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There Isn't A Wrong Way To Roll Out An Album, But...

Backseat Freestyle
There Isn't A Wrong Way To Roll Out An Album, But...
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #19 • View online
Welcome to Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter that I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. If you’re a subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. With that said, let’s get into it….

A$AP Rocky // Credit: Backgrid
A$AP Rocky // Credit: Backgrid
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
This week J. Cole drew a line in the sand and announced his next album was arriving. Travis Scott didn’t do the same thing, but he spoke to Adweek about brands and the conversation appeared to inch him closer to the release of his next project. And TDE pushed a release from the label, playing on the anticipation of a new Kendrick album, but instead, ultimately, announced Isaiah Rashad was on his way. What a time…for rap releases and all the ways a team can go about pursuing a strategy. However, no artist, label or team is piquing my interest quite like A$AP Rocky. What has he been doing? What will he do? After being announced as the headliner of a second festival in a short period of time, something must be coming. Will he stand up? Or, better yet, drop something. Let’s talk about it.
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
Even before Beyonce dropped her self-titled album without warning in 2013, there wasn’t one set agreed upon way to roll out an album. But post that monumental moment, plenty of artists have tried to replicate her approach (pulling a Beyonce, they say, but oftentimes without the accompanying music video for each song part) with varying degrees of success. And other artists have tried to go in the opposite direction, partaking in old school, slower roll outs despite being in the midst of the streaming era and all the itinerant demands from DSPs and YouTube algorithyms. 
It’s in this space we find J.Cole and his short ramp up to release The Off-Season. Though the bridge from the retail date’s announcement to the project’s arrival was short, fans were already aware of the album title and his impending plans as recently as four months ago when he posted on Instagram about the Fall Off Era. The hard confirmation was sudden, but there was hardly a surprise there. 
On the flip side, we have Drake. His Certified Lover Boy album has long been in the works and, since the new year, in the wind. He’s released multiple records and has talked about the tone of the project. But a presumed time frame for the album’s release came and went and now, it seems, we’re waiting indefinitely. (Wink.)
With apologies to Aubrey Graham and K.Dot, consider A$AP Rocky’s next album to be the most fascinating rap roll out of the year. 
In between, we have Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott. The former hasn’t said much of anything but that hasn’t stopped the speculation that an album is near/nigh. The latter, of course, is running much closer to what Drake is doing (songs, press, ubiquity), however, after announcing the November return of AstroWorld festival, it’s safe to assume the clock is finally ticking on the release of his Utopia project. 
Somewhere off to the side, or below the surface, or above the fray, maybe, lives A$AP Rocky. 
 When Governors Ball announced their September lineup this past week, the Harlem native was listed as the Saturday headliner. This was after Rolling Loud announced its return this coming July with Rocky as the Friday night headliner. Twitter was chatty about the news. 
It obviously begs the question: new music/a new project has to be coming some time in between the two festivals, right?
With apologies to Aubrey Graham and K.Dot, consider A$AP Rocky’s next album to be the most fascinating rap roll out of the year. 
Just look at what Rocky’s been up to since his last album, 2016’s Testing.
 In no particular order he was arrested and detained in Sweden/went to trial overseas/Donald Trump smelled an opportunity to involved/he was found guilty, faced blowback about his BLM comments, spoke about his sobriety, revealed he has a sex addiction, had a stalker break into his home and assault his assistant, went vegan, covered Otis Redding, and maybe announced that his next album would be called All Smiles
That’s the thing about Rocky. He can be ebullient with his artistry and also deflecting. Often at the same time. 
That’s a whole lot of information. And yet, I feel like we still know so little. About him or his next release. 
 Rocky is smart. He’s private in the way he contains himself, from the way he avoids divulging the fashion labels he wears, to playing coy over who he’s dating. He also understands the thirst for content well and the beats of an interview and what folks are looking for from him, even if he gives little more than headline fodder. 
Then there’s been the scarcity of new music. Yeah, he’s done some features here and there, but largely “Sundress” and “Babushka Boi” are what solo works of his we have to examine. 
Though “Babushaka” was his last proper release, “Sundress” and perhaps his “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” cover reveal a tidbit of where he’s going next: stretching his vocal abilities to deliver something that’s a mashup of singing and rap. 
He’s hardly predictable. 
Whereas his debut, Long.Live.A$AP, was an extension or a final resolution to the sound that ignited his part, the follow-up, At.Long.Last.A$AP, pushed more sonic boundaries, particularly a mainstream hip-hop artist. And 2018’s Testing, though deemed lukewarm on arrival, has aged well. 
That’s the thing about Rocky. He can be ebullient with his artistry and also deflecting. Often at the same time. 
Case in point: He’s actively used his Twitter account, while wiping his Instagram clean in January with hardly the murmurs from press when most artists do the same.  
A$AP Rocky isn’t really who we think he is. His charisma, high cheek bones and style profile as a superstar. But artistically, he’s more of a recluse, brooding, and finds more interest in poking and prodding new directions. 
“People always talk about branding,” Geno Sims told me years ago about Rocky, when he co-managed him and I wrote a story about the “Purple Swag” rapper for Billboard. “People worry about standing next to a Coke bottle and call it branding. They should let the artist develop who they are and then brand them. Let the artist cultivate and grow to have their own identity and then you brand them.”
A memory I think about often is during the Summer Jam spots that run on Hot 97 to promote the yearly super concert. A voiceover lists several artists and after each a brief sound up of their most recent hits plays for a beat or two. It was fairly predictable for most artists, but when Rocky’s name came up, A$AP Ferg’s “Work” queued instead. It was indicative of Rocky’s position: popular without a pop record that could be attached to him. 
That’s where he resides, right in front of us and nowhere to be seen at the same time. 
Until we get an album.
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
Don Tolliver descended down from heaven to bless us with “What You Need,” my favorite new record of the week. Isaiah Rashad and J.Cole will activate a lot of Twitter fingers, but don’t sleep on this one. [Listen]
The return of J.Cole starts with “Interlude,” a very J.Cole type of table setting. [Listen]
Sampling Three 6 plus a “Martin” audio clip? Ha. Isaiah Rashad cooked up something with “Lay Wit Ya” and Duke Deuce delivered too. This is slow riding, profiling music. [Listen
Fresh out with a new album, Tee Grizzley’s Built For Whatever is a muscular listen with a workman’s like build to its tracklist. The third track, “Built To Last,” is where this project feels like it begins after an understated opening track followed by the rumbling King Von-collab “Not Gone Play.” “Careless” featuring YNW Melly, “Life Insurance” featuring Lil Tjay and “Evictions” are early favs. Some good game on the last one. [Listen]
Toosi is still pulling it all together, but after listening to his new mixtape, Thank You For Believing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a Roddy Ricch level up in him. [Listen]
Cobbled together from his catalog, A-Trak puts together these loosies (featuring Young Thug, Juicy J, CyHi The Prince, Jim Jones, Juvenile and more) for an enjoyable EP, Rap Crate. [Listen]
W mag’s music issues features covers with Bad Bunny and Saweetie. [Read] [Read]
How can you not click on this? Black Thought talks to The Paris Review about his writing. [Read]
Twitter teams up with Billboard for a new chart based on the most-tweeted about music. [Read]
GQ publishes a definitive look at Juice WRLD’s life and death. [Read]
Not just a new single: Isaiah Rashad covers The Fader to talk about his forthcoming album, The House Is Burning, and the tribulations he endured on the way to finishing the project. [Read]
The New York Times with a very cool, illustrated piece on Dallas Penn and his sneaker moves. [Read]
This Pigeons & Planes piece about working in the music biz is filled with such great quotes and my friends, Dominique Maldonado and Alex Damashek, delivered. Related, both spoke to me for the Backseat Freestyle 25 predictions for 2021 piece I did. [Read]
More details emerge from Pop Smoke’s killing after a witness testified at a recent hearing. [Read]
Khaled: XXL digital cover and videos for “Every Chance I Get,” “Thankful” and We Going Crazy.” [Read] [Watch] [Watch] [Watch]
Big Daddy Kane teamed up with MC Serch on a new podcast diving in the the career of Antonio Hardy. [Listen]
I love this video and shouts to The Town. ALLBLACK recruits E-40 and G-Eazy for “10 Toes.” [Watch]
It’s a big weekend for J Balvin. His new Amazon documentary premieres and he’s been more outspoken about the violence happening in his home country of Columbia. Here, Jose, let’s loose a pensive track, “7 De Mayo,” that marks a lot of the makings of the man. Plus, it’s his born day, Feliz cumpleaños. [Watch]
Young MA has been hit or me, to me, with her freestyles and early offerings leading up to her next album (which she announced, Off the Yak, will arrive May 2) but “Hello Baby” featuring Fivio Foreign is a good track with a cool visual for a lowkey video. [Watch]
Soundcloud set rejoice! This “Miss The Rage” vid is Trippie Redd’s aesthetic and the track is Playboi Carti’s sound. Might be time for a doc on this era. [Watch]
RapCaviar tapped the LVRN crew for a cypher featuring Westside Boogie, BRS Kash, OMB Bloodbath, NoonievsEverybody and 6lack. [Watch]
I gotta admit, week by week Coi Leray is winning me over. This is a fun clip of her TV debut, performing “No More Parties” on The Tonight Show. [Watch]
Next week, Rakim is performing via a live stream…hosted by Rich Dollaz. [Info
Uptown 4ever: Remembering Andre Harrell on the one-year anniversary of his passing. I always say, he had every reason in the world to be the one to do all the talking and instead he would listen. (He talked plenty too. Ha.) [My IG post]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or want to discuss sponsoring a newsletter issue, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon

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Jayson Rodriguez

What's driving hip-hop? Find out with a reported essay + curated links to new music/music vids, pod recommendations and good reads delivered straight to your inbox every Friday. Vroom, vroom.

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