Zoom interviews usually involve a bored subject sitting in front of a MacBook Pro like they’re about to give deposition, with Wi-Fi delays only adding to the general awkwardness. Yet, on our call, the two core members of Bay-area hip-hop collective AG Club possess the energy of a couple of giddy teenagers queuing for a rollercoaster ride.
Jody Fontaine is nodding his head to an imaginary beat and holding his arms out like Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Meanwhile, Baby Boy bounces around like Bugs Bunny across a living room that looks like it smells of bong water (their house in LA is shared with 12 other AG members and described to me as a mix of “non-stop creativity and parties” in a separate call with Ivan, one of the group’s video editors), eagerly telling me about a Punk’d-esque prank involving hot dogs that he has planned for an upcoming live show.
This infectious, overexcited puppy dog energy goes a long way to explaining why AG Club has built a cult fan base so quickly, garnering over one million monthly Spotify streams at the time of writing. Their genre-fluid music gives young fans a space to be heartbroken (the angsty “Cereal” is a song about being “alive, but barely living”) and to offload some of their baggage, yet it also carries an exhilarating rush that transforms all this pent-up energy into something good via raucous, self-aware bangers like “Columbia” and “Memphis”. The group can’t work out whether they want to go full emo or full Pharcyde, but having an identity crisis is what being young is all about.
Their new album Fuck Your Expectations should solidify the group’s mainstream aspirations. It feels like a manual for teenagers, with a song for every mood and blunt tonal shifts that feel ready-made to stir up the emotions of live audiences. Take lead single “TRUTH,” for example, which transitions from mellow, hazy Mac DeMarco-esque guitar lines to abrasive bass that practically forces you to chant its hook (“speak in the light / what you speak in the dark”).
“We made all these songs for live audiences, so when this tour comes around, we’re gonna rip people’s heads off!” jokes Baby, who smoothly sings the majority of the group’s harmonies and hooks. “We’re going to fuck shit up so much that they’re going to need to do another lockdown,” bluntly interjects Jody, the chief emcee and possible heir to the pretty boy trap messiah leanings of golden era A$AP Rocky.
He continues: “We want our live shows to be immersive like a movie. It’s going to be like a fucking opera, with all different types of energies!” The group’s ascent to the mainstream has been delayed by Covid-19 (they joke about everyday being a “free day” on the new project), therefore, it’s understandable that the pair, whose combined age doesn’t stretch beyond 40, are so visibly excited — fame is just around the corner.
The core members of AG Club (which stands for Avant Garde) grew up in the East Bay Area of San Francisco. Although the collective (or “runaway train,” as Baby describes them) seems to grow every time its members meet someone with a unique energy (Baltimore bedroom rapper Sam Truth, who is a guest on “TRUTH,” recently moved in with them and is now seen as AG family), it was forged largely thanks to the deep love of music that brightened up Baby and Jody’s childhoods, with somber early 2018 single “Scam Likely” reflecting how the three felt like the outsiders at school.
Although their music doesn’t sound much like Too $hort or E-40, it’s obvious it comes from the Bay in the way it revels in its own eccentricities and rips up conventions. “The Bay definitely encourages individuality and is a space that inspires you to just keep on making music,” explains Jody. “And that’s all we really did, growing up. It doesn’t make sense for us to make songs about clutching choppers. Too many people are already doing that, and we don’t rap about having guns and killing people, because that’s not our reality.”
He continues: “You’ve got to be able to tune out of that old white man sitting in his suit telling you: ‘Hey bro, you’ve got to rap about murder, because that’s what sells records!’ You see us in our videos smiling and shit because that’s how we got here; by being ourselves. If that’s the life you live then that’s fair enough, as that’s your truth. But we want to do something different. We want to inspire people to be themselves, even if that’s different from the norm.”
“Memphis” tellingly carries the line: “I was born young at the wrong time.” This lyric points to AG Club’s mission statement of providing escapism for young people, many of whom feel increasingly withdrawn from the chaotic world that they’ve inherited from their parents. “It’s important to give [young people] an energy to feed off of,” Jody explains further. “AG looks just like you and we act just like you do when you’re hanging out with your homies having fun.”
He continues: “This isn’t just music and we’re not trying to be, like, stuck up rock stars; it’s real people. That’s what Odd Future and the A$AP Mob did for us growing up. They helped us to escape, but they also felt like one of us, you know? I guess we want to be the kind of group we’d have listened to at school.”
Did their hero A$AP Ferg, who appears on the remix of “Memphis,” share any pearls of wisdom? “Fuck yeah, bro. He just said that even with the money, the fame, and all the people that are gonna now come into your life, make sure you remain a crew and keep that bond. He told us a lot of people are gonna switch, but if you prioritize the love and that brotherhood then you’ll be successful.” Baby adds: “I still can’t believe that he fucks with us.”
The group’s lyrics are weighted on silly theatrics (their flamboyant, jazz-sampling, career-best song “Brass” contains the hilarious boast: “Bitch it’s good / She just got AG tatted on her face”) and outlandish music videos, where rapping while being hung upside down or hot boxing a Scooby Doo-van with an alien who has just crash-landed from Mars are typical narrative set-ups. In a world where rap videos can literally spark murder, they refreshingly want to make being goofy feel cool again.
“We’re super, super inspired by the ’90s era of hip-hop, where shit was super flashy in the music videos and also very cartoonish, you know?” says Manny, who is AG Club’s chief film editor and director, after meeting the boys in a Biology class. It’s a bit like a Busta Rhymes music video directed by Edgar Wright, right? “Yep.”
However, that’s not to say the group’s music avoids social issues altogether. Far from it. AG Club’s bold new second album Fuck Your Expectations opens with the experimental “Jabbar’s House” and Baby Boy’s honest admission: “At two years I read obituaries / At 16 I feared my sexuality / At 18 I gave in.” A previous song, “Midnight,” saw Jody rap from the perspective of a woman in an abusive relationship, unsure of her reflection in the mirror, while the rapper has also apologized before on wax to his exes for being a bad boyfriend.
Unlike some of their peers, whose honesty can sometimes come across as preachy and too rehearsed, the group’s more conscious leanings rarely overwhelm the listener, feeling more like a group of friends having a spontaneously deep late-night conversation.
“I was raised by my mom and my grandma,” says Baby. “Jody was raised in a house with only women, too. It means it’s super important to just uplift single mothers and women in our music. The world that we live in is nothing but oppressive towards women, especially [those] of color. It’s fucked up, because women raised us. They’re the reason we’re here.”
Jody adds: “Once you get a platform, you are speaking to more people and we don’t want to waste that opportunity by just talking about superficial shit. No matter the money or power they give you, fuck it, just do what is right and act the way your mama taught you. Do everything you can to be a good fucking person.”
The rapper admits that the group went through “more drama” making this record than their previous album, 2020’s Half Way Off the Porch. “We went through a lot of shit. We lost a couple of homies. They didn’t die or anything, but niggas switched up. People started acting weird and they let the little position that we’ve got go to their heads. The album is about staying persistent, because this life is going to throw mad shit at you.”
I ask him if the idea of fame suddenly becoming all-consuming is something that’s scary, especially given the existence of the “21 Club.” Yet the answer suggests Jody’s head is screwed on tightly: “If you haven’t dealt with your pain and you just blow up, then you’ve not dealt with your problems. You’ve just added money to them, and that’s a very bad idea. I think that’s more the message here: work out what the root of your pain [is] before turning to vices to heal. That’s just a short-term solution to a long-term problem.”
The new album has the potential to position AG Club as the successors to Brockhampton, with the Lil B-style creep bassline of highlight “Queso” and the song’s pledge of: “I need it right now / If you’re coming next week then it’s too late” likely to become a partying manifesto for all ages aiming to make up for lost time this summer. But Jody says the ambition is to make AG Club much more than just a successful pop group.
“It is going to be a whole lifestyle movement and brand for young people. There’s going to be music, TV shows, clothing, fucking food, video games, movies. Hollywood often capitalizes off the rappers and singers, but we want to make our own shit and to completely control the narrative. The dream is that if we think somebody is fire, then we will have a platform to put them on instantly and say ‘you’re up next.’ It could be someone we met just singing in the street.”
“And we don’t want to fuck people,” adds Baby. “Because people get to this position and then just start fucking people over. Like literally, it’s not even a metaphor. We have to be the opposite of that, always.”