Word to A$AP Rocky’s mother. In bestowing upon her son the name Rakim Mayers, she essentially laid out a self-fulfilling prophecy of following in his namesake’s legacy as a unique voice in East Coast hip-hop. Stylistically, Rocky doesn’t bear the same kind of butter-smooth flows that Eric B’s partner in crime did on immortal albums like Paid In Full and Follow the Leader. And let’s be real – those are pretty big shoes to fill no matter how solid your rhyming skills. But the 23-year-old emcee has enough promise to have landed a $3 million record contract, a positively unheard of sum in an age when nobody moves 3 million units, and new mixtape LiveLoveA$AP is an impressive sampling of the Harlem-based rapper’s skills, and more importantly, his taste.
Following his debut mixtape Deep Purple, Rocky is still thoroughly intoxicated on codeine-spiked drank, kush and any other number of controlled substances. But A$AP differs from a similarly stoned mic rocker like Curren$y, despite sharing a penchant for dollar signs, in that he’s not nearly as blissfully laid back or focused on video games. Instead, Rocky is mostly about chasing the next high while repping his own game as hard as humanly possible, sometimes going thug and above all advertising his dollar-sign-branded lifestyle. From the outset of leadoff track “Palace,” Rocky sneers “my ignorance is still a bliss,” while the summertime funk highlight “Trilla” finds Rocky in a more playful mood: “Bad bitches blow kisses in my earlobe/ a weirdo, but I’m real though.” Rocky can go dark (“Demons”), introspective (“Houston Old Head”) or triumphant (“Out of This World”). And after being dubbed “A$AP Copy” from members of Odd Future, Rocky drops the line, “fuck a goon and a goblin,” on “Kissing Pink,” simultaneously goofing on both Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator (presumably). And I’m pretty sure he says, “I’m that pretty motherfucker,” in all 16 tracks.
LiveLoveA$AP is a fine enough showcase for Rocky as a rapper, though he keeps company with so many good producers that the mixtape is likewise a gallery of his production partners’ talents. Rhode Island’s Clams Casino is all over this set, having produced about half of the material, from the slo-mo gospel ambient of “Palace” to the laid-back chill session on “Wassup” and the synth-banging highlight “Bass.” He’s also responsible for “Leaf,” which appeared earlier this year as “Take 1” on Main Attrakionz’s 808s and Dark Grapes II. Though it’s still a top-notch song, it seemed a little redundant. Meanwhile, Beautiful Lou drops some of his own excellent beat, layering “Trilla” with some atmospheric, guitar-driven funk, and a strange, bubbling psychedelic backdrop for “Kissing Pink.” And the Olympicks bring the closest thing to a mainstream pop rap production to the table with their piano-and-synth combo on “Out of This World.”
As mixtapes go, LiveLoveA$AP suffers from the same ailments as most of them do, namely that it’s not without a certain share of filler, some excessive chopped and screwed treatments and the now-dated use of the word “swag.” That doesn’t cloud the fact that Rocky has the kind of talent and bravado necessary to stand out in a crowded field of emcees, not to mention a mighty arsenal of producers. Whether or not the kid’s $3 million good remains to be seen, but there’s more than a few ten-dollar moments on this highly enjoyable, free mixtape.
Main Attrakionz – 808s and Dark Grapes II
Curren$y – Pilot Talk
Danny Brown – XXX
Stream: A$AP Rocky – “Bass”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.