After about 30 mins of waiting outside the Black Scale boutique in Los Angeles, my writer's sense began tingling. Yes, that strange feeling that every writer experiences when inspiration meets the moment or when an unmanned car comes careening down a busy street and crashes into a building like a scene from Inception.(Yes this really happened--I love L.A.) In my constant pursuit to find the next story I had been given the heads up by my girlfriend, who happens to be a local designer for Crooks N' Castles(Crooks N' Castles is a Los Angeles based street wear company); that Black Scale was hosting a meet and greet with rap artist ASAP Rocky. Now two things need to be cleared up before I continue. Firstly, Black Scale is a popular street wear company run by a dude named Mega. Street wear legend has it that Mega doesn't sleep because he's always working to keep Black Scale relevant.(there's another legend that says he's a devil worshipping vampire--thank you Twitter) Secondly, ASAP Rocky is one of the hottest up and coming rappers on the scene. Rocky has been building momentum since the debut of his critically acclaimed debut "LiveLoveA" and is currently on The Club Paradise Tour with Drake. So when you put the two together it's bound to cause a major "flood" of both Hip Hop fans and street wear fashionistas.
Black Scale is located on La Brea Ave which is a prime locale for street wear boutiques. Fairfax Ave, which is the next primary main street; is another popular area where you'll find designers such as Undefeated, Stussy and Supreme. This small two to three mile radius of street wear creates a unique convergence of sub cultural competitive capitalism. On a weekly basis, mostly on Saturday mornings; these areas are full of customers hoping to get their hands on "drops", "collars" and "exclusives". The Black Scale and ASAP Rocky collaboration would no doubt yield similar results. So why was I surprised to be standing outside in the California cold?(55 degrees is cold for So-Cal, I probably shouldn't be complaining)
I was told to arrive early to avoid the Hype Beast--for those of you who are Hip Hop illiterate--A Hype Beast is an obsessive urban brand consumer, mostly concerned with the hottest labels;that will go to great lengths to --I arrived nearly 30 minutes prior to the doors opening and found myself at the end of a long line of fans, amateur photographers, hipsters, thugs, Hip Hop heads and a host of other sub-cultural misfits. That's when my writer sense starting vibrating like a Cal Trans worker using a jack hammer on the 101 North in the middle of rush hour traffic. What was the common thread of all of these different demographics? ASAP Rocky isn't exactly creating profound genre re-defining rap music and Black Scale's designs aren't setting trends in the street wear circuit. So what is it about ASAP Rocky that would cause such a reaction?
Rakim Mayers was born in 1988, in New York and is said to have been named after legendary rap artist Rakim. His life prior to becoming ASAP Rocky found him facing the imprisonment of his father for drug dealing and the death of his brother. He also lived in a shelter with his mother. Mayers is influenced by a plethora of rap artists which includes the Harlem based Diplomats. I mention this fact because the Diplomats were one of the first hybrid type groups to come out of New York. The Diplomats lead by Cam'Ron and stabilized by Jim Jones and a stylistically diverse Juelz Santana brought a mixture of sound to New York that had employed each region on the Hip Hop map. It shouldn't be a surprise to discover that ASAP Rocky has effectively taken the same mode used by the Diplomats. What could be a surprise is that he may have improved the mode due to the accessibility of culture via social media.
"LiveLoveA", ASAP's debut release; is a virtual gumbo of sounds and influences from the aforementioned Diplomats, Kanye West, UGK, Dr. Dre and the oft forgotten Bone Thugs in Harmony. There is a multi-regional sound that ASAP Rocky seems to have created or discovered. Well maybe he didn't quite discover it, the way in which music is exchanged and explored is vastly different now then it was in the previous decade. A decade that saw Hip Hop reach it's peak as an art form and be declared dead by the legendary Nas. Many current artists and fans alike will and did dispute Nas' claim, but perhaps he was on to something. There is no doubt that Hip Hop as a commercial viable product is one of the most profitable genres in all of music because of it's direct relationship with consumers in terms of themes and social connectivity. When Nas declared Hip Hop was dead he was referring to the way in which the culture was perceived. ASAP Rocky is arguably a prototype of the the recent resurrection and evolution of Hip Hop culture as an ever changing movement of converging cultures, sounds, themes and politics.
Hip Hop as an enterprise is heavily dependent on exposure and exchange. Music is only one of the several exchangeable elements in the Hip Hop industry. Arguably style is perhaps the most commodified of the elements available. Style in the sense of fashion, vocabulary and culture is what has made Hip Hop so profitable. ASAP Rocky is as style loaded as any contemporary artist. ASAP is a walking example of exchangeable style as he has taken several cues from different regions, genres and eras. He often wears the latest street wear trends coupled with retro, or vintage pieces and sports a diamond grill over his teeth. ASAP's sense of style is one of the most crucial aspects of his ability to draw interest from a diverse group of Hip Hop fans.
There is a shift of cultural connectivity through art, style and lifestyle that Hip Hop is currently experiencing. ASAP Rocky stands at the center of the shift along with several of his peers as artists using cultural connectivity to gain relevance. What can we point to as the basis for this shift? We have already discussed the presence of the Hype Beast, who is not truly a fan of the Hip Hop genre in the traditional sense but rather a collector or rather hoarder of trends and immediacy. The appearance of a popular artist being paired with a popular clothing brand for an exclusive "drop" of an exclusive product is the perfect storm for the emergence of the Hype Beast. The Hype Beast is actually a crucial component to the new way in which Hip Hop is viable. ASAP Rocky is a Hype Beast magnet. There is something about his presence amongst his fans that seems "exclusive" and is no doubt immediate. In a strange way ASAP has probably doubled his fan base in part to the Hype Beast.
The Hype Beast must constantly be fed in order to sustain the hype they produce which means many times that they are eating their time, money, and resources only to be fed the very thing that they are being sustained by. Hype Beast are key components in keeping the cycle of Hype alive by buying(eating) the products, listening to the music, blogging, posting and supporting the brands, who in turn support the Hip Hop artists they collaborate with. ASAP Rocky needs the Hype Beast to stay relevant but he also needs brands like Black Scale to provide the Hype Beast with a product worth being hyped over. It's a cycle of exchange that is necessary in the social media generation that is concerned with immediacy. "Hype beasts are only into hip hop because the only people that really wear street wear are hip hop artists", I was recently told by a street wear connoisseur. This is the new way in which Hip Hop music is being made viable in an over saturated market because the music has become secondary. ASAP Rocky's rise as an artist has as much to do with hype as it does with his actual ability to craft a song. The thing that may separate him from the current crop of Hype Beast Hip Hop artists is that he seems aware about the relationship. Not only is he aware but he is making calculated moves towards establishing a base strong enough to with stand the pending decline of the hype he currently is enjoying.
The ironic thing about the relationship between Black Scale and ASAP Rocky is that the company is not officially sponsoring ASAP. The relationship was created in part because ASAP was seen wearing some of Black Scale's pieces which were posted on Blogs. The exchange was immediate thanks in part to social media creating a relationship through connectivity. It's rumored that ASAP actually reached out to Mega and from there the relationship blossomed to the point where Mega and Black Scale started designing pieces inspired by ASAP and his movement. The smile that ASAP is constantly seen with, and often criticized for; was brighter than ever when he spotted Mega in the Black Scale store. There is a true bond between the two seemingly different characters and maybe the acknowledgement of the differences is what makes it work. ASAP always looks at ease and Mega always looks like he's on the move. There's a symmetry to the two that often shows up in ASAP's music. He shifts from fast paced rapid fire bars to a slow and deliberate delivery.
There is also the inclusion of the Hipster. A Hipster by definition is concerned with being "Hip". The contemporary Hipster is as obsessive about "vintage" and nostalgia as much as the Hype Beast is about the "Now". ASAP Rocky attracts Hipsters because of his willingness to engage in nostalgia. His soundscape borrows heavily from the past as he effortlessly combines stylistic tropes from several "Old School" artists. Hipsters are attracted to his quality to layer vintage sounds with "New School" sensibility. There is a level of appreciation, which was present during the in-store; given by Hipsters to artists like ASAP Rocky. ASAP is essentially a Hipster in a philosophical sense because of his instinct to call upon the past for inspiration. His music sounds aged but by no means is it dated. The Black Scale in-store spoke to his nostalgic approach in that it become a block party more so than an average in-store. There was product exchanging hands, as several fans got their hands on the collaboration Tees and Sweaters. Hennessy was the drink of choice as people gathered to just be a part of the "happening".
At about 8 p.m. the Black Scale boutique was at capacity. ASAP Rocky addressed the crowd inside and then made his way out the doors to interact with the hundreds of fans still waiting to get inside. It was then that I realized that ASAP Rocky was just as much of a fan as the fans who came to see him. He's the rappers rapper, the hipsters hipster and the hype beasts Hype Beast. ASAP Rocky is one of those artists that comes along and inadvertently changes the way that we accept and perceive those that proceed him. The artist that comes to mind is Nas, who had discovered a way to effectively blend styles, themes, and eras before the internet. Nas was briefly the standard by which all Hip Hop artists were measured by and he eventually fell victim to the very bar he had raised. ASAP could be this generations Nas. Yes, that sounds blasphemous but I'm not comparing lyrical content, skill or word play. I'm merely looking at the impact of the era in which the two spawned from. In this new Hip Hop industry that relies heavily on social networking, ASAP Rocky is on the verge of being the artist we use as the template for this era.