There was a time when rap lyrics and flow were as indigenous as the culture that surrounded them.
Whether it was New York, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles – local performing acts, record stores, and radio stations had a profound influence on its budding young artists.
But once the age of the internet hit, rappers and producers were given the keys to every record store in America.
While new artists today attempt to resemble their predecessors from East Coast to West coast and everywhere in between, most of them are fusing styles from every region and sampling other genres to create a more authentic, yet universal sound.
While there are more accomplished lyricists in mainstream hip hop that have achieved this feat, no one does it as effortlessly as A$AP Rocky.
Rocky surged onto the scene in 2011 with his debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. It became the first widely acclaimed piece of work that would fall into the category of “cloud rap,” a kind of atmospheric and ethereal style of production that allowed the instrumental to stand as the focal point.
In the album, Rocky wastes no time divulging his influences, and starts the project off with “Palace,” a kind of ode to Houston’s “trill” culture.
Believe it or not, a New York rapper had never really done something like this before.
Whether it is the references to the southern vernacular or the chopped and screwed portions that are constant throughout it, “Palace” owns the quintessential Houston sound.
Like most of his work on this track, Rocky’s lyrics aren’t going to spark any minds or force you to rewind and catch that witty metaphor. In Rocky’s case, it’s more about maneuvering his flow to fit over the production that he chooses. Another influence is made apparent on this same track, where an unmistakable Krayzie Bone impression is attempted, but done with less than flying colors.
Regardless, it’s a track that accurately depicts Rocky’s style.
As Rocky requested, Clams Casino was the producer chosen for this project. It’s no real surprise that this is the reason that Live.Love.A$AP served as the jump for not only Rocky himself, but Clams Casino as well, as the two careers have taken off since the release of this project.
Rocky’s past singles and mixtape took about a year to circulate around the Internet and reach an audience large enough to create some buzz for his debut studio album. Not long after reaching a deal with RCA, it was announced that Long.Live.A$AP would be released in 2013.
The first single, “Goldie,” made it evident that Rocky’s debut album would not have the same passive, mellow, and airy style that his 2011 project did. Instead, Rocky enhanced his flow by bringing a greater sense of urgency, hunger, and aggression than what we had heard from him in the past. The tracks “Goldie,” “Long.Live.A$AP,” and bonus track “Angels” fused modern day trap production with Mafioso lyrics.
This style was conceived in New York, and popularized by the likes of Raekwon, Jay-Z, and Nas. While Rocky does give us a more East Coast, street-oriented listen on the debut record, it’s not to say that he throws his other influences to the wind. In fact, the evolution of his wide-ranged influence couldn’t be more apparent.
While the Skrillex collaboration “Wild for the Night,” wasn’t particularly well executed, it did serve as another reminder of Rocky’s willingness to experiment. And last week, we brought it to your attention that the A$AP Mob front man was featured on a remix of Sam Smith’s latest hit “I’m Not the Only One.”
It’s a collaboration that might come as a surprise to some, but it really does work. Rocky’s ear doesn’t fail when it comes to adapting his flow to a specific melody or subject matter, as he does on this track.
With the Internet age well past its early years, artists are becoming more astute listeners than ever. Artists like A$AP Rocky are enhancing their craft by taking in a vast array of genres and styles and implementing them into their own work. In a world where it seems like every genre has been done before, it’s refreshing to hear some original hybrids.
And when it comes to the current age of hip-hop, nobody is more original than A$AP Rocky.
(Cover photo courtesy of Chad Cooper)