This month, producer AF The Naysayer will release the first installment of a three-part series of music titled PARTS. Its arrival will mark the culmination of a long waiting period and dovetails with his appearance at BUKU Music + Art Project on Friday, March 22.
“I’ve been sitting on it for a minute but I feel like now is the right time to release it,” he says of PARTS, Act 1. “Before, I was trying to do things the proper way, I guess you could say. I was trying to build a team around me to help me out to push this record, from management, to a booking agent, PR. I’ve been doing it all alone pretty much for the majority of my career. So I wanted to do something different. I had a falling out with my last manager and the booking agency and realized I could do that all by myself.”
AF (short for “abstruse function”) has made a name for himself for his “lo-fi” production, but that label doesn’t tell the whole story. His music is the marriage of harsh textures with beautiful melodies and sounds like optimistic melancholy, if you will.
“I believe music is an art, in general,” he tells me. “It’s an extension of your personality. So my music is literally just me, myself. It’s all of me. The things I repress, the things I push forward. A lot of people say I’m pretty optimistic, but sometimes I can be really sad. So I like to think a lot of that comes out in music and in words.”
Citing old-school hip-hop producers like Run-D.M.C. and Whodini producer Larry Smith as inspiration, as well as Hitman Howie Tee, best known for work with Chubb Rock, Special Ed and Color Me Badd, AF’s appreciation for the architects of rap’s early sounds is evident. He’s also informed by the more contemporary work of Madlib and J Dilla, two hip-hop giants whose work with sample-based production raised an entire generation of beatmakers.
And then, there are the video games. AF says he was “raised in arcades,” so the soundtrack to video games influenced his growing producer brain. Raised partly in Los Angeles and partly in South Louisiana, AF visiting the arcade kept him occupied and away from trouble. “I grew up hearing that soundtrack and being exposed to a lot of music that way,” he says. Referring to techno innovators Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, AF says, “We joke around and say that it took a Japanese man who appreciated black electronic music from Detroit to teach me about that music. And then you realize that black people who look like me were making that music.”
AF went to college in Lake Charles, at McNeese State. That’s where he really started making beats. During that time, he came to New Orleans a ton and eventually decided to stay put. At least, for a little while.
Now partners with Sinking City Records, AF is taking a step beyond his usual all-instrumental releases. For the first time, he’s featuring vocalists—in this case, three different rappers (one from Baton Rouge and two from Taiwan). The label will release the four-track Act 1 on a double 45 set. On March 29, he’ll host a release party at Gasa Gasa with Mykia Jovan, Charm Taylor and Cavalier.
At BUKU, AF will appear not only as a solo performer, but also as a member of Upbeat Academy. He’s a lead instructor there, teaching (mostly) high-school students the art of beatmaking, mixing and more.
As with most mentorship programs, the important work at Upbeat Academy is just as much about life skills as it is technical capabilities. “Sometimes I get a little jaded because of the music industry, but I break through,” he tells me. “Once I’m there and I see that I’ve made a change in someone’s life by just giving them some advice or just talking to them, it changes everything. Pushing arts on people builds confidence, because you’re having an idea. It’s brave to stand there and try to make your idea a reality. And so when I’m able to help someone use their voice and show their voice and express themselves in a musical manner, that’s giving them confidence to just be able to do anything.”
With his work in pursuing so many of his passions (he is also a devoted cyclist), AF The Naysayer is known for a lot of things: making beats and educating children, for starters. “I’ve gone through many different lives and music is just one small thing in my life,” he tells me before mentioning something he definitely should not be known for. “People still come to me and say, ‘Oh you rap right?’ I think, because I’m black, people just assume I rap. I’m not a rapper.
“I want people to know me for my acts of valor.”