Underground lo-fi hip-hop collective Bag Season Records has put out nearly a dozen releases in less than two years. They’re productive because they’re motivated, talented, and well-matched. Although they’ve collaborated with artists in Germany, Japan, and the UK and have played several showcases around the states, their real work is here in New Orleans, where they’ve been steadily building a home for beatmakers. At their nexus is Counter Sessions: an ongoing event Bag Season developed that allows producers of all experience levels to share their music with the community.
Founded in 2018, The Bag Season team consists of Louisiana-born producer/rapper Elgin Brown, a.k.a. AFKA; Louisiana-born producer/chef/elder statesman deliciousbeets (known by friends and fans alike as “Beets”); Texas-born, Y2k relocated, producer/composer/DJ Ryan Travis (friendkerrek); and New Jersey-born globetrotting MC/DJ/producer/rapper/teacher, Charlie Corpening, a.k.a. Wino Willy.
It might have been a daunting task to set aside egos and come together so quickly to create an LLC, a flurry of releases, a producers’ showcase, over a hundred songs, countless graphics, dozens of videos, live streams, a website, and merchandise, but it’s a task these four business-minded artists have divvied up and tackled together.
The five of us converged via Zoom, phone, text, bemasked at a graffitied open-air structure in City Park, and then, briefly, indoors at Sea Cave Arcade in the Bywater. This transcript is an amalgam of all of those meetings, taken between work shifts, recordings, coffee runs, rehearsals, and naps.
How did the Bag Season team come together?
deliciousbeets: I met Elgin at these local Ableton workshops, aimed at honing engineering skills. When Charlie showed up, I could not believe that someone with this skill had come into my city. Ryan is from the Counter Sessions era. All of us are closet producers. So, for us to be able to organize and connect, it happened very organically.
friendkerrek: Back in 2014, when I was in Baton Rouge, I didn’t even know that beat shows were a thing. I met Amahl, a.k.a AF THE NAYSAYER. He introduced me to Charlie. We were both pretty new to the scene and immediately like, “Let’s get together and make stuff!” Charlie was getting married the week that we met; so, after the wedding, we started getting together and cookin’. Amahl was crucial in not only introducing us to each other but also in helping us out with Counter Sessions when it first started.
Wino Willy: I relocated from Philly. My wife is a fourth generation New Orleanian. You know how it is: if you’re a person from New Orleans, you pretty much have to, like, die here, so you come back. When I came down here with her, I didn’t know anybody. I had met Amahl when he was on tour up North and he introduced me to everyone through this collective that was here before—Dolo Jazz Suite—who, I would say, are the direct lineage of the stuff we’re doing now.
AFKA: President / Creative Directordeliciousbeets: Vice President / Director of OperationsWino Willy: Ambassador / Treasurer / Minister of Defensefriendkerrek: General / Communications Director
Can you describe your sound? I know there’s a lot of variety within the group, so feel free to talk about your styles individually.
AFKA: I’m the hook guy. I mostly come in and out and provide hooks on tracks. When I’m rapping it would be like old T.I. 2005-era rap hooks, focused on the catchiness, a lot of punchlines and play on words. It’s deep voiced, smooth. I’m the president, so I talk shit. I want to be recognized when I’m talking, for people to say, “Everything he does is good. He doesn’t give a fuck what you think.” That’s the kind of flamboyant personality I project on records; humor is a big part of it too. In real life, I’m really nice. I’m also a beat guy, melancholy beats, sounds like something you’d listen to in the rain, dark weather, moody and chill. It’s a foggy room that me and Ryan come out of. Slow, haunting, mellow, introspective. With me and Charlie, it’s all about the punchlines and the verses. Ryan’s usually a part of my process when it comes to making singles. It’s why Bag Season works so well, because I can achieve this by myself; but if Charlie’s in the room or Ryan’s in the room or Beets is in the room it will shape a complete form.
db: I love the science of sound. I’m always chasing that element when I’m making music. I’m also part of the Low End Theory era, the J Dilla era. I got my first sampler in ‘94. I progressed very slowly, teaching myself. Back then—and this is the part about Bag Season that I absolutely love and what made me go in on it—people used to put tape over their records so no one would know what they were playing and it’s like that with these guys, there’s no egos. We share everything… Starting in ‘95, I was part of a band, a five-piece. There I learned how to form music with others and how to be yielding at times. Even though I grew up in Louisiana, I was a hip-hop head. I was able to go to New York City when I was 10 years-old and it changed me. Also, because I had a sampler early, I was always into progressing that. I feel like, even though I’ve been making music since the mid-90s, I am just getting to the point where my drums are sounding the way I want them to sound in my head, and that has a lot to do with these guys right here.
WW: I’m an East Coast hip-hop baby, so I feel that my sound blends together elements of soul and jazz with crisp, hard-hitting drums. I’m very influenced by A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, MF Doom. While writing rhymes, the way that I perceive creating and crafting a song is I focus on trying to construct a nonlinear picture of what I see going on in the world. A lot of my content is about pain, poverty, race, transitional periods in one’s life. My beats reflect that as well. I try to create stuff that tells a story from start to finish. I use a lot of analog machines in my production; I use a lot of records; I get a lot of knowledge from family. I’ll talk to people about stuff they listened to in 1974 and I’ll go and find that and then use it in the stuff that I’m making in 2020.
fk: Even before I started making beats, I was obsessed with jazz and ‘70s soul music, how they were recorded, how you could hear the room, how you could hear the microphones being placed. On the other end, l love shoegaze, which is guitar-heavy music where they’re blaring effects and making whole soundscapes. When you put headphones on, it’s like being in a different world. I got into beat making because I realized that I needed to be able to sample to make the sounds I was hearing in my head happen. My sound is chill and low fidelity ‘cause I use a lot of old gear, but I also mix the shit out of my songs, ‘cause I’m obsessed with texture. I’m obsessed with putting headphones on and having you feel like you’re transported to somewhere else. A lot of people use beats as background music, which I’m perfectly cool with, but I try to make stuff that rewards deep listening as well. My music has been described as porn music and while that’s not how I would describe it, it’s not not. With Bag Season, the reason that I work so well with Charlie and Elgin as rappers is because two of my favorite rappers growing up were MF Doom and Lil B; so, a lot of times, because I don’t rap, instead of rapping while I’m making a beat, I’m hearing them rap in my head. Charlie and Elgin make me think of MF Doom and Lil B respectively, so it was like I’d been making beats for them for so long. That was a crazy element of our synergy. It was almost like we’d already worked together, even though we hadn’t. Our styles had already come so close to touching. Bringing them my beats was like, “Here you go!”
Who do you look to for inspiration and ideas, in and wildly outside of your genre?
WW: Wrex Mason. We’re contemporaries. He was the first person I ever put a release out with. He’s still going strong. He’s a hero to me but he started making beats only two years before I did. Ras G. He’s from L.A. He passed away last year. It was really unfortunate. He was pretty young. A lot of those guys use SP-404s, but he was the first person I saw who was making what felt almost like free jazz on this machine, where he started splicing a bunch of loops and triggering a ton of things. I was about 18 at the time. I started making beats when I was 15. He was the first person whose work spoke to me on a spiritual level. Herbie Hancock is a huge influence on me because of his willingness to explore. [He’d] play with Miles Davis and then he’ll play with a Flying Lotus-type musician. For all of us here, it’s about adding things to the arsenal. I want to be able to move forward, never get complacent in my technique, always pick up new things. One of the reasons I love teaching is because kids are always listening to new things and experimenting because they’re learning. Then we, as teachers, create around their mistakes and it makes unique sounds.
AFKA: This question would be easy if I could just be like: Wino Willy, friendkerrek, and deliciousbeets. They’re who inspire me. I dunno. Madlib? When it comes to my rapping style, the sound of SpaceGhostPurrp’s voice is what I was trying to capture but I wanted to actually have good bars. Outside of my genre, Sade. Gil Scott-Heron. When I’m 60 years-old I’m gonna start singing like him.
fk: The standard beatmaker answer is AFTA-1. He’s based in L.A. and makes really spacey, sometimes romantic, smooth bops, which is all the shit I’m trying to do. My non-beat making influence is My Bloody Valentine. I love them. I love shoegaze music and I try to bring that aesthetic into my production with the walls of sound and dense atmosphere, transporting you into the hypnotic. My other biggest influence from when I was a kid was Prince, the way that his music is sexy and always joyous was something that stuck with me and I feel like that comes through in my music.
db: Large Professor is my beatmaker influence, mainly because he comes from an era where there were real limitations to the machines. Limitations can be inspiring. I have a whole philosophy about how I make beats: basically I create a box for myself to be in and I find that I can do a lot in that box. It makes things clear, for me. He was a major contributor to the style where you use a lot of filtering and signal separation. He was a master at extending sound, even back then. J Dilla. At first, I didn’t know who was making those beats. I was listening to the groups he was producing. I was a J Dilla fan without even knowing it. As far as outside the realm, it’s Fugazi. In college, I saw them live. They were exactly how you think they’d be. They were assholes but they were amazing. I love the DIY aspect of that era, where everything was handled in-house and they chose to not sell merch.
Assuming that you only get five minutes of a listener’s time, which songs would you choose to represent what Bag Season stands for and sounds like?
Wino Willy: “Lemonpellegrino,” off my release, Burlap. It’s like soda water, with ice in the glass—it’s smooth. It features rapping from both myself and Elgin and it’s produced by friendkerrek.
AFKA: “cameron diaz,” it’s got humor and it’s a collab off of friendkerrek’s friendzone.
WW: “Gotta Link.”
db: “Gotta Link” was like, “Let’s kick this thing off, baby!”
fk: Maybe “cameron diaz” is a more refined version of those ideas.
WW: My wife loves that song. She plays it, like, every day. I cannot escape that song and I’m still not sick of it.
fk: I’m thinking about the EXTRAVAGANT EP and I’d say, “ORGANIZE” off of it, that one might mean the most to us, personally.
Can you explain how you create your beats?
fk: Really simply, we all use samplers that are made by Roland, and computers.
db: We basically all use a chain. These machines allow you to take the output and plug it into the input of another machine and borrow the sound from each machine so you learn to pull the best qualities out of each machine in the chain. Each of us has our own chain. Essentially, we all commonly use Ableton as our brain. We use the [Boss/Roland] SP series—we all use different ones: I have the old man version, Elgin has the next version up past mine, Ryan and Charlie have the newest versions but they all do the same thing. They allow you to be very mobile. They allow you to set up battery-powered. This is the trick of why we’re able to be in the park or be anywhere doing any kinds of shows. We can be battery-powered and, when we play live, we connect all of our machines in a chain, so we’re playing live through all of our machines.
Let’s get nerdy and specific about the gear, for kids attempting to try this at home.
db: Specifically, I use the SP-303. Elgin uses the SP-404. They call it the OG. The SP-404 Original. Charlie and Ryan use the SP-404SX. Ryan uses the SP-555 as well and the 202 and Charlie uses the SP-404A, as well. He has a brand new one. A lot of folks think they’re analog machines. They are in the way that they’re playing audio clips, as if they’re analog audio, but there are actually digital chips in the machines, so it allows for quick editing.
How did you all decide on the name Bag Season?
AFKA: I entered the NOLA Mix Beat Battle—I lost and I was salty about it. I let Charlie know, so he went and got the beat that I made and slaughtered it. We started working on Paper Bags [the first Bag Season release] without really knowing it was going to be Paper Bags. Then there was “Willy Raps.” At some point, “It’s Bag Season!” made it into a cut. Then we were all at Beets’ house and I was popping shit, saying, “Yo! It’s bag season. It’s bag season!” Which means, we’re in our bag right now.
db: To me, “Bag Season” is us challenging each other. What are you bringing to the table? What you got in your bag today? The first time we were all four in a conversation about this, it was at a Counter Session and Amahl was with us and he basically egged us on to making an LLC happen. We had to move on it really quick so there was no discussion about the name; it just was.
How does Bag Season work as a collective?
AFKA: Bag Season is what’s been created to fulfill a need for instrumental hip-hop in Louisiana. We’re very passionate about it. Our focus, as far as Bag Season, is to solidify a scene. We’re doing that through being organized and efficient with one another. We each play roles that enable that. I’m the president, so I’ll talk shit all day and then Beets will be like, “Calm down.” He’s the Vice President. When we have a dispute, Ryan is always the first to see the light. He’s the most level-headed, the Communications General. Charlie is the Ambassador and the Treasurer. He wears the flag everywhere he goes. If you see me, I’m gonna be in the back, talking to Beets. Beets is our center of operations.
db: It’s fluid. I’ll come up with something, put it on our group chat, Charlie will run with it, and it’ll be a video in no time. We all have so much music to get out there. Elgin makes fliers, I do graphics, Charlie does the visual work for YouTube and streaming.
WW: I think the strength of Bag Season is that, before we started putting out music collectively, we sat down and ironed out a piece of paper that says: everything is broken down 25% responsibility to each member; this is how we treat each other, business-wise; here’s what we do in times of dispute. Whenever a decision needs to be made, it’s majority rules. So, three out of four votes, we go in that direction, but the dissenting vote still has input. We have similar preferences and abilities but there are strengths that come from everybody’s experiences.
fk: One of the reasons we all gelled together is because we share a lot, as far as our styles of making music and our work habits. We pooled our skills and abilities and goals into one thing that ended up aligning. By now, we’ve established a pipeline for something we’re going to release. We move really quick because we have trust in one another. We spend a lot of time tweaking and making things better but not too much time wondering, “Is this good enough?”
WW: We all have the creative director position at Bag Season. An example: when we’re trying to name something, somebody poses an idea. If it’s fire right off the bat, we run with it, we put everything behind it. If it’s not, we sit there and we brainstorm it and workshop it until it’s something that makes sense for us. If you come with something that is corny or whack, you’re gonna get roasted into oblivion. I wanted to call a release “Al fresco” and Beets said it sounded like I was opening up a bistro.
Who did you look to for business inspiration?
WW: We had known a few of the dudes at Controllerise, in Atlanta. It’s a pretty big beat scene over there and they do a producer showcase. STLNDRMS really crafted that movement and made an LLC where they were able to move forward with that and umbrella everything that was going on in the city in that scene. Another one is Low End Theory, in L.A., which transformed into Beat Cinema, and Dolo Jazz Suite—we took the torch from them. It was our version of that thing, very community-minded. We were like, “You can come play a set whether you’ve played a thousand beat sets or you’ve played zero.” A lot of people won’t give you an opportunity like that, and Amahl always did.
Walk me through what a Counter Session feels like and how they came to be.
WW: When the four of us met, we knew we wanted to perform more and there wasn’t really a place for us, as artists, outside of the Jazz Suite to do it. We said, “Let’s find a place that would be able to house what we’re doing.” Then we met Judah [the owner of] Sea Cave: He’s a big fan of our sound; we’re fans of his arcade. He was gracious enough to open his doors and there’s where we crafted our skills and this friendship.
db: Counter Sessions is unique in that you could literally make a beat that afternoon and play it that evening. It’s a good place for people to hear their music jump off and get a reaction. It’s an instant litmus test.
AFKA: Counter Sessions feels like home.
WW: Yes. Have you ever been to a cookout where you haven’t seen your people in a long time? Almost like a family reunion? Counter Sessions is like a beatmakers’ family reunion. The last one we did, right before Sea Cave moved to a new location, everybody and their mom who makes beats in New Orleans showed up. I think even Mannie Fresh came by. We had a bunch of people rapping in the middle. It was like a tangible feeling of nostalgia, with the arcade games, good vibrations, with the music, and then a feeling of connectivity to a greater family.
Bag Season will be dropping their newest release, EXTRAVAGANT Part 2, on December 4. For more info, check out bagseasonrecords.com
photos by Matthew Seltzer