Test Spins: ASAP Rocky

November 17, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Sarah Angell

Just a mere six months ago, Harlem-bred rapper ASAP Rocky made the decision to abandon selling drugs in order to give music his full attention – today Rocky is an eye-popping $3 million richer, thanks to a deal he signed with Sony/RCA, before he had ever even released a mixtape. As startling to the music world as his rapid ascent may be, it is safe to assume that Rocky, all cocky bravado and self-assurance, knew all along that things would happen like this.  

Rocky can accredit much of his newfound fame to his successful branding of the ASAP lifestyle — slowed down visions of excess characterize both his music videos and his lyrics, reflecting an existence that is simultaneously glamorous and dissolute. These perplexing glimpses of Rocky and his crew capture the imagination — their gold fronts and empty Colt 45 bottles juxtaposed against shirts and shoes from high fashion labels typically reserved for the pages of Vogue. Whether declaring that his whole crew has recently adopted vegetarianism or having a white girl with a gold-capped teeth mouth the N-word in his music video for “Purple Swag,” everything that Rocky does is tremendously watchable.

Released on Halloween, the rapper’s first mixtape LIVELOVEASAP depicts one man’s personal journey through the entire American landscape of hip-hop — navigating from track to track, Rocky pays homage to the Southern styles of New Orleans and Atlanta, nods to the Bay Area, flows in the double-time execution of the Midwest, all while embracing the syrupy slo-mo of Houston. Ironically, considering Rocky was named at birth after prominent NY rapper Rakim, what is missing is the lyrical dexterity characteristic of the New York old school. Not one to shy from controversy, Rocky has said that he isn’t a fan of New York rap, choosing instead to endorse a new idea of what hip-hop from the Big Apple can be.  

Propped perilously atop the shoulders of Internet-generated hype, and with a $3 million dollar incentive at stake, Rocky had to provide something memorable with LIVELOVEASAP — with the majority of his buzz premised on his unique persona, producing anything mundane might fade him into oblivion just as quickly as has appeared from it.

Although not a perfect album, LIVELOVEASAP certainly delivers. Opening track “Palace” sets the tone for the mixtape — Rocky’s flow dips and changes pace in perfect harmony with the beat: a complex and colossal melding of incoherent chanting with crisp, booming drums. Next is “Peso,” was released along with “Purple Swag,” during the summer and propelled Rocky the limelight. One of the best songs on the album, “Peso” is sublime — Rocky demonstrates his effortless swagger over immaculate production, layering narcotic drenched lyrics with a dreamy ambient hook. “Trilla” is more laidback, with entourage members ASAP Twelvy and ASAP Nasty each contributing a verse over the excellent slow-crawling beat.

Where LIVELOVEASAP comes up short is in the rapping itself. Although Rocky is able to navigate any beat with intuitive skill, the entirety of his thematic range can be summed up in a line from “Peso”: “Bad bitch, double D’s/Poppin’ E, I don’t give a F/ Told ya I’m a G.” Although he offers nothing in terms of social commentary, Rocky succeeds thanks to his ability to compliment the music that surrounds him. With skillful producers such as Clam Casino, ASAP Ty Beats and Beautiful Lou providing a nearly flawless soundscape, Rocky deftly enhances the tracks without ever over-stepping his boundaries. With LIVELOVEASAP, Rocky has successfully in quieted the haters, and left his fans avidly waiting to see what the next six months will bring.