The My Spilt Milk Awards performer discusses his production origins, and his limiting, but rewarding hands-on approach to connection with others.
AF the Naysayer is authentic and organic, even though those qualities are not entirely advantageous.
His career began as a natural extension of Amahl Abdul-Khaliq's restlessness one rainy, New Orleans summer. He was an active member of the flatland BMX community, but when the rain forced him inside, he turned to music as an outlet for his creativity. He reached out to D.C. hip-hop producer Nick Tha 1da, who suggested Abdul-Khaliq experiment with the production software FL Studios before investing in expensive hardware. In the late 2000’s, digital production was still in its nascent stages and few producers were willing to share their secrets, especially in the hip-hop community where Abdul-Khaliq was focused. People's sounds were their signatures, so they tended to protect them. Because of that, AF's sound developed organically with input from Nick Tha 1da, and producer “Hitman” Howie Tee, who is known for his work with U.T.F.O and Chubb Rock.
AF the Naysayer will perform at the My Spilt Milk Awards Thursday, April 7 at The Howlin' Wolf, and at the moment, The Autodidact Instrumentals, Vol. 1 remains the best recorded demonstration of who he is musically. AF found influences in ‘80s videogame sounds, West Coast G-funk and new jack swing, and he filters them through a contemporary indie hip-hop sensibility. His tracks are raw with traces of dated audio signifiers of a commodified good life, so sounds that once seemed swank behind videos on MTV are repurposed to seemingly question that high life, though with perhaps an undercurrent of Maybe one day ...
He considers music an extension of personality, and his establishes soothing vibes that are unexpectedly subverted by glitch elements to create dissonance. “It’s a balance clean and dirty, smooth and raw.” This process extends to his remixes, including his recently released take on Boyfriend’s, “Company Ink.” Boyfriend's original is a gritty, staccato rap track. Abdul-Khaliq went back to the vocal stems and original BPM and rebuilt the track from the ground up as a fluid, atmospheric reimagination of the track. It's clearly his work, but the song remains hers as well. This track stands in contrast to the pervasive trend of in-genre remixes, which often amount to little more than producers nudging up the BPM or adding filters to subtly change the song's texture.
“The point of a remix is to make a song appeal to a different audience,” he says.
His studio is his laptop, so AF can work almost anywhere. He can make music in airports and on planes as easily as anywhere else. Perhaps because he lives so much of his professional life on his computer, Abdul-Khaliq prefers to maintain connections through in-person contact, which he admits can be limiting. He responds to direct messages and emails, and maintains a website and Facebook page, but he is not nearly as active on social media as many other contemporary artists. The lack of social outreach is a debilitating for the producer. He appreciates how important it is in this era of fickle listening enabled by streaming, but time spent on social media is time that could be spent on something else, and PR is taxing and tedious.
Still, what he's doing works though it could work better. At Buku AF curated a set of DJs and producers from Houston, Baton Rouge and New Orleans who've participated in his ongoing Dolo Jazz Suite series, and he played at the Mad Decent Buku Late Party. He is also lead instructor at Upbeat Academy, which helps at-risk kids learn to produce and perform the music they love--primarily EDM and hip-hop.
Despite all the work, it's spring in New Orleans so when he can be, AF the Naysayer is back on his bike. The video for his track "Sunday" is a slow motion love letter to flatland BMX riding, and his Facebook page has as many photos of BMX riders and lovely stretches of flat, smooth pavement as it has posts about music. A promo shot of him with Ms. Charm Taylor--who he also remixed--features his bike as well. The photos and shout-outs to his riding homies are so sincere that they feel like they complete a story. "It's always a pleasure talking, pedaling, and breaking bread with you," he said to a friend in one, and the same genuineness can be heard in his music.
Voting for the My Spilt Milk Awards ends Friday, April 1 at midnight. Tickets are on sale for the awards show Thursday, April 7, with performances by AF the Naysayer, The Soul Rebels, Tank and the Bangas, Rotary Downs, and The Breton Sound.