Harlem’s ASAP Rocky

     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.

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