When the members of local hip-hop collective AG Club were in middle school, Odd Future, a soon-to-be supergroup, was revolutionizing the course of hip-hop with its innovative, anti-establishment style and multimedia approach to art. Like many contemporaries, AG Club bears the influence of Odd Future and similar acts in both its diverse sound and creative ambition.
Following the recent release of AG’s debut album and the positive reception to the rollout of several music videos, the band is riding an upward momentum almost too hard to keep track of — and their idols, Odd Future, have taken notice by sending words of support.
The group has also received offers from labels, prospective managers and even a jewelry company interested in using the young men for modeling. And on Spotify and social media, AG Club’s numbers measuring song plays and content interaction has skyrocketed.
AG Club is at a high point in their three-year career, but things weren’t always so certain. Before things took off, AG worked hard to be noticed.
“We’ve gone hungry, we’ve missed sleep, gone late on bills,” said singer-songwriter Marcus Henderson, whose stage name is Jody Fontaine.
Inside the group’s makeshift garage studio, behind drywall pecked with holes the size of baseballs and walls lined with music posters ranging from Frank Ocean to Miles Davis, sits a huddled group of artists stringing together songs for the group’s next major release.
A laptop gasping to breathe through the stress put on it by music software, sits upon a fold-up table which sags in the middle from the weight of the computer and speakers placed on it. Follow a line of wires from the speakers, and you’ll find a microphone in a corner jacked up on a rake “for more stability” than its previous stand, a broom.
Perched in front of the rake-microphone sits Benjamin Guzman, aka Mick Anthony, singing sweetly of love lost.
At the helm of the cramped music ship, steering the struggling computer, is Luis Garcia, also known as Loui, who makes all of the band’s beats using his training as a practicing trombonist.
From Loui’s beats flow an eclectic contribution of musicality from the group’s other members. Their recent debut album, “Halfway Off the Porch,” features nine songs just as diverse in sound as the members’ musical influences.
“Sneaks” contains elements of R&B, including a catchy guitar riff, and is reminiscent of the softer, soulful sounds of Frank Ocean.
Conversely, the album’s most popular song, “Memphis,” has a hard-hitting flow and lyrical tone evocative of the horrorcore sounds of the Memphis hip-hop scene influenced by artists like Three 6 Mafia.
Such tracks are made possible only by the unique backgrounds of each of the group’s four current contributing musicians.
Loui, who raps and produces the all of the group’s music, hails from a musical background: his mother sings, his stepdad taught him to play piano, and his dad plays three instruments.
“This is the only thing I know how to do,” he said.
Using his skills as a musician, Loui completed a recording arts class at LMC in spring 2019 with music professor Rick Shiner.
“He was an inquisitive student who always participated in class discussions,” said Shiner.
Loui is not the only product of a musical family: Mick Anthony’s father was in a thrash metal band in high school, and has influenced Anthony’s varied musical palate. Today, Anthony contributes not only singing efforts, but guitar licks and basslines as well.
Alternatively, singer-songwriter Jahan-Jayubo Williams, also known by his artist name as Babyboy, laughingly describes what he likes as “singy-songy stuff,” having been influenced by the work of singers like Michael Buble and Chris Brown.
Meanwhile, Jody Fontaine’s inspirations of both hardcore rap and gospel allow him to spew high-energy hooks and rap verses.
“It’s kind of like you’re hooking me up to a machine and it’s just coming out,” Fontaine said.
AG Club’s diverse sound has been compared to that of Brockhampton, another influential, and more current, hip-hop collective. The efforts of the group create a sound distinct from other Bay Area names and the hyphy movement.
“We started this group because we didn’t want to make Bay Area music,” Fontaine said.
When it comes to the creation of their music, the group follows a democratic songwriting process.
“Everyone gets to play that Freddie Mercury role,” Fontaine said. “It comes from us trusting each other, in having complete faith in each other.”
Lyrics from the four contributing artists on the record are varied, too. Some songs contain hints of unabashed braggadocio, while others hold self-reflective stories of life experiences and love.
The club’s ear-grabbing sound and prose didn’t develop overnight. In fact, few of the musicians knew one another growing up. Instead, they joined forces through social media. Since they created AG Club in 2017, the group has released dozens of songs, performed for audiences around the Bay Area and put out visually appealing music videos.
As a result of time spent together, they’ve pushed each other to grow outside their comfort zones.
“We weren’t comfortable with ourselves enough yet to get out of the box. We were still trying to figure out what we wanted to sound like. Now that we got that, it’s just like, we’re running with it,” said Loui.
Sound isn’t the only thing AG offers, either. The group’s popularity has been boosted by their charismatic, conceptual music videos. The polish of the videos is accomplished through the savvy skills of their subsidiary group, 777 Media, composed of AG musician Babyboy and the group’s in-house video expert, Manny Madrigal.
The two videographers took video production classes while attending Deer Valley High School. Their former teacher, Kiel Olff, is not surprised to see where the two men have taken their talents based on the initiative he saw in them in and out of class.
Despite their combined skills, the group has struggled with the small-city problem: based in Brentwood, Antioch and Oakley, the group doesn’t enjoy the benefits a larger city like Los Angeles gives to aspiring musicians. The result is that they have struggled to break through to an audience because of the limited venues to perform at and fewer artists to work with in the surrounding area.
But in time, they reached audiences.
AG Club’s most momentous moment came after the release of one of their most popular songs to date, “Ay, G,” and its accompanying music video last summer. This potent combination caught the attention of local fans and proved to them that the group was capable of putting out both a competent visual and audio-based project.
Soon after, AG began work on a full-length album. Shortly before the release of the album in January, Oakland-based rapper Ovrkast, who has collaborated with Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future, reached out to them to perform at his own album release party.
A large crowd of people from the East Bay Area showed up to the event for AG Club. Normally, Fontaine doesn’t like situations where people put him on a pedestal — they make him feel awkward — but when he looked out from stage, he realized they were on the rise.
“I go onstage, and I look around, and I see all these people who’ve come up and dapped us up, who have said they love our music. And I look down and I’m like ‘Yeah, they want to see us,’” Fontaine said.
Since the release of “Halfway Off the Porch,” AG has garnered a following on social media like they’ve never experienced before.
Their popularity picked up when a writer for Lyrical Lemonade, a popular music multimedia company, found their new music scrolling through the Soundcloud streaming service and posted an article about them on Lemonade’s social media.
This was an important step for AG, because up-and-coming artists who have been publicized by Lyrical Lemonade have enjoyed immense growth in popularity. AG soon followed that trend.
After being added to Lyrical Lemonade’s Spotify playlist, AG experienced a boost of 1,000 streams in just two days. The explosive rise is “Just fun to look at,” said Madrigal.
AG Club is here with a striking new set of visuals for “Holy Sh*t.” Watch here:https://t.co/2rwCiOJz8F
— Lyrical Lemonade (@LyricaLemonade) February 12, 2020
Next, AG Club will be driving down to Hollywood to meet with manager Brad Scoffern, who has previously worked as a day-to-day manager with Tyler, the Creator, and Mac Miller.
As they roll toward a possible stepping stone in their career, the group feels both excited and cautious.
“These people, we don’t know them at all. And they’re offering us a lot of things. That’s what’s scary to me. There’s always a catch, I feel like.” Babyboy paused, and continued,
With access to high-quality studios and more income through merchandise, records and shows, AG is excited to see what kind of art they can produce without worries of money. They are interested in other projects outside of music, such as an idea for a sketch comedy show in the vein of “Loiter Squad” and the “Eric Andre Show.”
But no matter what success awaits, the group is confident they will not lose themselves in the limelight.
“We did this shit when nobody believed in us. We did this shit when we didn’t have a single fan. It doesn’t change. The audience around grows, but the circle stays the same,” said Fontaine.
Fresh music, enticing music videos and sketch comedy are among the ways AG projects they will change the idea of tying themselves to a category.
“You love music? We all make music. We do whatever calls us, and we don’t worry about what they label us,” Fontaine said.
“That’s why we’re Avant-Garde Club… The art comes first.”