The man currently sitting atop the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart shouldn't be there.
"Long.Live.A$AP," Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky's much anticipated major label debut (Polo Grounds/RCA) received fine reviews and a healthy amount of promotion (Rocky did the usual circuit of hip-hop magazines and added a well-tailored Letterman performance for good measure). The album also didn't feature much in the way of competition during its opening week -- the No. 2 album is "Kidz Bop 23," which sold 78,000 copies. But it's still highly impressive that Rocky moved 139,000 units (according to Nielsen SoundScan), because the album has been widely available on the internet for over a month.
The project leaked in December, well ahead of it's Jan. 15 release date. The leak was met with both excitement and disappointment: While fans were eager to hear the new material, executives and critics both bemoaned the effect it may have on Rocky's career.
But despite the leak and a single that is almost rendered unlistenable by radio censors (the song is called "F--kin' Problem" and 2 Chainz' chorus is: "I love bad b----es that's my f--kin' problem, and yeah I like to f--k I got a f--kin' problem"), he still did it. How? And just who is A$AP Rocky?
A$AP Rocky is the leader of the A$AP Mob, which includes a number of rappers who have taken the "A$AP" name (A$AP Ferg is currently the talk of the hip-hop community). Rocky is credited with helping bring New York back to rap's forefront, though he has done it by blending East Coast sensibilities with Southern tropes and acoustics. (He freely admits that he draws his primary influences from Houston) That sonic ambiguity has found him on the wrong side of a few critics who argue that he wouldn't receive so much praise if he was from the South.
The trajectory of Rocky's career is a testament to the internet's ability to make stars. A former drug dealer who says he started rapping at 8, Rocky has been through a lot in his 24 years. Though they couldn't be farther apart on the music side of things, Rocky's rise is not unlike pop outfit Karmin's -- both found viral success through strong DIY projects that created a niche (Rocky's was extremely stylized New York rap, Karmin's was poppy YouTube covers of rap songs). After a string of sleeper hits, A$AP exploded into the greater rap consciousness with "Purple Swag" -- a weed and promethazine syrup-infused video memorable for having a young white actress mouth the n-word. He quickly followed that hit up with "Peso," another A$AP Ty Beats-produced, drug-inflected brag-rap track that seemed readymade for kids who want to feel cool. The track's most notable lyric? "I be the pretty motherf--ker," one of Rocky's taglines.
From there, it was off to the races. Drake posted a Rocky song on his blog and signed him up for the Club Paradise Tour. RCA's Polo Grounds imprint reportedly signed Rocky for $3 million and allowed him to bring his own artists on board as well. He linked up with Theophilus London for "Big Spender" and released the critically acclaimed "Live.Love.A$AP" mixtape. Lana Del Rey cast him to play John F. Kennedy in her "National Anthem" music video. He made a video for "Goldie" that racked up 9 million views. The momentum was unstoppable and led to this week's chart-topping album.
But Rocky's influence doesn't only extend to music. Just like Tyler, the Creator and the rest of Los Angeles' Odd Future rappers have inspired young, hip Angelenos to wear classic Vans with high socks, Rocky's dark, high-fashion aesthetic has permeated New York's hip-hip community. Attend an A$AP show and you're likely to see countless kids with "Commes Des F--k Down" beanies and shirts. Rocky works closely with Kanye West's creative director Virgil Abloh and can often be seen sporting Abloh's R.S.V.P. Gallery clothing.
So now A$AP Rocky has a million-dollar record deal, rap hipster credibility and a No. 1 record. What he does from here is anyone's guess.