- COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
- Nineteen-year-old James Gutierrez reaches out.
"Man, he's amazing," says New Jersey producer Mr. Green (AKA Aaron Green) about 19-year-old Californian rapper All Flows Reach Out, or A-F-R-O. Green is just one of the many rappers and rap fans calling the MC (AKA James Gutierrez) the next big thing in contemporary hip-hop. And this Friday, A-F-R-O will make his first-ever Canadian appearance at Reflections Cabaret, with Green joining him on the bill.
The host of VICE's monthly rap series Live From the Streets, Green first met A-F-R-O after the young MC won a major song contest in 2014. A-F-R-O's old-school samples and beats, rapid-fire rhymes and soulful, studied approach stood out among thousands of entries to judges like Talib Kweli and Jean Grae. Since then, he's been making big moves, putting out solid releases and meeting rap icons.
"When I first heard A-F-R-O freestyle, I knew he was special," says Green, who produced a beat for A-F-R-O as a contest prize, and continued working with him. "I've never heard anyone rhyme off the top of their head that fast."
With deep veneration for '90s rap and classic funk and soul, A-F-R-O has impressed the underground rap world with his extensive vocabulary, a voice that's been compared to the likes of Ghostface Killah, Chuck D and E-40, and his incredibly fast, acrobatic freestyle skills. Last November, he released his first EP, Tales from the Basement, that showcases his strengths as a wordsmith and rapper. He's currently working on a full-length record.
For a kid from Bellflower, a suburb northeast of Los Angeles, it's been an amazing few years.
"I'm absolutely shocked to this day. It's very unbelievable to me. It definitely feels like a dream," says Gutierrez. Despite the attention, he's stayed true to his interests. "That classic hip-hop prime, from when it started to the early 2000s, had that vintage soul sound that my ears love. I'm not a fan of recent guys, because I feel they don't have that sound, that voice. All I do is listen to my record player."
Green elaborates on A-F-R-O's skills: "He's able to combine two of the most difficult things people can do in music—perform really fast, and improvise."
Green recently recorded an EP with A-F-R-O in Brooklyn. "We have similar tastes in music so everything comes together naturally. His style is mad soulful, he has a lot of emotion in his voice, but he can do more straightforward styles, too. He can do a lot of styles. He can sing a little bit, he can beatbox. It's like he can do it all." In an age when rap lyricism takes a backseat, A-F-R-O has prioritized it. Both fresh from J Dilla Weekend in Miami, Mr. Green will be bringing "dope beats, a lot of scratching and maybe I'll kick a rhyme or stage dive," he says. A-F-R-O adds, "Just come have fun and rock with me."
A-F-R-O w/Mr. Green, DJ OkayTK, Zora the Sultan
Friday, February 26, 10pm
Reflections Cabaret, 5187 Salter Street