Don’t think too hard. It might kill you ㋛

Four years ago in New York, Florida-born, Georgia-raised multidisciplinary artist Santangelo Williams stared at his ceiling, thinking about everyday interactions as ripples of things falling apart. Teens cropping homeless people out of selfies, Pepsi solving* police brutality, notes from an incarcerated father, the cans of beans he relied on to keep his stomach at bay. At that time, he was already deep in the crafting of an album called Freelancer, a witty, disgruntled, horny takedown of the mercenary design work he relied on to pay rent and keep his music ambitions alive. 

The talent underlying those ambitions was clear as day to a modest but impassioned group of friends, supporters, and other artists, be it Brockhampton members, Raveena, or Roy Blair. It’s hard to listen to “Like Flies,” an early Santangelo release, and keep your eyes dry. (Santangelo’s visual portfolio runs deep, as is the nature of talented sell swords without health insurance: special assignments for Noname, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Tyler Mitchell; soul-crushing corporate sacrifices; haunting paintings of skinless characters who look like they’d devour George Condo’s Dark Fantasy ensemble without blinking). 

Freelancer never saw the light in its initial stage. Life happened. 9-to-5s ate at Santangelo’s bandwidth. Love played games with his heart. He couldn’t pay for dinners with a few million streams and The State of Things dared anyone with open eyes to resist the siren calls of fatalism. But slipping from the belly of the beast to its intestines put Santangelo face-to-face with the rot. “Freelancer” didn’t do such carnage justice. Sketches, demos, and verses piled up as months turned into years. When COVID pulled an unprecedented shutdown, Williams had a chance to make sense of his accrual and realized the Freelancer concept had grown up. He needed a new title, a new format, and a supporting cast. Enter AdWorld.

Santangelo’s bank account had three digits and a decimal point after the first when AdWorld went live last month. The online experience combines meta-narratives with 3D collectibles that unlock a custom character builder. Participants become citizens and shape what happens to rival heist crews in a dystopian environment—part text-based GTA, part collaborative design space, part short film, all run through a community Discord. 21st century Sci-Fi. 100% Satire 100% Sincere.

This AdWorld virtuality will soon house an album of the same title—aka Freelancer, final form—and creating both nearly bled Santangelo dry. He worked with a small, dedicated team, including Art Director Pedro Bello, righthand man / “the world’s greatest DJ” Francis Brady, Anthony Salazar, and Noel (Sound Design) to create the game, which generated nearly $1M in 48 hours. Santangelo, for the first time in his life, had real money to eat whenever he wanted and reinvest in himself. With 1000s of collectors acting as co-writers in the narrative Santangelo created, the vision is bigger than ever.

AdWorld the album takes headshots at data monopolies while carving out enough time on the side for carnal desires. “Bliss,” the leadoff AdWorld single, sounds like a self-loathing anthem recorded over Scizor destroying an OP-1, the sort of thing mutant rats might rave to in Brooklyn sewers, and it hits hard: “Close my eyes / check for jobs / ain’t no jobs / pray to God.” 

Santangelo catches his breath on the equally memorable followup release, “Haptics,” which pairs mocking self-care advice (“Pick the perfect filter for your face”), sound-bender Quiet Luke’s harmonies, and R&B melodies from artist / producer / future Pixar director Zack Villere with interstellar synthwork. At its core, the project is both a desperate and inspiring reminder to keep pushing. “Great Gran fight for land / I got to keep fighting on,” he raps on “Jheez.” It takes a considerable dose of willful ignorance to not self-destruct. Santangelo alternates between looking at the wreckage through his fingers and screaming “fire” in a burning building. In either case, the repeat button is difficult to ignore.

In 2020, when we all knew we had a pandemic on our hands but didn’t quite grasp what we were really in for, Santangelo and I traded emails and published the results. In that interview, he reflected on how he could hack—a website, a design, a song, the social dynamics of a classroom based on desk placement—because he could see something for what it was. He insisted at the time that our conversation was an ad, just like everything else. We reconvened in 2022 to think far too hard about far too much.

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