A$AP Rocky is a somewhat controversial figure, to say the least. From his 2019 arrest in Stockholm for allegedly punching a fan in the face to his recent charges for assault with a firearm, it is fair to say that the artist has a fiery temperament.
Born and raised in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York, Rocky first emerged with his crew, the A$AP Mobb, in around 2011. Before the infamous “mumble rap” era, A$AP Mobb rose to fame at a similar time to the likes of Odd Future, Taylor Gang and Sad Boys in the early 2010s and was part of what some dubbed the “Harlem Renaissance”. Along with artists such as Teyana Taylor, Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia, the early 2010s saw an influx of young black and Latino creatives rise out of Harlem, making the best alternative hip hop.
Like their Harlem counterparts, A$AP Mobb was extremely popular nationwide, but especially in New York, as the city hadn’t produced any quality new artists since the early noughties. Rocky featured on a number of collaborative projects the crew released in their early days. However, it seemed as if Rocky, in particular, was always preparing for a solo career as he would simultaneously release his own solo material while other crew members did not.
The beginnings of Rocky’s career around 2011 saw him work extensively with Harlem producer Araab Muzik and in 2011, he released his debut mixtape Live. Love. ASAP. The mixtape was a fusion of classic East Coast hip hop and “cloud rap”, an ambient and more celestial hip hop style that emerged in the early 2010s.
Rocky set himself apart from his crew, not just because of his sound but because of his style. All of the artists birthed from the “Harlem Renaissance” were almost instantly welcomed into the world of fashion. With Azealia Banks asked to perform at Karl Lagerfeld’s birthday party in Paris and Princess Nokia getting front row seats at New York Fashion Week, Rocky was also quickly embraced into the world of fashion arguably more than his crew members and seemed to take more of an interest in it than them as well.
One of Rocky’s first major gigs was at the Alife Rivington Club. An exclusive, limited edition, members-only trainer shop located on Rivington Street in Manhattan’s fancy Lower East Side neighbourhood. However, before all the fame and the fashion of the “Harlem Renaissance”, Rocky was just a normal kid freestyling on the street.
Take a look at one of Rocky’s first filmed freestyles in a cypher from 2010.