On the charts: A mixtape rapper looks to prove his worth

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A$AP Rocky
  • A$AP Rocky
A couple years back major labels started picking up on what hip-hop fans had known for a long time, which is that the best place to locate new rap talent is on the type of street-level mixtapes that were distributed primarily through liquor stores and gas stations before they moved onto the Internet. Until very recently the deals went to artists who worked within a preexisting, geographically defined rap scene who'd already established credibility and fan bases through low-budget releases, but the freak out-of-nowhere popularity of Odd Future made the majors spasm and start handing out ridiculously large deals seemingly to anyone who could get a YouTube rap video onto Pitchfork.

While most of the OF-related signings have had terrible sales-to-hype ratios—Columbia's seven-figure investment in Kreayshawn paid off in a debut album that sold fewer than 4,000 copies in its first week out—things are looking very good for young Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky. His "Purple Swag" and "Peso" made the difficult leap from YouTube and hipster blogs to a level of IRL success that few self-released projects have matched. And without the help of a traditional media push or any obvious assistance from RCA, who signed him and his A$AP Mob crew to a $3 million deal, he's accumulated a large and enthusiastic audience among a highly covetable teenage demographic.

Rocky's RCA debut, Long.Live.A$AP, is supposed to come out in December, but like most debut albums from young rappers signed to major labels its release date has been moved so many times that it's hard to take any one announcement seriously. Consequently RCA's promotion of the album so far has seemed less than firmly committed. Its first single, "Goldie," came out in the spring and didn't seem to go anywhere with listeners outside of Rocky's established fan base. A second single, "Fuckin' Problem" (featuring Drake, 2 Chainz, and "Swimming Pools" sensation Kendrick Lamar), is doing slightly better, debuting at number 73 on the Hot 100 this week.

It's a better, more pop-friendly cut than the psychedelic "Goldie," and its three guest rappers have given it enough buzz that it would probably have landed on the Hot 100 no matter who was listed at the top of the credits. Overall the song has a good chance of cruising further up the charts, but it's still not as infectious as "Peso" or "Purple Swag." Presumably Rocky and RCA have a single that's closer to those songs' level in their back pocket, ready to let loose when it looks like Long.Live.A$AP is finally coming out. And maybe then Rocky will be able to break the majors' Internet-rapper losing streak.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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