Far from just remolding The Dirty South's sound or serving as a fashion icon, A$AP Rocky's influence over current culture runs deep.
Little more than one year after the seminal Paid In Full, Rakim Myers was born in Harlem, New York. Sparked by his mother’s unrequited love for hip-hop, A$AP Rocky’s formative years were soundtracked by a healthy diet of the icons that left their own imperishable brands upon the art form. By the time he’d reached his adolescence, Myers was already looking for solace from the habitual dangers of 116th & Morningside and found it in the same medium that had christened him. A little shy of a decade since soaring to worldwide acclaim, Flacko's position is solidified in hip-hop and has led to a career that’s defined by a conscious and unconscious penchant for trendsetting. Expressed in not only the considerable merits of his own material but the pervading influence that they’ve had upon peers and aspiring MCs alike, Rocky finds himself in rarefied air as his innovations can be appreciated in real-time rather than solely retrospectively.
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In the lead-up to the release of his fourth solo project Testing last May, Rocky verbalized the notion of his persisting effect on hip-hop during an interview with Desus & Mero. Tasked with replying to Funkmaster Flex’s claims that a “bunch” of artists had stolen his style, Rocky saw his lasting contributions as two-fold:
“To get in the game, you gotta have like braids or dreadlocks, gold teeth, charisma, You gotta have fashion sense. Everybody tries to at least have one, right? Before us, there was people in fashion and whatnot, but it was normally only like Kanye or Pharrell, or Puff before them. Now, that's standard. You've gotta have some type of freshness. We brought that back into hip-hop. Aside from fashion goes, just the way that, like, the monotone or the way I would pitch my voices, just the nuances or my beat selections or the way I produce songs, I feel like a lot of kids that come up now inherited that."
Rather than harbouring any resentment towards artists that had re-appropriated parts of his identity, Rocky remained composed, remarking that hip-hop has been “been looking up to me from the start.”
To definitively chart his influence in both of these realms, you need to delve back to the embryonic days of his career and the sound which bridged the gap between Harlem and the Dirty South. When Love.Live.A$AP arrived in 2011, it placed a renewed emphasis on the promethazine-laden wooziness that had mostly faded from hip-hop’s populist glare. A breakout release for the A$AP Mob, the record side-lined its hometown’s boom-bap and the osmosed sound of Dipset infavour of the languorous haze of Houston’s chopped and screwed. The sound, highlighted by early favorites "Purple Swag" and "Pe$o," was not without its detractors, who either felt he had no cultural claim to it, or else, that he had bit it from his Raider Klan’s frenemy SpaceGhostPurrp, but it makes him and the Mob no less integral to the “cloud rap” wave that’s still being explored to this day. The imprint of Rocky's early work with producer Clams Casino, typified by his ability to ride the beat, his penchant for vocal manipulation and the syrupy, blissed out quality of the instrumentals, can be traced in tracks from Post Malone, Lil Peep, Yung Lean, 21 Savage , Brockhampton and others, while his collabs with Juicy J, Project Pat and UGK have all helped to make him an unlikely champion of Southern rap.
Even in the days prior to his major label acquisition, his propensity for high-end fashion was among the focal points of his bars. Claiming that “Raf Simons, Rick Owens, usually what I’m dressed in” as early as “Peso,” the rise of this “Margiela Madman” brought numerous brands into hip-hop’s vernacular and-- as illustrated by Genius-- caused a sizable increase in their market share. Beyond the gold teeth and Goyard, these attributes only account for part of the puzzle that ensures he is continuously held in high esteem, at a time when career longevity is increasingly hard to attain. Beyond dissembling hip-hop’s wardrobe and ushering in new designers, part of Rocky’s appeal is in his ability to play the tastemaker like few else. His status as an entrusted connoisseur, which comes on the basis of immense respect for a wide range of music, from UK trip-hop to Portishead to "60’s psychedelic shit," means that the Flacko co-sign carries immeasurable weight in the modern industry,
Before he had the clout to tangibly put rappers on, the desire to align himself with and celebrate greatness was clear on his major label debut LongLiveA$AP. Over a sinister Hit-Boy production, Rocky stepped into the arena with Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Big K.R.I.T, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Yelawolf for the incredible posse cut “1Train.” A who’s who of hip-hop’s foremost lyricists at that time, this onus of making his projects into a makeshift creative commune continued to gain momentum in the years to come. Capable of pre-empting what’s next, a prime example of his willingness to promote talent comes on A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes 1 & 2. Far from just being a platform for the mob itself, the tracklisting features countless artists that have gone on to explode in stature since: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, MadeintoYo and Key! Alongside appearances from his long-time kindred spirits repping BeastCoast, such as Flatbush Zombies and Pro Era’s Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution, he also gave Skepta the US shine a whole year prior to Drake’s More Life interlude with “Put That On My Set.” A trend that bled into his recent AWGE DVDs that included a freestyle session with Ski Mask The Slump God, his pivotal role in the development of Playboi Carti from Atlanta MC to worldwide phenomenon attests to his hands-on ability to help worthy talent blossom.
Revered as much for his foresight as he is from an artistic standpoint, the fact that his flippant remarks about the late XXXTentacion being the “hardest in Florida” on Instagram Live became a news story only attests to the power of his seal of approval. Not solely limited to hip-hop, Rocky has also cemented himself in the lore of Lana Del Rey’s career and helped to ingratiate her to new trap-heavy sounds on Lust For Life tracks “Summer Bummer” and “Groupie Love.” Yet for all of these glowing endorsements, he can be just as critical if the target is right. In a move that echoes his remarks about "too many fake me’s," from Gucci Mane’s "Cocky," his verse on the Tyler, The Creator-assisted “Potato Salad” shows signs of discontent with undeservedly gassed-up artists: “Then I think about the state of rapping, All the freshmens in the classes, All the super seniors mumblin' and ramblin', Mumblin and rappin', mumble rapping?, I find it hard to find actual talent.” Quipped just seconds before he gives props to Kodak Black, it depicts why he feels so compelled to champion likeminded talent and innovation just as he did all those years ago on “1Train.”
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In order to truly illustrate the impact of Rocky on the new breed of MCs, there is no better way than to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. In a 2018 with HNHH, A$AP Mob protégé Smooky Margielaa spoke of being awestruck by his presence: “At first, I really couldn’t believe it. Even being next to Rocky, it was like oh shit. I used to watch him when I was younger. Feel me? So it was crazy.”
While Smooky may be 16, the same uncontainable admiration spilled out from Famous Dex when asked about teaming up on last year’s “Pick It Up”:
“They played it again. Guess who is on there? A$AP Rocky. I freaked the f**k out. Oh hell nah. It sounded 10 times better and everything. It was a great, great look, and it’s a great, great record. It’s a great look for me and my fans.”
“SHOUTS OUT TO ASAP ROCKY FOR BEING A PIONEER”, proclaimed Lil B last November and it is an argument that’s becoming difficult to dispute. Although his influence can’t be accurately portrayed without the pivotal role of his late “spirit guide” A$AP Yams being accounted for, it is Rocky that has taken the founder’s ethos and disseminated it to the world ever since. Aside from serving as an artistic inspiration or fashion icon, the Harlem MC informs hip-hop’s direction by staying abreast of new sounds and scenes in order to spotlight what he feels matters. Where much of the old guard are now focused on conserving their place in the hierarchy rather than uplifting innovative acts, Rocky persistently aims to progress the genre and this tact gives him a power unlike most in modern culture.