed by Sam Levinson and due for release sometime in 2018.
Father: “People love to collaborate in the south. People gather and it’s much more family orientated so you get a lot of different people collaborating. Being in LA now, I mean it’s so isolating, even when people meet they are always alone or they will meet and have lunch, and then spend the rest of the day alone. Doing things in the south is so different. We’re always in groups... I am so much more of an artist still – I try to do sixty percent art and forty percent business, and I keep people in check. You can’t just think “get the art out there man.” It’s just not how it works at all. Business is powerful and that overtakes everything, every aspect, so you have to fit that into your art.”
Danger Incorporated (Louie Duffelbags and Boothlord)
Boothlord: “Awful is definitely a genuine collective of artists who are homies, who love to create. I think our own flow, how we like to present them, it's so easy to align them with Awful... I feel like what I give the tracks is a perspective and clarity. I know what I like. I know what I can do."
Louie Duffelbags: “We’re doing a lot interviews and just growing. All the moves we’ve been making with Awful, it's getting crazy... I would say improv is crucial for making any type of music. The moment you start trying to control it is when you make something whack. I don't think I need to control anything. I try to just enjoy myself... Booth gives me music all of the time. He always just shows me what he thinks is hot, and through him I have discovered so many sounds. We’re pretty similar people so we generally feel the same way about songs.”
Faye Webster: “This new album [eponymously titled] still has my same song writing and aesthetic. It’s definitely more R&B though... My mom's entire family is in a bluegrass band together. I grew up around that and started playing music through them... I moved to Nashville and just moved straight back because it just wasn't diverse at all. There wasn't a rap or jazz scene. I think Atlanta has all of that combined and condensed. It’s the most eclectic music scene that I’ve been around... In other places I think the music business can be dirty because it can be really competitive, and Atlanta just feels supportive.”
Ethereal: “There is a huge contrast between north and south Atlanta. The north side is suburban, nice homes, establishments, parks, what people refer to gentrified... I got to be part of the Minority to Majority Program which was Atlanta’s initiative to get kids who live in lower income areas up to places where things are generally “better”. That alone has had the biggest influence on the range of music that I listen to and what I am into. I love music in general and I feel like living in both of those worlds helped pull that out of me... my perspective is a little different in that being born with a disability I have a wider range of awareness. It opened up my worldview. My disability definitely gave me a sense of hyper-awareness and that's really awesome.”