The hottest mixtape of the year – but can Rocky take his rhymes into the mainstream?
Ele Beattie 2011
2011: Year of the Swag. First up was Tyler, the Creator and Odd Future, who punctuated every sentence of their arrival with the word "swag". Then Jay-Z announced his return to form with the line "I guess I got my swagger back!" in the opening of Otis from his and Kayne West's collaborative and assertive Watch the Throne album. And now it's the turn of 23-year-old Harlemite A$AP Rocky, aka Rakim Mayers. Most of us were introduced to him in his video for Purple Swag: fresh-faced, smoking blunts, sporting gold grills on his teeth, being chauffeured about on the handlebars of a BMX, surrounded by the ASAP (Always Strive and Prosper) conglomerate and emitting confidence.
No wonder he's got a skip in his step. Rumoured to have just snared a $3 million deal with RCA to launch his own label, he’s also been handpicked by another of 2011's hottest tickets, Drake, to go on tour with him; and now he's the man behind this year's most highly anticipated mixtape. Constantly referring to himself as a "pretty motherf*****" who admits "the only thing bigger than my ego is my mirror", his swag should be off-putting but it’s disarmingly alluring. In his opening statement on Palace, a Clams Casino production of epic magnitude to soundtrack Rocky marching his clique into the limelight, he correctly declares: "Goddamn how real is this? / I know them Harlem n****** gonna be feeling this."
Despite hailing from NYC, Rocky has a taste for the slow-mo Houston screwball style. In what Rocky calls a homage to all the Houston legends his flows (aided by the codeine of purple drank) amble along without hurry and rely on simplicity. If you've come looking for tight flows and witty wordplay, Rocky ain't your man. But attitude and production will win you over. Obsessed with keeping it trill (true and real) these aren't fantastical stories of ballin' in Bentleys, it's an honest account of him and his friends running things in his ends and getting lifts on BMXs. The mixtape benefits from a variety of producers with Clams Casino taking on five tracks and ASAP crew member Ty Beats stepping up; but it's the sometime producer of Lil B, Beautiful Lou, who brings a real freshness. Working on Kissin’ Pink and Trilla, it’s over his hazy, slumbering beats where Rocky's laidback flows truly flourish.
Rocky's managed to keep it trill so far, but now comes the hard bit. As Tyler, the Creator discovered with the backlash of disappointment surrounding his first album ‘proper’ Goblin, with great hype comes great expectation. With eyes and ears now firmly fixed on this blogosphere success, many will wonder if he can take his rhymes into the mainstream.