It’s been a big couple of months for New York rap duo AFK. Rapper Brandon Pettus and producer Thomas Karas are still in the underground by any stretch, but it is getting hard to tell. They recently expanded their musical pantheon with a feature on Astronomer, an album by fellow upcomer Fallen Into, and their hit Typhoid just surpassed 100,000 streams on Spotify, no small task in today’s saturated music-scape.
When describing their sound to others I’ve taken to describing them as Industrial Cloud Rap; It’s not an exact representation but it does the job. The layered abrasive beats fit nicely with Pettus’ shouted vocals, dipping into all manner of abstract topics, from existential dread, to what can only be interpreted as robbing a supreme court justice: “If I see Kavenaugh I’ma have to be direct / put the choppa to his neck / catch a case hit a lick”.
On their new track “Vanquish”, distorted, ghoulish voices usher in a rickety tom drum rhythm. A thick synth bass floats into the room like a cloud of smoke and Petus begins to scream over it.
The instrumental is filled with so many odds and ends, noises that I can’t even begin to accurately describe. Cartoon voices, screaming opera voices, and foreboding keys that sound like a horror movie theme (fitting for the track’s October 31st release date).
“Vanquish” builds like a video game power meter, ramping up as chants of “Dumb motherf*cka you missed it” get louder and louder and being unleashed as Pettus takes his rhymes full speed ahead and they begin to lose their intelligibility. All the better, it’s the rawness that you’re here for anyway, and this song is raw indeed. A vehicle can only travel at this breakneck speed for so long, and the machine inevitably begins to tear itself apart. The track ends the way the listener feels, gasping for breath collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Music like this is what we need. As much as I enjoy the door rattling 808s that have become the sound of our generation, without artists like AFK there will be nowhere to go when we all wake up one day and that sound has become stale. AFK made “Typhoid” a year ago, and in the interim put out Paycheck, an ep that takes them down several different musical alleyways. While “Vanquish” is certainly in a similar vein to “Typhoid” it shows sonic evolution, and maturation since the group’s last release.
One year in and they only have seven songs to their name. AFK’s decision not to flood the market, in an industry where market flooding works, demonstrates an unwillingness to be painted into a corner, and forecasts great things to come in the future.
Thanks for reading! Here’s a video some friends and I worked on where we interviewed AFK and went to one of their shows. What a show! They tore it up.