“Goddamn, how real is this?” is the first thing we hear from ASAP Rocky on his debut mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP. It’s a fitting introduction: The 23-year-old Harlem-bred rapper’s first tracks surfaced barely six months ago, but he has already signed an eye-popping $3 million deal with Sony/RCA. In turn, his rapid rise has led some to peg him as New York rap’s latest prince. What’s curious is that he’s starting to become exactly that.
To be blunt, LiveLoveA$AP is worth nearly all of the incredible amount of buzz it’s accumulated in recent weeks. Opener “Palace” is gorgeous and monolithic, as Clams Casino’s booming beat provides one hell of a base; like many moments here, ASAP’s rapping on it could have been mediocre (which it isn’t), and the track still would have been fantastic. Next comes “Peso”, one of the strongest rap songs of this past summer. It’s where we first heard ASAP’s tagline – “I be that pretty motherfucka/Harlem’s what I’m reppin’” – and it somehow sounds better in the context of an entire tape. Later, we get highlights “Bass“ and “Trilla”, two immaculately produced space-outs.
At one point, ASAP confesses he’s “influenced by Houston”, but that would be hard to miss even if he didn’t admit it outright; in addition to the codeine and DJ Screw references, many of the beats here are down-tempo and have chopped-and-screwed potential. That said, the Southern flavors crossbreed with plenty of cloudy ambient-rap moments (“Get Lit”, “Demons”), which lends LiveLoveA$AP a refreshing, addictive dynamic throughout.
Then there’s ASAP’s rapping. Though by no means an especially striking lyricist (“Peso” lines “Bad bitch, double D’s/Poppin’ E, I don’t give a F/Told ya I’m a G” basically sum up his thematic persona), he’s one of those guys who has a top-shelf understanding of how a beat’s cadences dictate flow. This is most evident when he’s juxtaposed with guests like Spaceghostpurrp and ASAP Mob members Ferg and Twelvy, who all sound a hair stiff atop these beats in comparison to the main man. Although it can be tempting to focus on the mere sonic architecture of this tape, ASAP’s rhyming is LiveLoveA$AP’s one element that confirms he is not only bound for fast stardom, but also that he’s sharp enough to deserve it.
Essential Tracks: “Peso”, “Bass”, and “Trilla”