Photo by Connor Barrett
“I feel proud of this project, and proud of myself,” says singer AG Himself, one half of Richmond hip-hop duo Cardinality. “It feels like the product of all the love–and growing self-love–in my life that I was able to create in this way.”
That project is Cardinality’s self-titled debut album, out now via Grimalkin Records and Tribe Ninety Five. It’s the result of a partnership between AG and rapper/producer Ty Sorrell–in ten lush, sample-laded tracks, the two luxuriate in a palpable sense of intimacy and security, something that allows them to delve deep into their perspectives on life, love, the genderweird, and the metaphysical. It all started in 2018, when they met at the home of a mutual friend where Sorrell was living.
“The house was a home for our circle of friends, and I spent a lot of time there,” says AG. The two would later start a relationship and move in together. “Ty and I had been living together for several months when we finally made a song together–something we had both wanted to do since we met, but I had a lot of insecurities about making music at that time.”
In June, the two put out their first single, “At the Dinner Table.” In its smooth, melodic flow, it deals with the conflict and distance that can exist even in physically-close relationships. In hindsight, it’s apropos given that their first songwriting session started around a much more constructive kind of meal.
“One night, we were eating dinner, Ty was making a beat, and we just went for it. I recorded some flute for the track, and we just had a lot of fun making it,” says AG.
That song never made it to the album, but it jump-started a quickly-snowballing sense of artistic identity. The task ahead of Cardinality was to develop something distinct for themselves.
“Because working together musically was a new venture, every time we wrote and recorded a new song, we learned more about what we wanted Cardinality to be and how to make that happen. The sound came with our intention, our love, and our excitement to create together. Ty is a generous collaborator, and was always open to trying new things that they might not have done in their solo music.”
Throughout the process, Cardinality had no shortage of material to work with, owing to Sorrell’s prolific beat output. They produced every track on the record but one (“Alive/Again” features guest producer Rathawn).
“I usually wake up with the urge to create, and I pour that into multiple beats,” says Sorrell. “For samples, I typically go for soul or jazz infused sounds, but I just look out for certain sounds or instruments that I am feeling, which I sometimes find in folk or indie rock songs, or other genres.”
That provided a deep base of textures to draw on, ultimately coalescing into the sound of Cardinality the album with a little help from AG’s ear for curation.
“AG would pick out beats that I liked and wanted to work on, but didn’t necessarily fit into a specific purpose for Ty Sorrell. We chose beats together and the sound formed from those choices.”
Soon they had a rough draft of the album, but they took a hiatus while AG spent four months working in California–on the opposite coast from Sorrell. When the two finally reunited, they found they’d changed, and so had their vision for the project.
“We had both grown, so we reshaped it into something more cohesive and added a few newer tracks that felt more like who we have become since making that first song together,” says AG. “The music is, naturally, partially a reflection of our relationship and how we have grown together as people and partners.”
“Vanity,” “Patterns,” “Eden,” and the opening to “Introduction to Cardinality” all came from that second phase of production. They frame a lyrically cohesive album that deals with themes of love and spirituality, within and without the closely-guarded gates of religion. AG ties it back to the music, saying the beats they chose led Cardinality to reflect on those aspects of their lives.
“Ty and I both grew up with religion, and have found our own spiritual beliefs and importance outside of anything organized. This project shares dark gospel themes with Ty Sorrell’s At God’s House, but is also more so a reflection of our relationship and our everyday experiences including our relationships with the spiritual.”
Like all Grimalkin Records releases, tape proceeds will go to charity–in this case, the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, a grassroots abortion fund that Cardinality strongly supports.
“Abortion is a human right; reproductive freedom is a human right,” says AG. “Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project provides financial support for abortion services in VA for individuals of all backgrounds and identities that have historically been oppressed.”
While they wait for the eventual return of live performances, the two say they’re continuing to work on future Cardinality releases. For AG, it’s continued to be a source of growth in confident self-expression.
“I honestly have my friends to thank for helping me overcome my self-doubt. Performing backing vocals and harmonies with many dear friends–Jake Adams of Dhemo, Alfred.–has given me confidence and helped me learn to trust my own voice,” he says. “Ty has also been a huge part of me overcoming my insecurities, and Cardinality is the result of that.”