A$AP Rocky’s album asks the question: cash or more cash?

Courtesy of asapmob.com.

If you haven’t heard LIVELOVEA$AP by the controversial Harlem rapper, A$AP Rocky, then be sure to pay close attention. Over the past year, the gold-toothed 23 year old has made a serious splash in the world of rap and hip-hop. The videos for his first two singles, “Peso” and “Purple Swag,” earned him an opening spot on Drake’s tour after receiving several million hits on Youtube, and positioned him (and his A$AP crew) at the center of rap’s spotlight.

Born in 1988, Rakim Mayers was named after the rapper, Rakim, of the revolutionary Eric B. & Rakim duo. After witnessing his father’s arrest at the age of 12, and his brother’s death a year later, A$AP quickly took up rapping as an escape from the danger and violence of the streets. With his influences beginning in his home of Harlem with rap group The Diplomats, A$AP began experimenting with Houston codeine music, dark Memphis rap and more harmonic rap a la Bone Thugs In Harmony.

After being in and out of various shelters around Manhattan, A$AP and his mother ultimately settled in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. Over the next couple of years, however, ASAP wouldn’t do much in the hip-hop world, aside from the obscure mixtape guest spot for artists like Oakland’s Main Attrakionz. In fact, most New Yorkers largely criticized A$AP’s early releases for their parody-like resemblance to Houston’s syrupy, down-tempo Screw music and refused to claim him as their own. Now to me, this does not sound like the story of a major label star. So how did a rapper with only a handful of guest appearances earn a $3,000,000 major label record deal in less than a year?

Upon the release of his first video for the Houston anthem, “Purple Swag,” A$AP received much attention, but it wasn’t necessarily for the music itself. The song’s video featured a Caucasian girl wearing gold fronts mouthing the “N” word. As word of A$AP’s “Purple Swag” video spread virally, his popularity soared. Outside of New York and New Jersey people began to appreciate the unique influences and construction of ASAP’s music. “Purple Swag’s” experimental approach to the slow-mo Houston sound came off more as a tribute anthem than a parody or imitation. It’s no surprise then that ASAP Rocky’s single for LIVELOVEA$AP, “Peso,” was an instant Youtube sensation. Adopting a different approach from “Purple Swag,” “Peso” employs Rick Ross-esque beats, an MIA hook and production from one of his partners, A$AP Ty Beats. Quickly gaining over 4,000,000 views, “Peso” drew the attention of the rapper, Drake, who currently has A$AP opening for him on his world tour. When a performer as large as Drake believes in someone’s talents, I suppose it makes sense for a record label to take a risk on them. After all, great risks can lead to great gains. But was A$AP Rocky really worth $3,000,000?

LIVELOVEA$AP was released in late October to largely positive reviews from the critics. Pitchfork awarded the mixtape a “Best New Music” nod and online music reviewer, Stereogum, placed it in the top 50 releases of 2011. And, for the most part, these reviews seem completely accurate. If you haven’t listened to the album, you’ll quickly notice that the lyrical depth in A$AP’s songs doesn’t extend much deeper than a kiddie pool. Common references on the album include purple drank, dice games, weed, Harlem, Berettas and, of course, money. In spite of this fact, ASAP maintains an acceptable flow throughout the album. He’s certainly no Mase or T.I., but he manages to distinguish himself from the litany of new of school rappers by adopting a Midwestern slang coupled with a Wiz Khalifa haze. His variety of influences on the album – Memphis rap, Screw music, country rap – reveal nothing short of excellent taste, and tracks such as “Bass” and Houston Old Head” exhibit this nicely.

However, these are not the reasons the album shows potential. Rather, the impressive aspect of the album is the production, specifically the tracks produced by the recent Internet sensation, Clams Casino, and Rocky’s partner, A$AP Ty Beats. The beats laid down by each of these producers reflect an entirely unique, much more experimental tangent from mainstream hip-hop. The songs on LIVELOVEA$AP triumph from the warmth, texture and atmosphere derived directly from the beats, which could undoubtedly stand on their own. So was LIVELOVEA$AP worth the $3,000,000 contract? No. Not in the short term that is. But the mixtape does reveal a potential direction for rap music to explore and, more importantly, an artist with the potential to go there.

Dylan Jensen is a junior. You can reach him at pjensen1@swarthmore.edu.

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