Embarking upon a sequel in the music industry, against the backdrop of general fatigue for second acts, is not for the faint of heart. Forgive the cynicism. But there’s now a sinking feeling that arises when you see the number “2” next to the title of a beloved album or movie. Nobody understands that more than Father. The Atlanta rapper has made it clear that he doesn’t execute a single move in his career unless he truly believes that the situation necessitates it. You’re not going to force him into a corner. From starting Awful Records, carving out a space for fellow musical anarchists like Playboi Carti and Abra, to then disbanding the label and its partnership with RCA Records in 2020 after the venture had run its course, he only makes the decisions he wants to when the time is right. Even if on the surface, his raps on projects like Awful Swim and Husband are filled with boisterous and pulpy lines that make the untrained listener question his commitment to the practice, he promises that his decisions are calculated and measured. It’s as if he’s been planning each word, each word, and each direction he veers off into, for years.
Releasing Young Hot Ebony 2 in June – a full eight years after dropping his breakout first installment – is no different from Father’s previous choices. Meticulously planned and forged with a patient hand, the purposeful sequel arrives at a unique point in his evolution as an artist. Up until his 2018 release Awful Swim, Father merged raunchiness and shock raps with a mumbling flow shrouded in an air of malaise, making it feel as though listing his debauchery was second nature to him. Then, he launched into a new era marked by experimentations of fusing borderline soulful crooning with his lyrical clarity to form mutated melodies to support his raps. Tracks like “Joestar” off Husband and “Backbreaker” off of his 2020 release Come Outside, We Not Gone Jump You register more as electronic-based lullaby ballads than the brash bangers that preceded them.
Young Hot Ebony 2 arrives at the perfect moment for Father. It’s an album he’s been trying to make since 2018. But each project didn’t feel like it was meant to be the spiritual successor to his 2014 mixtape. Whether it was the sonic direction he was in or the presence of unfamiliar collaborators, it was not in the cards. Now, Father’s in total control and returning to his roots under his own volition, armed with new bells and whistles. Producing and mixing the entire album, as well as keeping his list of collaborators to primarily familiar faces like Zach Fox, Meltycannon, and Archibald Slim, Young Hot Ebony 2 truly feels like a continuation. It’s not a reheat, it’s a renaissance. The church organs and chorus sample on “Let’s Kick His Ass!” juxtapose beautifully with the slapstick violence that tinges Father’s bars. The electronic shrieks and piano trills on “What won’t he do?” return to the delightfully macabre sounds of his early days, with darkly serious raps to match. “Father, this is too much dope” Nigga, you got plenty veins/I done put ten toes on slow souls sold for my gains,” he raps, lazily rattling off menacing accounts of threats and violence without a care in the world.
It feels like a return to the days of yore for Father, but this time he comes with new experiences and artistic skills that surpass the quality of the original. It’s a delicate tightrope that he walks. How do you make a new project capture the spirit of the past, without registering as tired or uninspired? The fear that it will sully the memory of its predecessor is ever-present. I spoke with Father about successfully creating a sequel that’s not a soulless cash grab, what pushed him to the point where he was able to finally make this Young Hot Ebony 2, and how balances the expectations to release music with the idea of self-preservation of one’s mental health. – Matthew Ritchie
So what was the period between the release of Young Hot Ebony 2 and your previous album, Come Outside, We Not Gone Jump You, been like for you?
Father: Shit. For the most part, I finished that last album [Come Outside…] while I was still living in LA. And COVID had just started, lockdown had just begun. Then in the middle of COVID, I moved back to Atlanta because my son was born, and I was like “Nigga, I need some family and friends.” Atlanta treated that whole thing completely differently from LA. It was just me, Archie, and my girl, then my newborn son in an apartment downtown. It was just us in that room, in that space for months, not interacting with anybody because LA was like “No, you don’t go nowhere and you get everything delivered. Don’t talk to nobody or hang out with nobody.” Moving back to Atlanta, it’s just like a free-for-all, niggas do not care. As soon as I moved back, it was like my birthday. My whole family would come over, it felt like home again. Southern niggas just pull up on the lawn and pull out the grill and shit.
So during this time, I’m reworking music. I did a lot of melodic singing on the last album: And then I was kind of tired of it. A lot of music was sounding like that. I tend to be like this: whenever something’s going right in music, I just pivot left immediately. Too much of a good thing starts to sound like shit to me. I’ve just been out here for a minute, back home, and that brought back to my starting sound a little more. But with a little more musical know-how that I’ve learned over the years.
So you’ve been maturing with all these new sounds, but then go back to what you sort of build your base on?
Father: Family and lifestyle, fucking doing shit. Not the LA fucking shit I was doing for four years. During that time, I was signed to Sony. Something about being signed makes you feel like you need to make bigger, poppy records. It’s just one of those things. You don’t keep doing the thing you were doing, you go, “I’m gonna try something new. I have a budget, I have this, I have that.” You might stray from what comes naturally. It’s a good thing, of course, to stray.
I know in that period you were dropping singles pretty consistently compared to other people. What’s the thought process behind providing a constant stream of music for the masses?
Father: I realized the way I engaged with a lot of the music I listened to, I listened to the niggas that be dropping shit month to month. If I don’t see you, it’s kind of out of sight, out of mind. It is a thing of the streaming era where you have to do this. It’s not like back in the day when you could drop an album and then wait three years. A small artist could do that back then. We’re not all Beyoncé or the Weeknd and shit. When you’re coming up, you have to stay ever-present, or omnipresent I guess. That doesn’t mean dropping a fucking 30-song album. It never means that. Nobody wants that.
You can drop one song a month, for a year. You could never drop a fucking album. You will be as present as if you dropped a hit album. I want to build my demand up by not doing the most, but by doing something very good one time. Then doing another very good thing another time, then one more time. Then, you have entire 30 days to get something together and do it again. It’s a very easy thing to maintain, instead of sitting there and racking your brain thinking, “Oh my God, how the fuck am I going to get this album together? What am I going to do about the sequencing?” There’s a lot that goes into that. And it’s mad stressful. Towards the end of an album cycle it starts to get so stressful, even putting together Young Hot Ebony 2, I was having mad fun putting out those singles. Then I stopped because niggas kept asking for the album, “let me put together this album.” Then immediately I got stressed the fuck out. Why did I agree to do this? Why did I put this date out? It was dumb. It’s cool, I feel like it was a very cohesive project. And it sounds very nice. At the end of the day, from what I’ve seen, people engaged those individual singles way more than they did the entire album.
You would have been satisfied with dropping the collection of songs on a month-to-month basis and then just going, “Ope, that’s it! Onto the next era!” Right?
Father: My initial plan was to drop every single song, then just group all the songs altogether and be like, “here y’all go.” It’s the nature of streaming now. Some people choose to drop everything they’ve been working on for the entire year at one time and then take a break. I would much prefer one to two things a month. I’ve been doing the same thing with touring. My plan for the rest of the year, and probably into next year, is to pop out to one or two cities a month. I gotta come back home, I got a family. I ain’t got time to be galvanting and being on tour for several months. That shit is fucking stupid. I don’t know. People will be like, “music shouldn’t be rushed.”
Don’t rush the art nigga! Do a little bit a time, then put it out. Regular people gotta work five days a week. Musicians don’t know that they only have to do something every month. Spotify doesn’t care. The algorithm doesn’t care. It’s the people. It’s how they’re engaging with it. You just got to respond to people to get where you want to get.
It’s like the dinner with Jay-Z thing, would you rather have the lump sum of a million dollars or like $100,000 every month?
Father: It’s still a very chill thing to do. Do you want to be stressed the fuck out at one time? Or do you want to be chilling, coasting, all the time? Yeah, I’m gonna chose the coast. I’m a lazy nigga. I’m trying to play video games and kick it.
See, that’s what I was going to ask. With life getting in the way sometimes, with the pandemic and your family, how do you take care of yourself, in addition to creating and releasing music as you do?
Father: I don’t stress myself out about things very often. I’m not a frequent maker of my art. When I feel it, I feel it, then I’ll get it done. I can’t just sit and pound out shit all day, every day in the studio. I see a lot of niggas go make 10 songs a day and I think, “damn, am I not living life.” I use the whole “kid thing” as a crutch sometimes too. “I meant to do this thing and my kid got in the way.” Man, that man don’t be doing anything. He be running around the house and screaming and yelling, I don’t got to watch him. He really ain’t slowed me down that much. But it’s a great excuse.
Sounds like you’re the master of avoiding burnout.
Father: There you go. I went on my tour recently, and then I thought, “yo, I’m never doing this again. Why am I stressing myself out?” People say you’re gonna get so much bread from this, but there are so many little things that go into a tour that drain you of all that bread. You do five shows a week, but there’s all this extra shit, by the end of it, you’d make as much as if you did one show and then went back to the house. I endured so much stress in those two weeks. Essentially, I’m in a constant state of avoiding being burnt the fuck out. The bigger artists, they’ll go out for three months, doing a show every other day. You’re gonna make a lot of money, but you’re going to get a lot of grays.
I noticed that early in my career, they’d try to send me out on tours for like two months. I’m just like, “why?” Halfway through that shit, you kind of lose the energy a little bit too. It doesn’t feel new anymore. Then you’re putting on a bad show. Or the show feels so regular that you’re not giving it your all. The pacing of music is what needs to change, not necessarily the volume of it. It’s an energy drain when you do too much of one thing at a time. If you do a little bit a month as any normal human being should do. We tend to work until we die. Retirement is done. Unless you’re rich as fucking shit. Most of us are gonna be working until we die.
I don’t do music as often as I would even personally like. I spend a lot of time doing other stuff. But when I sit down and think, “let me make something amazing.” That’s what drives me. I don’t hate the craft. At most, I hate computers. But, I love the actual making of something and creating an original idea or thought. Then getting in the car, driving around for an hour, and listening to the fucking track over and over again. That’s something different, that nobody else could do what the fuck I just did. That’s still a very big driving force for me. I’ve never gotten bored with creating. When I can take the time to sit and give a fuck about what I’m doing, it feels good every time.
You’ve kind of mastered the idea of being an artist as a form of escapism, what do you think about music as an escape for a listener as well?
Father: Absolutely. My shawty, she works. I’m the driver, her job is an hour away. Three days a week, I’m driving three hours a day. I spend that entire time listening to music. I put on my little mix, I’ve got these songs that I can put on that get me through this horrid drive. I have been listening to mad EST Gee and Icewear Vezzo. But it’s a weird mixture, I also throw on Mary J. Blige, then like the Cure and Depeche Mode. I be listening to murder music in the car with my sleeping son in the back, the bass puts him to sleep. I’m just listening to shit like, “I’m selling dog, I’m selling fent/I put yo son in a coffin.” And I’m just sitting there thinking, “this feels great.”
So what’s the mindset behind making this album a sequel for something that came out eight years ago?
Father: I’ve been trying to go with that title for a very long time. Back as far as Awful Swim. I was not in the same place. Sonically, I was doing a lot of collaborating. Then, I went on to Come Outside… I was planning to make that Young Hot 2. But sonically, it sounds completely fucking different. If I put this out and called it that, niggas are going to be mad at me.
Young Hot Ebony 2, besides the intro, I produced it entirely myself, I did the mixing entirely myself. It began we I moved out here into the country. I’m mad far from the city, my friends don’t ever come over, I felt mad isolated again. I just ended my deal with Sony and shit, I’m paying back the advance: I ain’t got the bread like that no more. It started to feel like what I was doing when I made the first Young Hot Ebony. So there’s that feeling, mixed with the idea that I have to get this bread. I’m producing this whole thing because I’m not trying to split any royalties with no nigga (besides Meltycannon).
I want this to sound like whatever the fuck is in my head. I’m gonna mix it myself because my engineer is now Kendrick’s engineer. I don’t have a team no more, I don’t have managers anymore, I don’t have Sony anymore. It’s just me, my girl, and my son. This is just what I’ve been trying to get back to. Even though it doesn’t sound completely like the first thing, the essence is there. It’s in spirit.
It’s definitely got the same aura. I was listening and I thought, “I recognize this shit. It feels like your Soundcloud early days.”
Father: Yeah, but I’m older now. I’m fucking 31. I got similar fucked up tales to talk about, but I can say it better now. I was a decent rapper before, but I feel as though I’ve climbed up the scales in terms of ability and the skill to tell a story. This feels more like a direct sequel.
Do you think that making a sequel is hard?
Father: It is because we constantly advance. As a musician, you’re not on the same type of shit every year. You might change sound-wise, fuck with different producers. You want to sound like you’ve advanced as you’ve gotten better somewhere. And you can’t fuck up people’s expectations because they’re automatically thinking of the first one. How are you going to hit those points and then increase the quality beyond what was before?
The first one came out in 2014, then I dropped this in 2022. How the fuck are you going to restore the spirit from that long ago? That’s a reboot! I got lucky. I knew better. Don’t say it’s a sequel if it’s some whole other shit. I couldn’t make an R&B album and call it Young Hot Ebony 2. They didn’t want a nigga singing, all in love and shit. That’s not what I came in talking about.
Creatively, you’re doing a lot of heavy lifting on the project. What are the advantages of full creative control now that you’re more independent?
Father: Anytime something doesn’t sound right, I know what it is. I know that it’s my fault. Having a second creative mind, they’ll have a differing opinion in terms of how music should sound. Maybe you like the edginess and how rough something sounds, maybe they want it cleaner. They could not have the attention to detail that you have, because you made the fucking thing. You know the ins and outs. I know every point of this album. I can balance all this out exactly how I want. I do like the control, sometimes it does help to split the work. But if you have the time to get good at certain things, it helps.
On the flip side, what are the downsides of having all that weight of creating on your shoulders?
Father: You can get burnt out listening to shit over and over again, trying to make sure that everything sounds good. You miss things, eventually, it all bleeds together. Your ears get worn out, to the point you don’t know what the fuck sounds wrong anymore.
Sometimes you’re like, “ain’t that drum pattern from this song, the same drum pattern from that other song?” I didn’t even realize it, because I meant to go back and change it eventually. I just completely forgot. Things slip under the radar when you’re doing it yourself, there’s no other check and balance.
You kept your collaborator list small, primarily for your friends. How does that familiarity help when you’re creating?
Father: I can trust that you’re not going to fuck up. There ain’t nothing worse than hitting an artist because you love their music and you want to do a song together. Then they hop on your shit and it’s ASS. I don’t pay niggas for features, people they pay me are real trusting because I could give you some ass. In my heart and soul, I would never allow myself to give nobody any bullshit. But some people do.
I don’t deal with that because I know what my friend’s going to do. If my friend fucked up, I don’t feel bad asking them to do it again. When we did “Let’s Kick His Ass,” Zack sent me his verse. It sounded great, it added a whole new dynamic. But I hit him, asking, “Can you record that one more time for me, with a different kind of energy?” I was on my Kanye shit. Mind you, he never sent me a second version. He was like, “hell yeah, I got you!” Never sent it. But I was sitting there mixing it and realized that he got it right the first time. The fact that I was able to hit him and ask him to record it again, whether you do it or not, I don’t feel wrong about it. I’m trying to avoid working with people that just do shit for the job.
For this album, did you find yourself in a creative vacuum?
Father: Nah. I was doing a lot of driving, so I started musically conditioning myself via that. I started doing this around Christmas, I was listening to mad jazz. I knew what was I going for on the album. I wanted it to sound like film noir, fucking sleazy jazz bar from the 1940s. I wanted it to sound very criminal, old-school gangster shit, like 90s gangster shit as well. So, I’d be listening to a lot of criminal shit as well.
So I’m listening to mad soft, beautiful music, as well as “let’s get this money music,” then blending those feelings. I was putting on a lot of Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep before working on these songs. I went back to what I was listening to when I was younger, listening to rap—Northeast gangsta stuff from the 90s.
What does reaching back into the past do for you as an artist now?
Father: I didn’t live during those eras. But going back and listening, it always feels like there was a lot of versatility. There was a lot of variance and different sounds. Whereas now, I feel like listening to an excess of music now, then going to create more music, you get caught in this situation where you have to make what’s popular. Then you just end up making the same music as the nigga next to you.
For every album, I just try to slightly transition into a slightly different era of sound. For the next album, I’ve been listening to a lot of goth and grunge, like with the Cure. Not to change my sound, but just to make additions to what I already have. I tend to keep my subject matter very much at this age. I don’t go back and steal lyrics or anything like that. I just want to try and capture the feeling and the sound of it.