An interview with Nicolas Pellion aka Pure Baking Soda, most likely to be the best french-speaking rap storyteller and part of this story that went everywhere on the web: the quite spontaneous boom of young harlemite A$AP Rocky, his machiavellian manager and a series of dirty tricks. Kind of an insight amongst cannibal piranhas and food for thought regarding the illusion of Internet as a development tool for music artists. First time you hear about A$AP Rocky ? First time I hear a song from A$AP Rocky, I believe it was January, 2011, Been Around The World. To be honest, I don’t remember what I thought about it back then at all. Today I think it’s a good tune but at that time I didn’t especially dig it. It came to me as a guy named Eastsidestevie had posted it on his blog Realniggatumblr. Loading video That Tumblr is a true monument of Internet-Rap history. This guy used to scan his old Rap magazines, like XXL and more, brightening it up with stories you couldn’t read anywhere else. This concept was already really dope, but in addition to that, he had a great taste, made no compromise and had a strong sense of humor… It was thrilling, funny, harsh… Now the blog has been deleted and I hope that someone comes out someday saying he printed it all, as I believe it’s one of the best rap blog ever, if not THE best. 4 months later, between some Max B & Cam’Ron’s stories, some rare Prodigy’s freestyles and vintage footages of Puff Daddy, EastSideStevie brings out a new A$AP Rocky joint: Purple Swag. It sounds like an MP3 rip, the song being uploaded on YouTube, with the guy’s picture as scenery. Today everyone knows it… But at that time, hearing this out of nowhere, I was kind of stucked. Maybe it’d be good to re-establish the context: right now, in 2013, 90% of weak rappers with a lack of personality look after those stuff and try to do that kind of music. Yet back then it wasn’t « cool » again to rap as they do in Houston… and Houston was honestly kind of lifeless. People hadn’t heard neither of Lex Luger yet, nor those stuff that were going to be everywhere for the next 2 years, so running into Purple Swag was like being 2 years in the future of rap music… even though this track could totally be an unreleased from 2005 or 2006… So it motivated me to dig into A$AP Rocky… I see he has nothing on datpiff, nothing on livemixtapes, in short he’s a no name. So I look into the hidden depths of the Internet… I eventually find some verses of him here and there and even a video. I rip the whole thing and make a little compilation out of it. For the record, I didn’t know how to rip audio from YouTube… and the one who helped me is « a_nos_mousse »… who’d be known as Soufien 3000 a few weeks later… I ended up making a cover with Paint, uploading the compilation on the Internet and putting it on my blog. So when is this compilation getting out of control ? Once I put it online, the compilation spreads a bit… But it gets wider when Andrew Noz posts it on his Tumblr. He actually had run into Purple Swag on YouTube too, did the same thing I did, except he came across my compilation. At that time, it’s not that it gets « out of control » – as it doesn’t spread that much yet – something like 3 or 4 000 downloads, maybe less… But we’re now 2 or 3 talking about A$AP Rocky on the web, including Noz, a journalist who’s writing kind of everywhere… Enough to bring the attention of the artist himself, who probably begins to wonder « Damn, nobody knows me, I haven’t officially released anything yet but they’re talking about me on the web »… And that’s when EastSideStevie, with whom I had chatted sometimes in the past – sends me an email « to clarify the whole story around ASAP » he says. What is it saying ? Are you the only one he talks about it with? In this moment yeah, I believe I’m the only one he talks about it with. Roughly, he starts by telling me that Rocky is really touched by this compilation coming out of nowhere, punctuating every sentence like « no homo ». Even though there are some tracks he hates and he’d rather forget, like the one with Seth Narley. Then he tells me A$AP is a crew, him and Rocky kind of driving the whole thing. I remember he compared the both of ’em with Jim Jones & Cam’Ron in order to make me get it right. Then, still in that same email, April, 2011, he tells me Rocky’s currently working on his album. That he’s been signed (a management deal I guess) on the company which manages Big KRIT and which is also in charge of Curren$y’s booking. He goes on saying they hope to drop the mixtape by summer, coming along with many videos, and that so far the project is being produced by The Olympicks, Big KRIT and their in-house producer… He says it will come out via clothing brand Supreme, which was about to sponsor them. He eventually encloses a 11-track full A$AP Rocky project entitled « Mouth Full Of Gold », kind of a preview of what his 1st release would have been like. With some DJ Burn One, Olympicks & Ty Beats produced joints. Then begins a long series of emails in which he explains to me the kind of strategy he has in mind. A strategy consisting in what ? Consisting in making Rocky blow up thanks to blog support, but not just any random blogs. In big letters, their manager is trying to model them to fit in with 2Dopeboyz/Nahright… The Get High video with Ferg, to me it was about that… And him, Stevie, he’s not into that, I mean not at all. So he tries to connect some other rappers and producers to reach a different audience. He starts namedropping all the folks with whom he plans to collaborate; it sounds like an All Star Game of what was critically acclaimed by all the « specialised » rap blogs at that time: Young L, Droop-E, Clams Casino producing… Main Attrakionz as well. No more than a few days later, he manages to get Squadda B on a beat from a Norwegian, Cash Flow I think. This is the track which will become Underground King, a tribute to Pimp C in which he says he fucks the majors. I think it eventually came out on no project. May/Jun 2011, except for the compilation I uploaded and which is still not spreading that much, you can’t find any of the songs online… But already some majors look for signing him. Such as Atlantic Records… These guys already offer them a fine contract – which I don’t know no detail about – but they refuse it. They won’t go in as Rocky’s album would have been directed by Wiz Kalifah’s A&R (Rolling Paper period) who wants to make them a pop product with an « overdose of wild homo guitars ». Still aiming at seducing a certain audience, which I personally would consider as Realniggatumblr’s audience after all, Stevie tells me he wants to shoot a Purple Swag video… kind of a remake of Prodigy’s Mack 10 Handle. In the meantime, he sends me over two new Clams Casino produced tracks: Palace & Wassup. As I begin to have a few tracks at hand, he says I can spread some of ’em, even make another compilation if I want to. So I put one or two more on my blog… And the rest of it I ask some Internet guys to listen to, some folks from the Music Industry as well, so I know how they feel about it. Loading video So what do Internet and Industry people say ? I bring the attention of something like 10 guys around those tracks, French and Belgian people only… All of ’em are really into it at first. ‘Must say the guy blows in with productions from all the current freshmen, period; it was gold at that time. Amongst them are some « behind the scenes » guys like Amaury Feron or Guillaume Berg, convinced that he has a bright future. Guillaume even reaches out Stevie and starts getting along with them, working a bit with them… On organising a European tour in particular, to make them come to Paris. I think early July, 2011, while the Purple Swag video hadn’t dropped yet and nobody had heard about them except for 15 Parisians and 2 Belgians, it’s already decided that Main Attrakionz & A$AP Rocky would do a gig in Paris in October. So do they and you meet ’em for real this time ? Not really… Even though everything had been planned, or nearly planned, with such things as Young Jeezy opening in Scandinavia if I remember well, this tour would actually never be. Because a lot of things happened between this early July and October. Let me just go back, to Jun, 2011. First of all, Soufien enters the loop. One morning I receive a message from Stevie saying that I must listen to this beat from a French producer that Rocky will probably use… When I find out this French producer is… Soufien, whom I already knew, I’m laughing my ass off, as he hadn’t tell anyone. I think everybody knows how it happened, he sent over some beats on Facebook, etc, etc. As they didn’t have that much contact with Soufien anymore, that’s me who recovers Acid Drip for him and I send it over via Twitter. If I remember well, we didn’t have Get Lit at that time and we weren’t sure whether those tracks would be on the tape or not, so we kept our mouths shut. Then we meet SpaceGhostPurpp… The rest of Green Ova, etc… which leads the mixtape to be delayed again and again, ending up not looking at all like the original project (Mouth Full Of Gold). End of May/early Jun, the Purple Swag video is already shot and they start making a new one for each track of the tape. Their idea is to do like Lil B in a way, having a new video each week during summer. And then, I don’t know what happens, they give up the video. Stevie asks me to remove all the songs I put online (Wassup, Peso, Diamonds), to delete quite a few other stuff and not to communicate anymore. I understand that things are happening faster for them. They go back and shoot another video for Purple Swag… they launch it early July on Realniggatumblr, my blog and a couple of more such as Yayodancing. From now on, everybody knows what’s up, as they are « officially » out. First vid works very well but the one that will really be a hit is Peso. And as Deep Purple – the small compilation made of YouTube rips – is still the only Rocky project available out there, it’s being more and more downloaded, easily going over 100 000. So now the majors start to quiver I guess… I guess they do… As they were already in touch with labels before, plus the way things happened, I think their record deal with Sony was almost signed even before the new Purple Swag video came out. And that they just didn’t tell anyone. There were probably some details to be fixed, and the viral success those vids encountered probably helped in exaggerating some figures in the end… but to me it was already almost done before they went really « famous ». About that, the so-called $3-million deal is not exactly the one that has been given to the general public, do you have some details ? No I don’t. What I know, or what I believe I know, is that it was about 1,5M$ for A$AP Rocky as a solo artist, and 1,5M$ for A$AP Mob. Without even knowing what it exactly means. But I really don’t think they currently have 3M$ in their wallet…. Once again I don’t know the details as I never had to see this contract, but regarding this deal so many talked about… I’m not convinced that’s the best idea they had. If their success is indeed « viral », which everything seems to demonstrate – hold by social networks, Tumblr, YouTube, etc. Roughly if they were as supported as indie artists as they seemed to be… It meant they already had a large audience and so they didn’t need that deal. By remaining independent, they would have got 100% of everything their music generates, from MP3 sales to YouTube ads, live tours or clothing brands in their case… When you have millions of views, in less than a month, on several of your videos… If you’re smart and if you’re able to handle it, a lot more money can go INTO YOUR POCKET rather than signing such a deal… Furthermore… your masters still belong to you. Now I’d bet everything you want that the music those guys are dropping, legally doesn’t belong to them no more. Go ask Mac Miller or Macklemore what kind of money comes into their pocket at the end of the year. I’m 300% sure it’s ten times what the whole A$AP Mob crew is making all together. And they remain owners of their masters. I think what made them sign is the promise of a relative « artistic freedom », roughly your albums will be just as you want it to be… Yeah, just the same as being indie right ?! We get to this theory according which ain’t no such thing as a spontaneous boom in this new worldwide musical industry driven by the Internet, is that it ? I personally hardly believe in some spontaneous boom happening on the web, yeah. Some folks – with just a video on YouTube, without having approached anyone first, without having a manager, etc… who’d sign a contract for several millions with a major label 5 weeks afterward, I believe that’s part of the stories that feed into marketing, also allowing musical journalists enabled to speak a word about music to have something to say. But that’s not exactly what I wanted to highlight here. Thing is, for the US market, when you have a thrilled audience already existing, I doubt signing with a major is the best option. I believe Macklemore is now a role model in this field. A$AP Rocky had everything under control so he could handle his career the same way, I’m sure he would have sold the same amount of albums and would have make more money… But that’s true they couldn’t have fronted like « Yo, we got a $3-million deal »… When it’s actually « Yo, I’m paying that percentage of what I earn to Mr. so-and so and my masters don’t belong to me no more » By the way the guy who built that A$AP Rocky buzz – Stevie/Yams – has now been put aside, hasn’t he ? Stevie became A$AP Yams indeed. He’s credited on both the album and mixtape as executive producer, so I think he’s still involved in the artistic choices. I guess he will also on the next A$AP Ferg album to be released. I don’t know if he plays another role but this one today. He’s still with them, touring and shit. But for a few months he seems to be busier with some West Coast rappers. He manages them, advises them and helps them; thanks to the connections he developed during the A$AP Mob adventures. Like Joey Fatts for instance. But I don’t know more precisely. Nowadays the few interactions I got with him go through a Facebook group we have, involving a bunch of guys who’ve been part of this story or close enough for the last 2/3 years. From your point of view – as an industry insider – what is your feeling on this ? Bitterness ? Amusement ? Proud ? The three combined/none of that ? No bitterness, I got no reason to feel this way. It was amusing on many aspects for sure. Especially when people here in France said I had « discovered » A$AP Rocky, based on some newspaper articles and these kinds of stupid stuff, when it was absolutely not true. Me being part of the equation or not wouldn’t change anything to the story I think. I used to receive dozens of emails as people thought I was their manager or something… It was funny. In addition, the fact that I was there allowed me to meet people and connect. And this is always cool. Do you believe that « Influential blogs » in rap music are necessarily manipulated by Stevielike guys? Sometimes it’s not completely conscious or as well thought out as Stevie did, so I don’t know if we can talk about manipulation, but there are definitely some artists that are being helped by some blogs. It can be explained by friendliness. As artists eventually get closer with bloggers/journalists for instance. There is this one blog of a skating clothing brand, talking a lot about rap music; this is exactly what I’m saying… Rappers they highlight always have a small success thanks to their support… And after chatting here and there, I realised that it’s just a huge friendliness network. Neither the rappers nor the bloggers are completely aware of it. And there’s also some quite vicious stuff. Here’s a funny one. I’m part of a Facebook group gathering almost all the American bloggers, something like 10 rappers and a bunch of producers… One day we asked ourselves, if we all started to praise somebody at the same time on our different websites, wrapping up the whole thing well, like taking a beat from that well-known producer, a featuring with this hot cat and shit… Would we succeed in making believe he’s dope ? We took someone from the group who didn’t know how to rap, someone ghostwrited his lyrics and we made him rap on some beat from a producer everyone would know… One after the other, every blogger from the group wrote some stuff to explain why it was dope… It worked. But even more than everything we could have imagined. As this artist went highly praised by all the « tastemaker » blogs, for real. We found him in some year-end blog lists from bone-headed hipsters websites nearly interested in rap, some articles saying it was revolutionary, including some big players like Complex, Fader, Spin, Pitchfork… And now… well this artist has a career. Not amongst the rap audience, but amongst kind of retarded hipsters who love to believe that they listen to rap music, it’s a hit. This artist is touring now, hanging around with stars and shit… I think I won’t reveal his identity for now, but someday someone will, for sure. Anyway, I don’t know if it’s a proof that these kinds of practices do exist, but it’s a proof it definitely works. More on a RNT model, there are the Baller’s Eve guys, responsible for launching Yelawof, Trinidad James and a few other careers. The boss of this radio/blog seems to hang out and find new talents pretty much everywhere, then manages them a bit undercover before pretending he discovers them when posting on his blog. It’s been really nice of you to take some time and energy to tell us the hidden agenda of this story, one last word to add ? Only that as far as I’m concerned, I don’t write articles on « the next big thing » no more, or new talents, in fact I don’t do really fresh news topics… Not to fall into that kind of stuff, even without noticing. Because I don’t want to hand on no plates to people no more. I’ve always been writing what I think, but when you start doing this too much, you become this snooper website, running after the last news and the next thing to blow up… maybe for lack of a real high quality content.
I think the new album will be very heavily inspired by Live Love ASAP, and for good reason!
This is very apparent by DHL and Little Demon's ethereal production - very Clams Casino like. Also the vocal reverb and delay effects on those tracks remind me a lot of the songs on that tape. Especially on tracks like Wassup and Purple Swag and Kissin Pink. Little Demon's production also gives the same chilly vibe of Leaf's instrumental. If you haven't listened to Live Love ASAP, it's probably Rocky's best work and a modern classic. I really want this production style and sound to come back to fruition, and I hope Frank takes it there. It's so much of a better sound than the modern trap sound and it's inspired me to pursue these types of icy sounds in my own work. Yes, the drums sound very "testing" like on DHL, but I think everything else other than that on the song sounds Live Love inspired.
How would you rank Rocky’s albums and why? And what are the best songs off those albums?
In your opinion, what is Rocky’s best album yet and what are the best songs on that album? My opinion:
Testing - Testing our more sounds. Rocky’s more experimental side. Still a good album, but some of the sounds didn’t work.
Best songs on the album: Distorted Records, Praise the Lord, Fukk Sleep, Buck Shots, Gunz N Butter
Long Live A$AP - This album is actually very good, the only problem I have with it is that there are too many mainstream hits on here. This album contains more of Rocky’s mainstream/Pop sounds.
Best songs on the album: Long Live A$AP, Phoenix, Ghetto Symphony, Angels, 1Train
Live Love A$AP - Rocky’s first mixtape. This tape is more of Rocky’s druggy sound. The music gives you the sensation of being high. The collaboration with Clams Casino is also perfect, the beats are out of this world.
Best Songs on the album: Wassup, Bass, Kissin Pink, Leaf, Palace, (Peso if you count it on the album)
At Long Last A$AP - In my opinion this is his most complete album. It is more of a psychedelic from Rocky. This album in my opinion is a combination of Live Love and Long Live. This is probably the only Rocky album I can listen to the whole way through without skipping a track.
Best Songs on the album: Pharsyde, Dreams interlude, Electric Body, JD, LPFJ2
procrastinating 20 something tidbits of culture exchange buddy from the UK
I know my dream, I sort of know what I have to do to get there, but it's so daunting. My dream is for a certain career; I need knowledge and a bigger appearance (to be taken seriously), but it's daunting... I like thinking about culture & society. I like tidbits of culture. I'd prefer to speak to someone not from the UK - it'd be more interesting to learn about a person living in a different culture. Eventhough I know quite a bit about american culture (as it's quite popular in the UK) from TV shows, etc, there's some stuff that is nice to hear on a personal level. It may seem mundane, but the small little things like what you say to a cashier is interesting to me. So yeah, I'm mainly interested in seemingly mundane parts of life from a different country. It's nice to reflect upon yourself & think about why things are the way they are. This is totally not like me to do this, but days are starting to blend and I guess I'm procrastinating from my dream. I don't know if I'm going to regret this. I don't like getting into things before reflecting on the pros & cons of things. I think it's good if it remains quite distant & aloof. Feel free not to discuss things you don't want to discuss because they're just a hassle to talk about, etc. I think it's powerful to have someone who have someone who doesn't judge, or can communicate with someone your thoughts in a way that doesn't seem weird if you do it with a friend (even if they're awesome earnest & supportive). Also communicating like this (via text, and it being with a stranger), means you can spend time expanding on a point, cut things off without needing a "so yeah, cool" (as much as it being with a friend or in real life), or go back to them later, without it feeling awkward. oh yeah, sharing reddit links would be cool too btw I'm a guy, and i'm straight if that matters at all been listening to hip hop since september, well I got onto kendrick's good kid, and damn it blew my mind with the storytelling with metaphors & poetic techniques the guy uses to elucidate what he's saying - it hardly ever feels like rhyming for the sake of it. Also for a non-american his story details happened to be quite accessible. I listened to other top dawg stuff like jay rock which is pretty fun, and got around to asap (I listened to him when he was getting big back when he released wassup), but now it's weird, I like it. ok his lyrical content is pretty repetitive, but his flow & clams casino's production on that album is soooo goooood. I used to listen to a lot of dream rock, chill'd stuff so I liked the instrumentals a lot. Another weird thing - when I listened to the National 4 years ago thru some youtube links in the first year of my university course I didn't like them. But started listening to them somehow last september too and I really like them surprisingly! I guess it has something to do with the emotion - it's kinda depressed mainly but it gives off this slightly uplifting sense of hope. Mr November I really like and the lyrics really mean a lot to me actually.
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