Baptized in the Gutter
2 Chainz is miffed.
Backstage at Drake's OVO Fest, Canada's biggest annual hip-hop concert, Atlanta's "it" rapper has just discovered he will have to share a modest dressing room with another opening act, A$AP Rocky, who has yet to arrive. It's early August, and neither budding star has yet to release an official solo album.
2 Chainz makes an unsuccessful appeal to one of his entourage to secure a space of his own. No dice.
Fast forward an hour. Both Rocky and Chainz have run through sets of their mixtape staples for the Toronto crowd, and when a reporter enters their joint dressing room backstage, elbow room is at a premium; the big-deal rap rookies roll far from solo, and the one-sofa room proves cramped and smoky. Too much posse.
"Hi, I'm A$AP Rocky," 2 Chainz teases. It's immediately clear that the artist formerly known as Tity Boi has found a new bosom buddy — or at least a fellow braid with whom he doesn't mind sharing tokes, jokes and monster singles.
A$AP Rocky — a 24-year-old who's survived and thrived after enduring more tragedy than most men twice his age — has that effect on people. Simultaneously ultra-flamboyant and so low-key he's almost asleep, Rocky immediately has a balancing effect, be it the tone of a room or the character of an album.
He didn't quit selling drugs and focus full-time on his craft until May 2011, and yet what seems like a rapid flip to famous is, in Rocky's mind, a long time coming.
"I always felt like I was ready, always did," A$AP says. "I was like, 'Why's it not happening, yo? Why's it not happening?' I couldn't understand." Ironically, Rocky's own carelessness was partially responsible for the postponement of the LP, originally slated for a September drop date.
"I produced a few tracks on the album, and me being a beginner, I used samples where I didn't know where I got the shits from and I didn't want to get sued," he explains.
There is, however, no expiry on good songs. Long.Live.A$AP, is here — and, in Rocky's opinion, "I got a classic, baby!" Long..Live bolted to number one on the Billboard charts, selling 139,000 copies in the U.S. during its first week, garnering favourable if not timeless reviews and flexing range in terms of tempo and depth. "Pain" gets DJ Screw'd to a Dimetapp lullaby's pace, while "Wild for the Night" snatches dubstepper Skrillex for a glowstick romp speed-bagged by Rocky's double-time couplets. The tired hedonism of "PMW" — whose "Pussy, money, weed/ All a nigga need" mantra could be more offensive for its laziness than its selfishness — gets offset by the crumbles of spiritual and social introspection on "Suddenly" and "Phoenix," tucked at the end of the full-length. Like a hard-knock Harlemite wearing ripped denim, A$AP's confidence permits him to pull off ensembles that shouldn't work.
He's a New Yorker drawing liberal musical influences from Ohio, Houston and California. A gully dude who prides himself on being pretty, he sounds equally at ease sharing tracks with artists as diverse as Schoolboy Q and Santigold. A do-it-yourself mixtape hero who has crossed over in ostentatious fashion: getting assassinated as John F. Kennedy in a Lana Del Rey video; playing grab-ass with Rihanna at a major televised awards show; turning down acting offers because his music plate is too full; and screaming to a No. 1 Billboard debut despite having his album leak online a full month prior to its Jan. 15 release.
So it's no great surprise that A$AP can go from being 2 Chainz's not-so-welcome dressing room mate to sharing laughs and hooking up with him for rap's first smash of 2013, "Fuckin' Problems," featuring Kendrick Lamar and co-produced by Toronto's Noah "40" Shebib and Drake (under the alias C. Papi) while on tour last summer.
"I had a studio bus, so I was working while traveling," explains 40. "Drake had this 2 Chainz vocal, and one of the lines was the 'I love bad bitches, that's my fuckin' problem.' Drake told me that that line should be a hook and to make a beat around it. So I cut the idea; Drake loved it. We wanted to put young guys on, so Rocky and Kendrick were the obvious choices."
"Problems" is a women-slaying party record created among a tour bus party full of women. "A$AP crew realized my bus was jumpin' and crashed the party," 40 continues. "We smoked that bus the fuck out and somehow I continued to work in the back room. I might've been working on the beat for 'Problems' at that exact moment. I like songs to have a story, and have a purpose. The way 'Problems' unfolded was very organic; it just sort of came together without trying too hard."
On the surface, things come easy for A$AP — a corner boy turned magazine cover-boy, multimillionaire, fashion icon and in-demand guest verse in his early 20s.
"Honestly, the biggest challenge for me was to be myself, because people wanted me to change in the beginning. I really just speak my mind and I tell them the truth. I don't put a filter on it," Rocky says. "Fuck that. I am who I am."
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