Radiohead seem to have made it their mission to redefine rock and roll. They’ve done it time and again over the last couple of decades by releasing albums that serve as commentary for the artistic and social change around them, and act as a catalyst for that mutating landscape. So where do you go, as a musical act, after you’ve already established that you don’t have to prove shit to anyone and you’ve done more than your part to change the way people listen to music? You change the way people buy it.
They solidified their legend even more resolutely when they released their seventh studio effort, In Rainbows, as a digital download with a pay-what-you-want price tag. The fact that the album was probably the best of 2007 only fueled the intrigue among listeners and grabbed the attention of record labels and artists, like 24-year-old Harlem Rapper A$AP Rocky (Rakim Mayers), whose new mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, is available for download at no cost on an Internet near you.
You see up-and-coming artists like Mayers adopting the “just give it away” policy more and more recently to generate buzz from positive reviews — reviews like this one. It’s tough making it as a rapper. On some level, it’s an aspiration for virtually every 24-year-old I know. It’s pretty easy to understand why, when you see the glisten on Rick Ross’s big-faced watch when he’s dumping bottles of champagne on the tits of ladies whose names he probably will never know. Where Rocky sets himself apart is in his interpretation of the image that rap has adopted.
“Fuck the money, fuck the fame, this is real life” Rocky states through a modulated, demonized voice on opening track “Palace.” He sounds confident and assertive as he emphasizes his trillness on top of production by Clams Casino (who is clearly not fucking around on the five compositions he made for the 16-track record). The snare kicks hard and choral vocals provide an epic scope to the track that serves as Rocky’s disclaimer. In November, Rocky told MTV that he “just want[ed] people to have fun again” — an ideology that places emphasis on laid backness rather than mean mugging — something rarely seen on the rap landscape, and the atmospheric production (mysteriously exceptional for a mixtape created to theoretically generate no profit) reflects the tone of Rocky’s lyrics better than pretty much anything I’ve listened to since the heyday of Dan the Automator, when he almost exclusively produced legendary concept albums with underground rap gods like Kool Keith and Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
The album is as chilled as Rocky’s persona, and the vibe of the production is similar to that of hip-hop contemporaries like Curren$y and, on tracks like “Keep it G,” the overt jazz influence seems reminiscent of old school favorites like A Tribe Called Quest, who applied more traditional instrumentation in their approach to beat construction. There should be more rap like this out there. “Trilla” features a guitar hook that’s in no hurry to get anywhere, like the one that plays in your head when you walk shoulder-to-shoulder with several of your friends in slow motion and you all have sunglasses on and you’re smoking cigarettes. It’s like that. The ambient, spaced-out “Wassup” has a similar sedated quality, but Rocky’s delivery is quick and savage enough to give it balance.
It’s clear from LiveLoveA$AP that although Rocky hasn’t even officially released his first album yet, he’s already become disillusioned about rap. He’s wary of phonies and hangers-on, and cautious about money and the people who have it, but it’s equally evident that he’s taking part in the seductive chase of paper, the using of drugs, and the sexing of women. The dichotomy that is his message might be frustrating for a listener if the package it came in didn’t beckon you to just relax, hit the blunt, and enjoy yourself — an incongruity that serves to make Rocky seem complicated and human, and not like someone struggling to contrive an identity as an entertainer.
His mixtape is honest, witty, and brutally gangster. It’s also free and you could be downloading it now. Why are you still reading this?
A$AP Rocky: www.asapmob.com/music