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This uptown MC’s meteoric rise from obscurity to signing a $3 million deal with Sony/RCA in just five months surprised everyone except his parents, who presciently named him after the rapping half of legendary hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. But unlike other rappers who’ve been snapped up by the majors after building an immense online following, A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) hadn’t released a small collection of widely circulated mixtapes. When the ink dried on his contract he only had a half-dozen songs to his name.
The mixtape LiveLoveA$AP followed shortly thereafter, giving a better sense of his range and fueling hopes that he might be the spark that New York City’s increasingly marginal rap scene needs. Which is funny, because he sounds nothing like a conventional New York rapper—more a mix of Bone Thugs’ singing, Wiz Khalifa’s rapping, and smoky, bass-heavy Houston production. “I’m just really influenced by Houston’s culture,” he told Complex in October. “That’s the shit that really gets me going.” It’s also got his career off to the fastest start since Dr. Dre signed 50 Cent almost a decade ago—and that was only a $1 million deal. (Photo by Ysa Perez)