Throw on an Antwon song and it’s soon apparent that the San Jose-born rapper lives in an utterly familiar world. If he’s is rolling around town, he’s riding shotgun in a Prius, or, as he says on the song “Mr. Intercontinental,” he’s hoping his date “just don’t barf in the Volvo.” On the same track, you can catch Antwon “in the mall in them ASICS 1s,” hitting on shoppers at Macy’s, “even basic ones.”
Despite his growing notoriety, Antwon remains a part of the tradition of regular guy rap. “I don’t know if I will ever ride in a Maybach, and maybe if I did, I wouldn’t write about it,” he says, parked on a couch in his publicist’s Williamsburg office. “I like to write about things that are more real. I rode in a limo once. That was kinda cool. I fell asleep.”
At 29 years old, the rapper born Antonio Williams is able to turn vivid, daily life images into heavy hitting rap. He has the kind of eye for snapshot details that creative writing teachers dream about. At his packed, tour-ending show at SOB’s last week, Antwon detailed his vision of the good (but affordable) life: getting his belly rubbed after a bodega visit, getting weird on drugs while listening to Drake.
Even when Antwon turns to darkness, the emotions are relatable. On “Don’t Care” from 2014’s Heavy Hearted in Doldrums, he paints a bleak portrait of the end of a relationship, when his date doesn’t want to be seen with him, but won’t say outright that she hates him. When he performs it on the mic, it can sap the energy from this commanding performer. “It does take a bit from me,” Antwon says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m drained, or people don’t really get it. But If I didn’t do that, I feel like I wouldn’t be expressing myself at all.”
So far in his career, Antwon’s main point of expression has been rapping about fucking. Antwon is limitlessly creative in describing his sex life. Starting from 2011’s Fantasy Beds, his first mixtape of note, his discography has been heavily detailed from foreplay to finish. In a style that’s somewhere between the absurd bedroom of Atlanta upstart Father and author Zadie Smith’s ultra real, can’t-look-up-from-the-book scenes, Antwon is able to depict both raunchy, five in the morning tangles and moments of true intimacy with the same clarity. Still, he believes he’s moving away from that particular subject. “A lot of my older songs are about sex, a lot of my newer songs aren’t,” he says. “I feel like I was just really horny back then. That happens.”
Then again, one of the best songs from his brand new EP Double Ecstasy is “Girl, Flex.” Like the best of his work, the language isn’t safe for work and the beat leaves a wide gap between a heavy sub-bass and high, vapory texture that recalls a Oneohtrix Point Never joint.
As Antwon’s first release on the long-running Anticon label, Double Ecstasy does reveal some changes in Antwon’s life. On “100k,” he shows the first signs of fiscal success, promising “100k a summer.” And if that number doesn’t accurately reflect the bank statement of a dude with nine roommates, then Antwon repeats the goal, like a mantra, willing it into existence.
Double Ecstasy is also the first Antwon record that, front to back, enjoys the polish of mastering. Previous efforts have been meant for “for laptop speakers,” with high ends crackling into oblivion when played on a nicer system. Antwon he says this one is built for hip-hop’s ideal venue, the car. After work late one night, I tested this theory, asking a generous Uber driver to throw on Double Ecstasy at full volume. On “Luv,” the record’s club anthem, even Antwon’s deep, powerful voice came through on the low end, rattling door speakers like the lower reaches of the 808.
The impact of Antwon’s voice is so powerful that he can control a room just by playing karaoke. His set at SOBs was interspersed with takes on Mariah Carey, Alice Deejay, and Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack”—all performed as sing-a-longs, gloriously out of tune. “I started doing that in Europe, ’cause we had to play for an hour,” he says. “I don’t have that many songs. It worked out. I wish I could dance to Mariah Carey longer.”