Clams Casino revisits the making of A$AP Rocky's "Live.Love.A$AP" for an exclusive interview with HNHH.
This one definitely hits hard. Ten years ago, on October 31, 2011, A$AP Rocky made his debut with the release of his first mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP. Before the mixtape's release, A$AP Rocky had managed to build up, not only a lot of hype, but a lot of speculation-- a lot of interest, in a word-- early fans and curious hip-hop bystanders couldn't help but keenly watch his entrance into the rap game, led by singles such as "Purple Swag" and "Peso." There were a few reasons for why this was.
The New York-bred artist had separated himself from the landscape at the time, by diving into a sound that was not common in NYC, indeed, it was heralded as Southern-inspired, and this alone was something to discuss and debate. There was also the fact that the then-23-year old managed to sign a $3 million RCA deal, basically off the strength of one viral song-- this was simply unheard of, and the rap world immediately paid attention. As we discuss in the interview with Rocky's producer Clams Casino below, the idea of an almost-entirely-unknown artist getting such a massive record deal, prior to even releasing his debut mixtape; that alone fostered anticipation and intrigue in the artist. It also set a precedent, one which remains popular in the music business to this day -- that is, artists getting signed off their first viral hit, whatever hit that might be, and wherever it might have gone viral. Whereas A$AP Rocky's debut singles found success as music videos on YouTube, these days we're also seeing this type of success happen on platforms like TikTok.
WATCH: A$AP Rocky "Peso"
As far as Live.Love.A$AP's release ten years ago: it's also a snapshot into a changing music industry and online landscape. It's of personal interest to me, as the release was among the first major mixtapes to drop very shortly after I started working at HNHH (!). It was a time when the blogosphere was still dominant, but yet also, on its decline. It was the beginning of a transformation for all the blogs that feverishly covered rap and hip-hop, including HNHH, as the streaming service boom arrived shortly thereafter, forcing many blogs to re-think their format. Nonetheless, when Live.Love.A$AP arrived, we were still in "mixtape mode," and the project was thus fully-downloadable, no DSP required. Despite the fact that it was branded and released as a mixtape, it still contained original production, a nod to the shift in how rappers approached their mixtapes during this time of change -- moving from a heavily freestyle-based format, where all beats would have been recycled, to creating the need for original production, and even strong features, across any "mixtape." Combine this with the rise of DSPs, and, as we've seen present-day, it's becomes increasingly difficult to truly tell a "mixtape" and an "album" apart, save for the artist's diction.
Live.Love.A$AP isn't only a nostalgic glimpse into the not-so-distant hip-hop past; it's also a body of work that certified A$AP Rocky position in the rap game; made him an artist to watch alongside fellow rising artists at the time, like Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. It breathed new life into rap's blogosphere, as he was someone to write about, to dissect, to analyze. It allowed us to grow; Live.Love.A$AP was the very first "review" we at HNHH ever put out-- I use the word "review" very loosely, and cringe as I re-read it presently, but it's still an important facet in our own website's evolution. Who knows where we would all be without Rocky?
Among the people more directly affected by the A$AP effect: Clams Casino. Getting into why we are all here, Clams Casino rose to prominence around the same time as A$AP Rocky, if not slightly before. The producer, who is known for his soothing, ethereal beats that often include otherworldly samples, first gained notoriety after producing with Lil B The Based God (another hero of the 2010-2011 era). From there, he connected with A$AP Rocky by way of the infamous A$AP Yams Tumblr (more on that in our interview below), and the rest is history (or rather, it's detailed in our interview below).
Much in the same way that A$AP Rocky's influence on the rap game has become almost intangible, it's seeped into artists and embedded itself in ways that are now only connected to Rocky by a third or fourth degree, so too is Clams' influence. In fact, these influences go hand-in-hand-- the murky, Southern-influenced sound that Rocky tapped into wouldn't have been complete with Clams' beats propping it up. The producer played an essential role in Live.Love.A$AP, while it was seemingly unbeknownst to him at the time-- he wound up having the most beats on the tape.
Today, as we celebrate the mixtape's tenth year on the web, and it's arrival on to streaming services, we reflect with Clams Casino on the making of the project in the interview below.
LISTEN: A$AP Rocky "Demons"
The interview is slightly edited for clarity and length.
HNHH: Okay so I want to start at the beginning. I guess around the 2010s to 2011, for fans that may not have been invested or possibly weren't even aware or born, what were you doing at that time? Can you situate yourself in that sort of era but kind of like, right before you connected with A$AP Rocky; what was going on in your life?
Clams Casino: Yeah, right before we first linked up like early-ish spring 2011, so before that, I had been... I was just in school. I was going to school full time for physical therapy and I was in the middle of that and I was making music on the side just like, you know, for fun. I hadn't made any money or anything yet, I was doing it for a few years just trying to get it out and stuff. I had worked with some big artists and stuff at that point but, just really just doing it for fun, but, I was taking it seriously you know, at the same time. I was really trying to get my music out there, work with artists and stuff. So I was just using the internet to reach out to them.
At that time, when you were in school for physical therapy, were you imagining, like at that time when you saw yourself in the future, did you see yourself as a physical therapist, doing that job full time? Or did you want to pursue production or hip hop full time but you were just kind of trying to figure out a way to do it. I'm just wondering how you saw, was there an alternate reality where you were like a physical therapist?
Oh yeah, I mean for sure, that's the reason why I went to school I never thought I could realistically make any money or any kind of living off of music. I just didn't really think it would be realistic for me so that's why I went to school, I was like I'm gonna you know, just like do that, and I planned on just doing that, getting a job in that field, but you know, I'm sure I would have continued making music, just cause I would have been doing it anyway. But, yeah no, I've never really thought like up until that year when stuff....kind of that was a big turning point year up until that point. I mean that's why I was going to school because I was just looking you know. I would've loved to do it but I just, like, never really pictured it. So that's why I was doing that.
Image provided by the artist. Photo by Tristan Hollingsworth.
Yeah, that's interesting. I started blogging for HotNewHipHop in 2011, I remember the first mixtape, like the first “review” I did was A$AP Rocky's mixtape. So that's why this is so nostalgic now like, I can't believe that it's actually been 10 years because that put things in perspective, like, okay, I've been doing this job for 10 years. I also just didn't see it as a career, but then it turned into one, it's just interesting how that happened.
Yeah, that's the most natural way, if you're just doing it because you love it, and then sometimes like it just works out if you're doing it for just the love of it and it's the right reason, then sometimes it just works out, so yeah, for both cases, you know.
As far as you connecting with A$AP Rocky, I read it was because you were on the A$AP Yams' blog at the time and you were a frequent peruser, you checked his blog. Is that actually how you first got connected?
Yeah that's how I first got in touch with him, yeah, cause he had posted up Rocky...he only had a couple videos at the time and I don't know, one or two or something like only a very little amount of music out and it was on Yams' blog and then I tried to find, after I saw the video, cause I was trying to find rappers in New York and in the area to work with, and at the time I was working with a lot of Bay Area and California artists online and stuff, but I was looking for more people on the East Coast, or closer to me to work with, so I reached out to [try to find] Rocky, I don't think he had Twitter at the time or I couldn't figure out how to get in touch with him, so I sent a message to Yams' blog.
"I was looking for more people on the East Coast, or closer to me to work with, so I reached out to [try to find] Rocky, I don't think he had Twitter at the time or I couldn't figure out how to get in touch with him, so I sent a message to Yams' blog."
I didn't know it was him or anything, you know at the time, I just had sent a message to where I saw it and then he...I think he gave me Rocky's email from there, and he was like, ‘oh, we were just talking about your instrumental tape last night like that's crazy’ or whatever, stuff like that, so he gave me Rocky's email so I just hit Rocky. I got his email from Yams and then I just hit him up on there and sent him a bunch of beats and that's how we first connected.
So when you were checking A$AP Yams blog, you weren't like oh this is A$AP Yams. You were just like this is a cool blog, it was Tumblr right? Like when Tumblr was like really big?
Yeah I didn't really know who he really was at the time or anything like yeah it was just because, it was just from the site [his blog]. I would see the site everywhere, I would check every once in a while, [there was] a lot of good stuff, like stuff I was into or that I would like to, you know, be posted up there. Stuff that I was interested in so I would check it. But I didn't know him at that time I was just checking the website and just looking for music.
That's so crazy that all that time, he knew who you were.
Yeah, they knew from Lil B stuff I think, mostly. So yeah, and then Rocky had already recorded to my beats, like the first email I sent them like five beats or a few beats, and he hit me back and he was like, ‘oh I've already recorded to your instrumental tape,’ and he sent me like a thing that he had already recorded before I even reached out to him-- so he was working, he was making songs on my beats before I ever even reached out to him so.
"Rocky had already recorded to my beats, like the first email I sent them like five beats or a few beats, and he hit me back and he was like, ‘oh I've already recorded to your instrumental tape,’ and he sent me like a thing that he had already recorded before I even reached out to him."
That's like meant to be, that's so crazy.
Yeah, exactly like the song “Demons” on his first mixtape. That was recorded before we ever even spoke, like that was the one that he sent me back because it was on my first instrumental tape, that beat, and he already had that and made that song before I even reached out to him.
And then I wanted to ask, just going back to the blog thing because it was obviously like 2011, 2010, it was the height of the blogosphere I guess. Since then, it's been on a steady decline-- so at that time were you also like invested in checking all the blogs as well? Was that part of your daily routine, like checking the A$AP Yams' blog, checking like MissInfo or all these other blogs at the time? Was that something that you were doing?
Yeah, I mean, at that time, that's probably like the main way of finding [music] within those years, like 2009 to like ‘11. Yeah, that's probably the main way I would, you know, become aware of new stuff and just checking sites like that and everything. Yeah, it was a short time, it was [only] a few years, but that was the peak of that, those type of websites.
Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images
And so when the first email that you sent Rocky, I know you mentioned he'd obviously already done his own “Demons” recording. Were any of the beats that ended up being on the debut mixtape like “Palace,” were those ones in your initial email, like that very first email to him, or was it completely different beats?
It was at least one. I think “Wassup” was definitely in the first email that I sent him. I'm pretty sure that was one of them and the first one that I reached out that was in there and basically, I would send, from that point on, I'd probably send an email with like three to five beats or something and then he would be like, he would take maybe one out of those, I would keep emailing him a bunch and he would pick one or two out of those bunch and we would just keep it going.
“Wassup” was the first one we had done and actually released online before the mixtape and everything and that came out in the Spring and was kind of low-key, because it was before his videos came out and that really just took off, so that was out already. But yeah, I would just keep sending him emails with like a handful of beats and he would hit me back with which ones worked and pick one or two out, and just like every week or couple weeks, I would be hitting him up with more, and then just like slowly building it up until the Fall.
"“Wassup” was the first one we had done and actually released online before the mixtape and everything and that came out in the Spring and was kind of low-key, because it was before his videos came out and that really just took off, so that was out already."
Okay, these ones you were sending him and he was recording, like you guys weren't together, like you were sending to him and he was recording them by himself, separately?
Yeah, I would email it to him, then he was recording at a studio in Brooklyn at the time, so he would go record them, but then he was actually living in Jersey at the time so we would meet up and he would play me stuff that he recorded. So, I just email it to him and he'd go and record it out of Brooklyn at the studio and then like, every couple weeks over the spring, the summer, we'd be meeting up, like throughout that time, every couple of weeks and he'd just play me some stuff. He played [for] me at his place which is not too far from me, playing these songs like “Bass” and stuff after they were recorded, so yeah. But we never worked, I don't think on that whole tape-- I don't think we ever actually recorded together or anything like that, it was just done over email, done separately; but we just meet up and play new stuff.
Okay. I wanted to ask, when you saw a video on Yam's Tumblr that wasn't like “Purple Swag”? Do you remember if that was “Purple Swag” or “Peso” or was that like before that entirely?
Nah, that's way before all that stuff, this is like in the spring. It might have been..one of them was “Get High” maybe, that was one of the early ones. The video, I think that's called, “Get High” or something like that. That was one video he had, that's a super early one, and he had a couple other ones without videos on YouTube, just a few songs. But no, like I remember when they were shooting those videos, like when they were shooting “Peso” and all that, and “Purple Swag,” when he really started kind of taking off and everything and that was like when...yeah, we had linked up before that. So that started in the summer, and when he dropped those videos, “Purple Swag” and “Peso,” after that, it was a wrap. Through that summer, while we were making the music he was doing the videos for them and everything like [at] same time so.
Okay yeah so as far as the creation, like when you connected with him and you were sending him beats and you saw they were doing the videos for “Peso” and “Purple Swag,” you knew that he was working towards a debut mixtape? Was there this awareness that we're creating a project or was it kind of like we're just creating and not sure what's happening with it?
Yeah, I think it was just like we're just making stuff, I don't think...I don't know... like at least in the beginning there wasn't really like...
I was just wondering like when you came, when you were sending him beats, did you know like, okay this might end up on this mixtape or was it just like...
Nah, we were just...Nah because like I said, when we first did “Wassup,” we just did it and just dropped it, so that came out like in May or something that year, April or May or something that came out. So like yeah, we were just making music and I was excited to just make stuff and drop it whenever. I didn't really know, maybe he had a plan that I didn't really know about that but I don't think I was, I don't remember really being aware of like a plan for any type of thing. Maybe after we had a good amount of stuff together and then we started like... yeah it makes sense there's a lot of music and stuff but yeah, I think it just kind of was like coming together organically without really even trying. We were just making stuff and at some point, you know, there was a lot.
I guess he might have been, or him and Yams, they might have been planning stuff or had the idea for like a thing, but I don't remember being fully aware of, this is definitely a project that's happening, I was just making music.
I just remember when it was announced that he signed like a $3 million deal with RCA and how big of a deal that was at the time on blogs, because it was so crazy, like it seemed like a crazy amount and we didn't really know who he was, I think when the announcement came out, like his debut mixtape hadn't even dropped yet. I'm curious like what your take was on that at the time. I don't know when you found out about that, did you find out alongside everyone else or were you like privy to information before? What was your reaction to that?
Yeah, no, it was crazy at the time. I remember it too, yeah it was a big deal and everyone [was] talking about and he really only had a few things out, and then signed that deal. Yeah, I mean I remember hearing about little stuff here and there about it, I think before it was fully announced or done, I remember hearing stuff here and there but yeah, it was just like, it was a crazy thing at the time. It was a pretty big deal, you know.
It's just interesting also how that sort of paved the way for other artists to get signed up with one song or whatever the case, and also with pretty big deals like that seemed to follow a lot more frequently after ASAP Rocky had one.
Yeah, yeah definitely it seemed like they tried to do that similar thing a few times like shortly after. After that it seemed like you would hear about, every once in a while like another artist that had like one video out get like a crazy deal or amount of money or something, that definitely seemed like it started kind of like that.
Okay, so I want to get into some of the songs off the project, I mean I'll start with “Palace.” Obviously, it's the opener and it's a very recognizable sound that it opens with. At what point did you know, cause I'm just curious like when eventually they decided there was going to be a mixtape and they were making a tracklist, at what point did you know that “Palace” was opening the project or where things were kind of in the tracklist?
Ummm, I don't remember. He might have said something about it, that that was going to be an intro. I don't really remember specifics on that. But that one, he actually, I think he emailed me back once he recorded it. I think he might have emailed me that one back and I don't remember if he had plans right away that was going to be like opening or something or if it was just like a song that we had and then when they were, you know, came time to do it, that they just did it.
I didn't have anything to do with the tracklist, like listing or order or anything. They did all that. I do remember he did say, I think he said they were going to do a video for it, they never ended up doing a video for it, but I think when he first sent it back to me I think he said, ‘oh we're going to shoot a video soon’ and stuff and they never ended up doing it.
LISTEN: A$AP Rocky "Palace"
And that's interesting because he details, like he mentions his Houston, kind of Southern influence on that song specifically like lyric-wise and I mean that was also like such a big deal at the time, you know the fact that he was like a New York rapper but doing this kind of other sound, taking from the South. When you heard that, were you surprised at all? I guess I want to know like what your reaction to that whole sound or that style was from him.
Nah, I wasn't surprised really for that song because he was doing that on his other stuff too that came out before that and you know like, “Purple Swag” and all of that, like that was kind of heavily influenced and all that before that so I kind of knew about it.
Was that something he talked about at all? Like was he like open with, ‘this is the sound I want to do’?
Yeah no, I mean, we didn’'t really get too specific, like [he was] just kind of picking beats out of my stuff, and he wouldn't really give like too much direction but like he would let me know what works and stuff like, I would just kind of hit him with ideas and what I thought he should be rapping on, what he would sound good on and I would just send him what I thought, and then he would just be picking out of that.
So with the “Bass” skit, like the skit at the beginning like that New York rant that like came from the subway or something like that. Was that something that you found and placed there or was that something that ASAP told you, this would be cool like I'm just curious how that happened, obviously like he says ASAP and like that's appropriate for the song, I was wondering how that came together?
No, I didn't do that, they found that and they added that in the beginning. I didn't do that. They must have had that, and they just put that clip on the beginning of it, yeah so they did that part, I didn't do that.
Okay, but mostly as far as the beats that you gave, they were all, I guess, no one really tampered with them after? I don't know if there are any other skits or things added to other songs.
No, everything else is just, you know, just rapping on the straight files that I sent them, like mp3s, you know just like one file beats. Nothing was like... none of the beats were mixed or anything or separate, you know, it was all just like rapping on one mp3 files. So they were all just, you know, the files that I sent them, they just rap on top of it.
So then like with “Leaf,” I was wondering because you work with Main Attrakionz, were you the connection there between A$AP and them, or were they already on that song when you sent it to ASAP?
Nah, I mean they all knew about each other. I think Yams probably was like, you know, Yams was aware of them and because I was working with them and they were kind of around on the blogs and stuff at the time. So I think yeah, Rocky just put them on separately. I sent Rocky the beat just by itself and then he got them on and I thought, you know, it was cool because I had worked with them a lot already. But yeah, nah they weren't on it when I sent it to him but I think Yams kind of like was a link between you know, everybody.
Do you know what happened to them, like are they...I don't know I was just like trying to do some Googles, are they still together putting out music, or are they defunct?
No, I don't think they're still together. I think Squad is still putting out music here and there, not too much, but yeah last time I saw him was a few years ago in San Francisco. I had done a show out there and I met up with him for a little bit but I haven't spoken to him in a while, but yeah I think he still puts music out every once in a while but, I don't think they're still together anymore.
Image via HNHH
Okay was wondering. You still stay in touch with Rocky today like how close are you guys now, would you say?
I don't speak a lot [with him], like directly. I try to send music every once in a while or something. But no we haven't worked in the studio or anything for a while. I think maybe working on my stuff for my album was the last time we worked on stuff actually in the studio, but I'll just send, you know, send stuff through, and like, kind of how we usually work is just over email.
"I don't speak a lot [with him], like directly. I try to send music every once in a while or something. But no we haven't worked in the studio or anything for a while."
That's kind of the best way, I need to like spend a lot of time alone making music that I'm happy with and I need to take time, I don't really make a lot of beats on the spot like at all really, in the studio it's rare for me to do that. And most of the times I've been with him like he just listened to beats and say, oh yeah like he’ll pick some out and then take it back and spend time writing with it. Even the times we have linked up in the studio, most of the time it's just like playing stuff and then taking some beats out, and then he'll go back and spend time, you know, dig in and work on it so we're just kind of like -- even when we did work in studio most of the time it wasn't even like really recording, it was just be kind of playing stuff, hanging out, and then talking, and then we both go back and kind of work separately so that's how it's always, usually worked with the best music that we've done it and everything anyway and so that's kind of the process with us.
With the snippet that you released at the top of the year, is that still something that's happening? Is that connected to anything larger that you guys did or is it just like a one-off? I'm not sure exactly what happened there.
Yeah, I don't know, I had done a session just making beats with Kelvin Krash who works with him now and he's a producer that works with Rocky. And I was in London doing a show. And so we just like had a day, we met, made some beats and I had left Krash with some samples and some stuff that I recorded and then like a few months later he hit me back and told me about how they ended up using some of the stuff. Like he had flipped one of the samples that I made and then you know, they worked on the song, so yeah, that kind of came out of just making beats with another producer.
Okay, so you have no idea like what's up with that?
Yeah, hopefully it'll be released, like fully released soon. Yeah, I don't know, I mean, they're on their own schedule. I don't really know details and stuff. I'm hoping it'll be out soon so everybody can enjoy it.
I'm just wondering, where you see touches or traces of your influence in hip hop sound today. I don't know if there's a way to pinpoint but yeah, I feel like it is deeply embedded.
Yeah I definitely hear-- like I can hear kind of influences stuff or like in production or stuff. It's kind of funny because a lot of the time, it's like I'll hear something that some new artists or young kids are doing and I'm into it, I like it, and [at] some point I'll reach out to them, maybe to work or something or they reach out to me, and then I'll find out that they were fans of my music or stuff with Lil B or Rocky or whatever and then it kind of makes sense like it just comes around like full circle.
I'm hearing stuff that I like in their music and it's like, you know, I don't know like Lil Peep is one of those, for example, like he had reached out to me about working and then when I listened to his music I could hear, like on some of the beats and stuff, I could hear the influence and it all made sense, that's like an example. So yeah, a lot of younger kids and music and artists making music that kind of came up listening to Lil B and Rocky or whoever else, and then I can kind of connect with it somehow.
Yeah, and it's I mean like there are different ways that your sound has spread but I feel like it might even be like a third-degree where they don't even know, like another producer that they like was influenced by you, and then they liked that sound, and then just like dissipates.
Yeah, yeah, sometimes it's not even like directly and they don't even know it but there's a lot of...I mean yeah, there's sometimes it's like they're listening to something that somebody else liked, would have never made if it wasn't for certain music that we made and then it's like you know, it's definitely a trickle-down and it's not so direct.
Yeah, you definitely have a legacy on hip-hop, that's an impact that can only be traced back to you. Certain producers like change hip hop or influence it totally with their sound. On that same train of thought, what are some of the new artists that you listen to now, what are your personal tastes, as far as rappers these days?
I gotta think, I can't think off the top of my head... I don't stay too in-tune to stuff. Yeah, it's kind of like at this point it's just like so much access to so much stuff and it's kind of overwhelming. I don't really follow too closely but trying to think of some new artists…
Like I was saying before, Lil Peep in the last few years, that's not super new, but that was kind of one of the more later things that kind of inspired me to start thinking about stuff a little differently and like refreshing sounding, that was one of the more important ones I think for me. And also, Wicca Phase is another artist that felt like it was what I needed, something to restart my brain a little bit and just sound[s] new and kind of refreshing. Those are some of the guys in more recent [times], even though it's a few years now, but yeah, that's it. Those are kind of big ones for me.
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images
Okay, cool. And I guess like just to end, what's on your plate? Like, are you working on a new album, instrumentals? Let us know.
Yeah, I don't know when this is gonna go out but I have a new-- I just finished working on like a new instrumental, a beat tape, that's just all new unreleased instrumental so that's coming out soon. I'm always doing like a little bit of everything, I'm always like in the process of making my stuff, I'll have something that doesn't fit and I'll send it to a rapper and so it's like it's always kind of constantly moving or I'll make beats for rappers and they never end up getting used and then I'll throw it on my own project in a different form or you know, so I'm just like moving, you know and doing a little bit of everything.
"I just finished working on like a new instrumental, a beat tape, that's just all new unreleased instrumental so that's coming out soon."
And you're still living in Jersey?
You've never moved around?
Yeah, pretty much the same area. Yeah, so it's not really any real need for me to move around too much and I mean, I'll travel every once in a while to work with people and stuff, but I manage, a lot of what I do is able to be done online too.
It's cool that you've kind of built your career really on your own terms where it's like, you want to stay out of the spotlight or you do what you want, but like it's fine. I just feel like you've made it in a way where you don't need to do all the extra shit.
Yeah, I'm happy I'm able to do that. I mean, I had like a little bit of experience with that and I'm not into that side of it really. So I'm happy I'm able to do as much as I can and have fun and you know, just keep doing what I love doing. But like, you know, trying to kind of stay out that side of it, because I'm not really too into that side.
Thank you. That's all I have for today. And I appreciate your time.