Playboi Carti has created his own sound that now permeates throughout rap. The enigmatic vamp is always in a state of evolution. From the days of his baby dreads and Vlone t-shirts, to the Punk Monk clad in black, the artist formerly known as $ir Cartier has seen the stages of metamorphosis. While some may be aware of his humble origins, his time in the Atlanta underground is oft-overlooked. Long before founding Opium, before releasing Die Lit, and even before the days of AWGE, there was Awful.
In 2011 the minds of Father, Ethereal, KeithCharles, and Archibald Slim gathered to form Awful Media. The kindred spirits and college roommates pursued graphic design and honed their music. Originally envisioned as "Awfully Creative", the creative part was dropped when Father thought, "That shit gay as fuck, fuck that." Apt choice.
As the crew expanded they united with the likes of the “Darkwave Duchess” ABRA, the innovatively caustic Slug Christ, and a teenage Playboi Carti.
Baby face Carti, Circa 2014
“I'm the youngest nigga in the clique.”
The young label was a very tight knit collective despite only being official in name and ethos. "The relationships in Awful aren’t forced. We’re family, and we act like family", spoken by Abra with Crack Magazine in a 2016 interview. The feature was prophetically titled "Awful Records: DIY rap vampires".
2014 would be their true arrival on the scene, and also the year of Playboi Carti's high school graduation. The year would see the release of Father’s Young Hot Ebony, the sexually fluent and spaced-out, minimalistic synth driven project that let members like Archibald Slim and Key! a stage to show their work on some of his tracks. The cover art was illustrated by Awful affiliate an absurdist polymath Zack Fox.
The debut project of the collective's leader included the hit collaboration with friend of the family ILoveMakonnen on “Look At Wrist”. The stage was set for a follow up album Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First? as well as the collective’s first tour, Cry $$$ in 2015.
Cash Carti and Ethereal, Bronx circa 2015
Playboi Carti and Ethereal are akin to a great tag team you forgot had a run together. Like Edge and Hulk Hogan. That's right, they did win the world tag titles in 2002. Of all the relationships within Awful there was a certain symbiosis with Carti and Ethereal. The two both attended North Springs High School on the outskirts of Atlanta, but not at the same time with there being just enough gap in age.
None can cut a beat with Ethereal’s touch, with his distinct chops of synth patterns that create an icey and absorbing soundscape. Cryptic laughs echo in his sampled halls. While you will find most producers using the respected Ableton or Fruity Loops, he primarily creates within the Reason software. Ethereal was able to offer a unique musical palette for Carti to paint with.
The two would team up on a number of early tracks like "Pump Fake", "Iknowuknow", and "4 The People". Songs between the two like “Beef” and “YUNGXANHOE”, showcase the fire within the unconventional stylings of the young artist. The latter of the tracks was one of the very first posts on Carti’s SoundCloud, and provides an utterly genius sample of the Playstation 2’s dreamy startup sound co-produced by 454 and Ethereal.
His voice was naturally much higher pitched in his teenage years. Repetition in his hooks were still a staple of his, but his bars felt longer spoken and a bit more spaced out in breath, contrasting with his current mesh of rage and punk. And this too was before experimenting with his trademark mumblings and baby voice. A style of which when examined bears the influence of one of Atlanta's favorite sons, Young Thug.
Father is not just a rapper, but a swordsman of different styles as he can lay down a tasty beat as well as spit over it. On “Mercedes”, Cash Carti delivers a short and sweet verse over a demonic Father instrumental. But the "Fake AF Remix" sees the best mesh of the duo together. The combinations of experimental sounds of fat synths and heavy atmospheres, with Playboi Carti’s relaxed composure and delivery mark this era of his sound.
But alas, the black crow was to outgrow his homely nest. As the calendar rolled over to the romantic year of 2016, Playboi Carti’s creative stock grew to new heights. That year saw him sign with A$AP Rocky and his Interscope imprint label AWGE. With them he would appear on the first two volumes of The Cozy Tapes, and later release his seminal self-titled mixtape Playboi Carti in 2017.
However, there are no ill feelings to be had between the members of Awful and Playboi Carti. As Father once explained in a reply to a fan's question on Twitter.
In a 2017 interview with The Fader to talk WWF influence and his new album Mankind, Ethereal spoke fondly of his relationship with Carti. “I am lucky to sit back and think, In some way shape or form, I used my production to help [Carti] get to wherever he wanted.”
Awful Records was the launching pad for Playboi Carti to evolve into his later forms. It was a ground rich with creative relationships, collective energy, and guidance as a young rapper budding into artistic maturity. His time with the Awful family is not a story often told. But the King Vamp origin story comes from a place of love, and that era holds a special place in my heart, as I’m sure it does in the hearts of Atlanta's most Awful.