The Worldly Ways of Archibald Slim

The Atlanta-based rapper who rose with Awful Records has returned with the best work of his career
Archibald Slim
(Credit: MountainDurag)

Blue Chips is a monthly rap column that highlights exceptional rising rappers. To read previous columns, click here.

When Archibald Slim gets drunk, he buys books. His latest inebriated online purchases include David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Currently, though, he’s reading Julia Beverly’s biographical tome, Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story. Like many avid readers, Slim faces an everlasting predicament: the unread pile doubles with every book he finishes.

“I don’t want to have a bookshelf full of books I ain’t read, but I keep ordering them,” the 32-year-old rapper says over the phone from his Northwest Atlanta home. Locals call the area “the Bluff.”

The Bluff has been a veritable drug haven for decades. According to Slim, addicts squat in abandoned houses while their suppliers bag work in homes on the same block. (See also: the docu-drama Snow on Tha Bluff.) But gentrification looms as newer homes pop up across from bandos. The dichotomy could inspire a heavily footnoted essay (Foster Wallace) or a magical realist fictionalization (Murakami). Slim, though, is weathering the socioeconomic shifts while chronicling his life on albums like October’s Worldly Ways.

Worldly Ways is Slim’s most accomplished album in a catalog of over 15 projects, many of which he released in a two-year burst during the mid-2010’s peak of Awful Records, the now-defunct collective of Atlanta rappers, producers, and creatives that included Slim, Father, Makonnnen, Zack Fox, Playboi Carti (briefly), and many more. Early Slim records (e.g., 2014’s He’s Drunk!) displayed a formalism and thematic depth lacking in the exuberant albeit low-stakes offerings from Awful compatriots (e.g., Father’s undeniably catchy and silly “Look at Wrist”). His soulful, markedly Southern songs could’ve fit on a playlist between Isaiah Rashad and early Big K.R.I.T., full of the same potent mix of pathos, skepticism, substance-fueled self-destruction, and endearing introspection descended from the Dungeon Family. Worldly Ways is a refinement of those attributes that offers a slight shift in perspective.

 

Where Slim once sounded like he was searching for his place in the world, on Worldly Ways he voices the struggles of the place he’s found himself. A self-aware and weary hustler, he prays for more money as he acknowledges the sins necessary to make the rent. He puts weight on the scale while weighing the psychic strain of felonious deeds against romantic strife, every passionate yet laidback verse revealing more gun-tucked wisdom. Somber and honest, refreshingly devoid of embellishment, Worldly Ways is one of the best Southern rap albums of the year. While projects like 2014’s Better Off Dead sometimes bordered on bleak nihilism, he’s now turned brutal truths into catharsis.

“Does this one sound sad, too?” Slim asks. When I assure him the album’s definitely less melancholic than Better Off Dead, he seems satisfied. “Okay, I’m glad this one is brighter.”

Born in North Carolina, the second child in a military family, Slim moved to Germany and then Maryland before completing middle school and high school in Hinesville, a small city in Southeast Georgia near his father’s military base. His father was a diehard 2Pac fan, but Slim gravitated toward Atlanta rappers like Ludacris and Pastor Troy. Despite his affinity for rap, he didn’t begin recording until his first years at Georgia State University.

Slim was a bright student but struggled to choose a major and gradually grew disenchanted with college. Classes faded into the background as he spent most of his time listening to rap, making beats on an MPC purchased with his financial aid reimbursement, and partying with fellow GSU student Father, the eventual founder/figurehead of Awful Records. Bonding over liquor, weed, and rap, the pair briefly ran a blog covering rising Atlanta artists.

In the early 2010s, shortly after Slim and Father dropped out of college, the sprawling Awful Records crew coalesced in Atlanta. Slim, Father, and their network friends, musicians, and creatives bounced between one another’s low-rent residences, partying and recording between hangovers and fights. The chaos seemed to fuel Slim’s music, and the music kept him grounded.

“I was just in the house making music. I would make up and make three beats a day,” he says of the nascent Awful days. Soon, though, he began rapping in earnest and at a prolific clip, releasing 14 projects between 2014 and 2016. “I was giving people beats and didn’t like what they were doing on them, so I decided to rap over them.”

For a time, critics posited Awful Records as Atlanta’s answer to Odd Future, a group of irreverent rap-loving artists with distinctive voices. Their individual and collective songs blew up on SoundCloud, and Slim’s He’s Drunk! garnered critical attention. Unfortunately, the adoration didn’t come with a check.

“When we was using SoundCloud, niggas was not getting paid for that shit at first,” Slim explains. “We were putting music out and getting hundreds of thousands of plays and not getting any money.”

Like many rap crews before and after, Awful Records disbanded as quickly as they’d formed. The following years of Slim’s life mirrored his itinerant childhood. He spent a few months in New York, returned to Atlanta, juggled various hustles in L.A. for a few pre-pandemic years, and then followed Father, who’d also been living in L.A., back to Atlanta.

“I really ain’t work like that,” Slim says when asked about his source of income from 2016 to now. The answer is in his music and his wry delivery. “I haven’t had a 9-5 in a long time.”

Slim says his L.A. sojourn was, in a word, “strange.” But it proved fortuitous. He met A&R Archibald “Archie” Bonkers, who then introduced him to journalist, SPIN contributor, and POW Recordings founder Jeff Weiss. POW Recordings released 2021’s Fell Asleep Praying, Slim’s first record after what was essentially a five-year hiatus.

 

Fell Asleep Praying served as the foundation for Slim’s second act, giving him the motivation to begin his rap career in earnest once again. Last fall, he holed up in Father’s Atlanta home and recorded Worldly Ways in veritable isolation. While his music is better than ever, Slim is still figuring out how to promote his music in the algorithmic dystopia. Somewhere between drunken book purchases and recording sessions, he’ll figure it out.

“I’m not done,” he says. “[With Worldly Ways], I just wanted to start what I’m about to do.”

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