On a recent Friday night, about 150 hiply-dressed fans and well-wishers packed Threads on Carson, on the South Side, to hear rapper Pk Delay’s new EP, Dad, for the first time. It was close and warm, but a DJ kept the waiting crowd entertained while they chatted, sipped beers and munched on pears.
It doesn’t take long to realize that, for Pk Delay, pears are a thing. Several people at the listening party — Delay included — wore canvas baseball caps with pears embroidered on the front. And the cover of Dad (designed by Jacob Finch) features Delay rendered in gold foil, with a pear covering his face, Magritte-style.
“The pear is my favorite fruit,” Delay explains a few days later, over the phone. “It’s one of the most energizing fruits, and I bring a lot of energy to the game when I perform, when I record; even when I’m around people, I bring a lot of energy.” Plus, he adds, it’s better to see people standing out on the sidewalk eating fruit than smoking cigarettes. “I would rather promote healthy eating than anything else. ’Cause there’s a lot of negative stuff out there.”
Delay, who released Dad on Father’s Day, is all about bettering the world. He considers himself a father figure of sorts to the people around him: He discourages his friends from littering and encourages them to drink more water. He also embraces what could be called a normcore aesthetic: “The style of hat I wear is a ‘dad hat,’” he says, referencing the well-curved bill of his aforementioned cap, which wouldn’t look out of place on a golf course.
But Dad isn’t strictly paternal. The name also serves as an acronym for Doing All Deeds. “That’s my movement,” Delay says. “I want to add a positive aspect to the music.”
This might sound like the description of an artist you’d see performing for bored tweens at a middle-school assembly. But Dad doesn’t shy away from expressions of life’s grimmer moments (or NSFW rhymes about hot girls), and the record isn’t so much Rah Rah, Hooray for Everything as it is Take Things As They Come.
Track one, ultra-chill slow jam “Dad Year,” lays out what he’s about. “I know that I’m weird / I know that I’m rare / but you don’t have to say it to me / there’s a million different ways you could have played it to me,” he shrugs, making it clear that those “bringing all that bullshit” can take their negativity elsewhere.
Delay — a.k.a. William Hawkins IV — first decided that he wanted to become a rapper at age 8 or 9 after seeing teenage rapper Bow Wow in concert. “I saw him onstage running around and all the girls were screaming for him,” Delay, now 22, recalls with a laugh. “And I’m like, ‘Man, I gotta get girls screaming for me like this too.’”
By that point he’d already experimented with freestyling, and remembers recording himself rapping over background beats on his dad’s tape player. As a teenager, he and his long-time friend and fellow rapper Joel Kellem started getting involved in the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, which was then centered around Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa and Beedie, and the now-closed Shadow Lounge. “That was the place to be,” he recalls, adding that, as underagers, it was often a struggle to get shows elsewhere.
Delay agrees with many local hip-hop artists that the scene is currently lacking an obvious core. But from where he and rappers like Kellem and Choo Jackson (who is signed to Mac Miller’s label, Remember Music) stand, things are thriving. “I feel like we’re at that spot that we were trying to get to [as teenagers],” he says. “Now I feel like we’re going to go way beyond this, too.”
Such predictions don’t feel like a stretch, especially since Dad shows the prolific Delay growing as an artist, even in comparison to a release like the #100Retweets mixtape, which he put out less than a year ago. That is thanks, in large part, to the help of another young artist, Florida-based producer dirtbag, who provided Dad with its subtle electronic backbone.
It was dirtbag who initially made contact after Delay put out a call on Twitter for producers to send him beats. “That’s how I knew I wanted to do the EP with him, ’cause all the beats that he sent, I was like, I could really get on these and keep it true and keep it honest.” dirtbag’s shimmery beats provide pensive grooves for Delay’s reliably laid-back flow, while astringent guest spots from Kellem, Jackson, Slicky Williams and Deem Trill add balance.
For Delay, who draws inspiration from prolific artists like Curren$y and Lil B, a consistent output is a crucial part of maintaining his energy. “I feel like you gotta keep creating in order to have a new style or a new wave,” he says. “This [record] is definitely a whole new experience for me, a whole new style, but I know it’s not, like, the one I’m going to be stuck on forever. And that’s the good part about it.”