For whatever reason, Halloween was the day when just about half the rappers currently working decided to release mixtapes. As luck would have it, Halloween was also the day I moved to a new town, which means I still haven’t had time to check out too many of those tapes. Already, there’s been a whole lot of good stuff; the new Freddie Gibbs tape A Cold Day In Hell, for instance, is the sort of rock-solid, technically adept Midwestern gangsta rap that we’ve come to expect from the man, and it’s well worth your hard-drive space. And I’m sure some of what I haven’t heard is great; it’s entirely possible that, say, the new L.E.P. Bogus Boys tape is mind-crushing; if that’s the case, maybe I’ll write about it in this space next week. But the Halloween tape that’s left the biggest impression on me is also the one that was the subject of a ton of discussion before anyone had a chance to hear it. ASAP Rocky is probably the most hyped-up new rapper of the year; he’s generated more conversation than even, like, Kreayshawn. And, as luck would have it, his long-awaited debut mixtape delivers.

ASAP Rocky is a big deal. Before he’d even released this mixtape, he’d landed a reportedly ridiculously lucrative record deal and an opening spot on Drake’s upcoming big tour. He did that on the strength of a couple of viral videos, and that’s pretty much unheard of, even in the age of Tumblr rap. So in his vertiginous ascent, ASAP has captured a lot of imaginations and become a screen onto which a whole lot of people have projected their hopes and fears about the dawning internet-rap age. Here we have a young New York rapper — one who was actually named after NY rap god Rakim at birth — who claims not to like New York rap. Instead, he absorbs and internalizes aesthetic influences from across rap’s geographic landscape, he links up with the genre’s most blogged-about young producers, and he pays tribute to historic rap scenes (Houston, Memphis) that New York was happy to ignore until very recently. His crew also brings unapologetic Harlem-hardhead goon tendencies; they beat down a soundman at the FADER Fort during CMJ like they were Coolio in Minneapolis in 1992 (never forget) and, from what I’m told, sent the poor guy to the hospital. That’s definitively uncool, but it also serves to remind the world of Dipset’s dominant mid-decade run, and many of us have fond memories of that moment, to the point where shithead antics like that don’t end up hurting ASAP, career-wise. His videos are ecstatically fashionable, mesmeric things, and they’re compulsively watchable. All this is to say: ASAP’s managed to reflect a whole lot of ideas and visions through his persona, and that’s a lot for one young guy to take on. He had to make something special with this mixtape, or else the fickle rap internet would’ve gotten good and sick of him and moved onto some other avatar.

Well, he made something special. LIVELOVEA$AP isn’t a perfect mixtape, and it may not squeeze onto my year-end list. It is, however, an extremely well-put-together debut, one that expands ASAP’s world and makes it seem like a strange, inviting place. For one thing, it’s proved that ASAP and his handlers have excellent taste. They’ve corralled many of the best, most buzzy producers in our collective RSS feed — Clams Casino, DJ Burn One, Spaceghostpurrp — and figured out the common ground between ASAP and these guys. Together, these guys have all built a hazy, amniotic jazz-rap soundworld for ASAP; the whole tape rolls by with an effortless bliss. It’s pleasant music, and that’s something I can’t say about too much mixtape-rap. Some of the tracks here are just incredible. “Peso,” the hit, is sublime thump with an earwormy dancehall-reggae secondary hook that adds some serious understated menace. Clams Casino’s “Wassup” beat is the sort of wafting sunset boom that’s made him a favorite of people who don’t even like rap. Beautiful Lou’s “Trilla” track is one of the great tracks of the year, a masterful classic-Southern slow-crawl with a screwed-up Das EFX sample that won’t leave my head anytime soon. Throughout, we hear bits and pieces of laid-back Houston organ and Memphis goth-churn and Midwestern triple-time sing-rap, like all these disparate regional ideas have been floating around the heads of ASAP and his collaborators for years, congealing into a single blur of sound.

As a rapper, ASAP is mostly a blank slate, a vehicle for all this this gorgeous sound that surrounds him. He sounds like a whole lot of other rappers at once, and he knows it, drawing the parallels himself in his lyrics. (On the kinda-meh tape-closing track “Out Of This World,” he pushes this tendency unfortunately close to Game-style namedroppery.) Some of the guest rappers, like Main Attrakionz or Spaceghostpurrp, bring way more force and passion to their delivery than ASAP ever attempts. But even if ASAP never brings much in the way of personality or quotables, he’s got presence, and that makes a huge difference. He knows how to sit back in his tracks’ pocket, letting his voice float through like one more element of the track. He knows which syllables to emphasize, when to add a singsong lilt, when to snarl. And mostly by staying out of his own way, he’s given us an endlessly replayable mixtape. I don’t know if he’ll revolutionize the rap industry now that he’s a part of it, but for now, he’s justified his place at the center of the conversation.

Download LIVELOVEA$AP for free here.

Comments (26)
  1. Yeah buddy, another perfect write up by Tom. What’s so remarkable about A$AP is how indistinct, yet still so incredibly solid he is. Definitely seems like a rapper on the come up, so might as well hop on the bandwagon now.

  2. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Yeah I agree its cliched, it’s definitely not like Shabazz or anything, but that doesn’t mean its fundamentals aren’t solid or the the production isn’t great. We all love challenging and innovative music I believe, that’s why we’re reading Stereogum, but sometimes you just want something to bump at house parties that everyone will enjoy that isn’t like Lil Wayne or Wiz Khalifa.

    • music doesn’t have to have a message. Louis Armstrong wrote a song about smoking weed in the twenties called muggles that one of the first great jazz songs. Am I going to complain that Louis Armstrong didn’t have a message?l

  3. I liked it, but I definitely preferred cold day in hell. Production was all great with a nice balance of a few Luger-esque bangers and some lush soul tracks, and Freddie Gibbs is just an incredible rapper.

  4. I like Wiz and Lupe Fiasco. I think they are breaking new ground in up-and-coming mainstream hip hop. I am just not feeling this. The lyrics are bland at best and he has no flow at all.

    • Wiz is Curren$y without clever lyrics, although I do still enjoy him immensely.. and old Lupe was the ish but but his blantant hipster baiting “The Show Goes on” is undefendable, although it’s hard to hate on him too much when the abominable Chiddy Bang set the precedent for such a horrendous misappropriation.

      • I agree with you on every point. Downtown Records have had some pretty good stuff since their formation, but Chiddy Bang sucks.

        • Rational discourse, I never! Haha, kudos.

          • I don’t come here to fight with anyone. I was just simply writing my take on what I watched and heard and I just wasn’t feeling it. I do like a lot of the underground hip hop that is meshing with indie these days. I saw Ninja Sonik recently and they were a lot of fun. I just can’t get into this.

  5. I don’t think a “better rapper” would have made this mixtape better, because as it was so eloquently put in this review, the music perfectly fits ASAP Rocky, and I personally doubt it could fit so sonically snug with any other rapper taking over these beats.

  6. This is a great review. It’s hard to deny the amazing production tom covered it beautifully.
    A lot of ppl are hating on his flow, but I think there is something to be said about fitting production appropriately. The other day I was listening to clam’s I am god instrumental and i was like “goddamn clams how do you do it?” (obvs). But, then I found myself thinking, “Oh shit, I miss the basedgod on this. Thank-you based god”. Regardless of how appropriate a comparison between lil b and asap is (forgive me based god), I think both of these guys know how to bring the best out of these beats, which often seem to evoke a poignant feeling.

  7. No one seems to notice all the BTNH influence on this tape….

  8. It’s wack

  9. ASAP Rocky sounds pretty ill, the production is definitely nice and he’s got enough flair to bring sometimes cliche content up a level. the imagery in the videos adds to his allure. and is that a mike jones sample on purple swag?

    i love the coolio reference in the write up.. god i miss that guy.

  10. I cant wait to get a review on this section

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