Hip-hop producer AF THE NAYSAYER’s smooth ascent to stardom
By Ariel KingPosted Aug 30, 2012
I attended my first Baton Rouge hip-hop show earlier this year. It was a performance by AF THE NAYSAYER and Luke St. John, and I loved it. The music was upbeat, but more lyrical and smooth than the bass-heavy beats of hip-hop music I usually hear. It was clear that Luke St. John was the vocalist, but I had no idea what to call AF THE NAYSAYER. At all the hip-hop shows I had attended in the past, the beats were pre-recorded, mixed on turn tables or a laptop by a DJ, or they were played by a backing band. I can’t recall ever seeing a show where the person mixing was next to the rapper on stage and was seen as an equal part of a unified music group. So I knew AF THE NAYSAYER was great at what he did, but I didn’t know what to call him.
When I was listening to one of their songs at home after the show, I heard Luke St. John refer to AF THE NAYSAYER as the “producer,” and then I had an ah-ha moment. I had always thought a producer’s job was to oversee the recording and production of music, but I realized that apparently hip-hop producers are different than those in other genres. The catchall title of “producer” has resulted in an oversimplification of what those in hip-hop actually do. Often the producer sacrifices the opportunity for recognition as an artist in his or her own right. This is not the case with AF THE NAYSAYER, who decided that he could have his own beat and make it, too.
AF THE NAYSAYER, the performance moniker for 25-year-old, New Orleans-based Amahl Abdul-Khaliq, does not offer the expected hip-hop show. Fellow New Orleans rapper Marz The Superior summed it up best with one word: “minimal.”
He is referring to the unique, low-key quality that has helped AF gain the respect of fans and fellow artists alike.
AF looks to the past for musical inspiration as opposed to jumping on the dub-step bandwagon that has become popular among musicians. And while his influences include the usual list of legendary hip-hop producers, AF’s list looks to artists from a wide variety of genres.
“This band called Tortoise was a huge influence on me,” AF said. “I always find myself doing, I guess, little shout-outs or references to their music by certain kinds of things I would add. Like, I tend to add vibraphones to a lot of my songs, and marimbas, because of them.”
In addition to post-rock, AF also recalls being exposed to jazz music early in his life, and how that has helped to form his unique style.
“I remember finding a cassette tape of Thelonious Monk. And it wasn’t just like a regular album; it was kind of just his greatest hits. I would listen to them and try to play them on trumpet over the parts in the song. I guess that’s when I first fell in love with jazz, when I heard that Thelonious Monk tape.”
In high school, he developed an interest in hard rock and punk music. He talks about bands like At the Drive-in and Rage Against the Machine as influences that have remained. He also attributes part of his alias (“NAYSAYER”) to his punk exposure during his adolescent years.
“AF” stands for “Abstruse Functions,” which references the many paths on which he has pursued his career.
In addition to working with Luke St. John and sometimes going solo, AF is collaborating with Marz The Superior on a side-project called “Phantom Cleavage.” He is also planning to begin touring with Louisiana’s Beautiful Belles in October.
AF THE NAYSAYER will perform at Chelsea’s Café this Saturday, Sept. 1, for a “Tap Tap Revenge Tour” release party, which features a track by AF THE NAYSAYER and Luke St. John. The show kicks off at 10 p.m., and tickets are $7. Noise-rockers NANCY will also be performing.
In addition to performing, AF is working on projects that deal with the business side of music production.
“I’m starting my own label, called Self-Educated Vinyl,” he said. “You know, I have a history background from college, so I’m real big on vinyl and the vinyl medium because it’s kind of preserving the true essence of hip-hop.”
Look out for upcoming releases through Reserve Records, including a single that features Freestyle Fellowship member Myka 9.
New Orleans-based music producer AdamBomb feels that AF’s minimalist technique is what makes such a big impression on his audiences.
“When I first played a show with him, I noticed right away that he performed live with just a Roland SP-404, my favorite sampler,” AdamBomb said. “In contrast to using a laptop with access to unlimited software programs and effects, like most folks doing electronic and hip-hop these days, the 404 is hardware and only has so many effects. Live, AF definitely maximizes the 404’s potential and shows that the machine is limited only by the man and not the other way around. He puts on one hell of a show.”
The more basic equipment allows him to interact more with the audience, and allows a more organic delivery for his engineered music.
A man of many hats, AF has found success as a producer in other areas of media as well. His music has been used in promotional videos for companies like Etnies and Perry Ellis. He has also worked as a video game composer on games like Steam Pirates by Fried Green Apps and Mecho Wars by Oyaji Games, which was nominated for “Best Handheld Audio” at the 8th annual Game Audio Network Guild Awards.
Sean Beeson, an award-winning veteran composer in the video game industry, collaborated with AF THE NAYSAYER on both titles.
“I would describe his music as smooth,” Beeson said. “I wish I could define it better in musical terms, but it encompasses many styles and techniques that place it outside of a normal label. If I had to categorize it, I think I would call it ‘Old School Nuevo Smooth Lounge Jazz.’ The way his pieces are so smooth has always attracted me to his unique writing and producing style. There are not rough edges in his music. It is all very transparent, complex yet easily palatable.”
AF THE NAYSAYER aspires to turn his love of making music into a career as a music producer, but he believes in having the freedom to be involved in all aspects of that process and won’t accept anything less.
“Life is really short, or at least I feel that way, so I just try to do what I want to do while respecting others. I want to put some events on, I want to book shows. I want to tour. I want to, you know, work on video games. I’m just trying to accomplish my dreams and I feel like everyone should do so.”