This fall, ASAP Rocky signed a $3 million contract with RCA that’s certain to become a test case for how major labels deal with future blog-rap sensations. That’s a staggering sum for a 23-year-old Harlem rapper who began this summer as a virtual unknown before turning heads with a pair of entrancing videos, “Purple Swag” and “Peso”—short clips that racked up plenty of YouTube views, but seemingly not enough to justify such a massive investment. If nothing else, though, $3 million buys a lot of attention, and the sheer size of ASAP Rocky’s RCA deal ensured that all eyes would be on Live Love A$AP, his first full mix-tape.
The rapper knows this is his window, and he doesn’t waste the chance to make an impression. “Palace” opens the mix-tape with an immediate hook and a monolithic Clams Casino beat, as Rocky adopts his flashiest flow for his big rollout, slipping into some deft, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony double-time. He’s a magnetic rapper, and his delivery is reliably sharp, but he rarely uses it to say anything. Mostly, he riffs on his four great loves: syrup, weed, women, and fashion, in roughly that order.
Rocky’s true talent is for curating exceptional beats and knowing when to get out of their way. By enlisting some of the Internet’s most forward-thinking young producers (including frequent Lil B collaborator Beautiful Lou and Miami curiosity Spaceghostpurrp), he’s crafted the year’s most stylish mix-tape, a melting pot of nearly every major underground rap trend of the last 16 months, all pitched to the intoxicating slow crawl of Houston screw music. Live Love A$AP’s only real fault is that it’s so willfully superficial. It plays like Odd Future without the rebellion, Lil B without the opinions, Curren$y without the wit, or G-Side without the struggle. “I be that pretty motherfucker,” Rocky brags over and over. For now, he’s content not being anything more than that.