A$AP Rocky’s had a rough week that looks like its not getting better any time soon. He was detained in Sweden for what was initially designated aggravated assault, but was then downgraded to standard assault. Details were fuzzy, and TMZ obtained a video that clearly showed Rocky and three others fighting with two men. In response, Rocky posted a video that clearly shows he and his crew attempting numerous times to de-escalate the situation and asking the men to please stop following them. He was denied bail by Swedish authorities due to concerns about flight risk, and according to Ferg is being held in solitary confinement without any phone call allowances while the courts take two weeks to determine whether or not to go to trial.
Now feels like the best time to look back on Rocky’s considerable impact over the last decade or so. He burst onto the scene in 2011 with singles like “Peso” and “Purple Swag,” levied internet buzz into a massive $3 million contract with Interscope, released a now-beloved mixtape, and went on to become one of the biggest names in rap. The Harlem bred artist draws on myriad sounds and influences to create a world uniquely his own. He puts his unmistakable mark on every project he takes on, be it fashion, music, acting or any other pursuit.
Here is a list of the top 25 songs, listed from worst best to best-best, that the prodigious rapper has turned out over the last decade.
A$AP Rocky performs in Singapore, 2019 – Christopher Jue/Getty Images
25. Praise the Lord (Da Shine)
The second single released for Rocky’s 2018 album Testing is a standout on a record that is oftentimes overproduced and undercooked. Rocky and Skepta trade verses and then collaborate on a final verse, all over a Skepta beat that somehow makes woodwinds sound swaggy.
The lead single and titular track from Rocky’s first studio record served as a blueprint for the rest of the album. Rocky was as cocky and quick witted as ever, slowing down between verses for a sung chorus and layering vocal tracks on the final verse to create the illusion of a group chant.
“Leaf,” from the latter half of his debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP features the type of hyper slowed down production that would later become a touchstone for Rocky. He drops into double time rapping occasionally on verses, and addresses early critics pointedly. “Get off my dick.”
22. Excuse Me
“Excuse Me” is mostly notable for how fun it is. The At.Long.Last.A$AP track finds Rocky rapping conversationally over a lilting beat for the song’s first half, until a sung chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Coldplay album cuts in. After it hits, Rocky gradually speeds up his verses until he sounds nearly out of breath by the time the last chorus slows the momentum.
M$ is an mid-tempo Lil Wayne-featuring track that finds Rocky in his various comfort zones. Self-assured (“I’d like to thank myself because I made myself the man”), bragging about money (“It’s like lately all I seem to think about is M’s”), and chasing women (“I wanna see you take it all off/and she just wanna make it harder”). The song also features a relatively energized Wayne at a time when his career had fallen off in a major way and it was unclear whether he’d ever rap the same again.
20. Fuckin’ Problems
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“Fuckin Problems,” the massive hit from Long.Live.A$AP, features three huge superstars in Drake, 2 Chainz (on the hook, not yet at his apex) and Kendrick Lamar, and it sounds like it. The song is all playful braggadocio and boastfulness as the rappers each extol the (ironic) problems of wealth and fame.
19. Canal Street
The second track on At.Long.Last is named after a famous street in lower manhattan thats often frequented by tourists. In an interview with Elliot Wilson on “CRWN” Rocky claims he bought two gold medallions there. Accordingly, its another chance for Rocky to reflect on how much his life has changed, from the hustle of his youth to the excess of his post-music fame (“I went from roaches on my bump to red broaches on the cuff”). The beat begins with a stark electric piano line, but eventually blooms into something lush and gorgeous that mirrors the rapper’s approximation of his own life. Maybe.
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Languid Beats and Rocky’s signature pitched down ad-libs power this fun collaboration with ScHoolboy Q from Rocky’s second album. The chanted chorus, a nod to Lil Wayne’s “Pussy, Money, Weed,” is sandwiched between verses that find Rocky and Q playfully borrowing elements of each others’ flow. It’s memorable and direct in its simplicity. It’s all they really need.
“Suddenly” is an exercise in momentum. The track starts as if being broadcast from the bottom of a pool, muted voices singing the song’s title over and over, until Rocky’s voice breaks in clear and at the front of the track. The beat slowly becomes more developed as Rocky speeds up his flow. Around the 2:30 mark the drums hit and Rocky goes into triple time. After a few acrobatic bars Rocky stops abruptly and the track lapses into a sustained outro kicked off by Rocky’s narration and chanted group “ay’s.”
16. Electric Body
ScHoolboy Q and Rocky seem to feed off of each other’s energy every time they collaborate. “Electric Body,” which sits near the middle of At.Long.Last. finds them trading verses with their usual enthusiasm, but the chorus is what makes this one so memorable. (This seems to be a theme on Rocky/Q tracks). It’s mostly a description of a woman dancing, but the staccatto “clap-clap-claps” and singsong “shake that ass girl” make for a memorable weirdo of a song.
Oh, “Trilla.” Rocky tumbles over a trebly guitar riff, showcasing his ability to use syllables like needles, nimbly pin-pricking his way through verses until dropping into Bone Thugs appropriating fast rap. The song owes a lot to the Cleveland crew, but also serves to introduce Rocky’s multi-influenced take on New York rap.
14. Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2
“LPFJ2” is a brash and exhilarating declaration of Rocky’s newfound (at the time) rap supremacy. Synths blast like sirens and Rocky references his Long.Live.A$AP track “Jodye” from a newly game-dominating position. It’s harsh and braggy in all of the right ways.
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“1Train” is a killer group track. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T. and the always-welcome Danny Brown all show up for a straightforward flow showcase (flowcase). It’s built to impress and fully delivers. Joey Bada$$ hadn’t yet reinvented himself as a conscious act, Action Bronson was a mogul in the making, and Brown was as erratic and transcendent as he’s always been.
“Angels” is lush and wonderful. Rocky floats over a resplendent beat, dipping in and out of flows (as is his wont) and declares that he brought Harlem back. Maybe he did.
On “Wavybone” Rocky leans all the way into his screw influence. It’s knowing, purposeful and served with a wink. Mid-song, a familiar voice with an unmistakable Port Arthur twang hops on the track. Pimp C himself shows up for a post-mortem verse. C boasting about his plans to “get me some head from Sheryl Crow” dates it pretty obviously, but it’s a wonder to hear his voice again, set amidst southern funk rap beats that he would’ve snapped on with ease. Juicy J and Bun B also show up, and Rocky allows each guest to do what they do best. Meta-rap has never been better.
10. Brand New Guy
Another Rocky/Q collab, another showcase for the two’s undeniable chemistry. Q takes point here while Rocky dances around the perimeter, always around but only showing up when necessary. This is the dynamic duo’s opus, a masterpiece of back and forth wherein Rocky throws the idea of fashion to the dogs and demands we consider him its thesis; it’s the one where Q flexes his gift for onamonapia and steals the spotlight from the man of the hour.
9. Pretty Flacko
Pretty Flacko came out between Rocky’s mixtape and commercial debut, and finds him in an intoxicatingly confident zone. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he’s as famous as Mozart and how hoes lark on his go-carts. It’s a dizzyingly fun track that sounds like Rocky realizing his new power in real time. Get your motherfucking hands up.
8. Out of This World
Rocky kicked his way onto the scene with veritable force. After signing a deal with Interscope, he dropped this one-off track. It’s all synth and booming drums. It’s Rocky (correctly) anticipating his success while retaining his trademark cool, and it sounds like a wildly-talented kid peeking excitedly through all of the doors that had just been opened in front of him.
The Live.Love.A$AP opener is grand and considered. Rocky takes his time to tell us about his influences and establish his idiosyncratic style for what was the first time he had a massive audience waiting to hear what he had to say. He drops into his triple time midwest flow to shout out Houston and Harlem. A$AP revealed himself to be a rapper that could mix influences without stepping on any toes and a cocky rap game mogul on the first track of his first mixtape, and it sounds as impressive as you’d think.
6. Kissin Pink
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I’m going to drop whatever semblance of relative objectivity a top 25 list could possibly have and say that this is my all time favorite Rocky song, and I can’t believe my editor let me put it this high on the list. (Shout out Rose) [Editor’s Note: Lol]. Rocky spends most of the time singing through a blissed out, lean-induced haze. He extols the virtues of promethazine and women in an absurdly catchy sing-song cadence before introducing the world to the joys of A$AP Ferg, the ecstatic weirdo and A$AP Mob member who would go on to have a successful solo career of his own. Ferg shouts out Houston legends Pimp C, DJ Screw and Big Moe; he lets us in on his bizarro nickname (Fergenstein), and generally sounds like nothing in rap sounded at the time. His energetic syllable manipulation that collapses into a new earworm every other line and goofy delivery provide the perfect foil to A$AP’s languid cool. The two are the clear stars of the A$AP Mob, and this early track offers a blueprint for how and why they would break free of the Mob and into the rap stratosphere. It’s also just fun and catchy and clever as hell. Long.Live.KissinPink.
“You better fucking recognize that shit A$AP.” So starts one of the most confrontational tracks of Rocky’s career. The hectic production suits the threatening tone. This early on, Rocky clearly felt the need to carve out his spot and let his would-be peers know he was peerless. The production is all slowed down boom bap and pitched down vocals, a sound that Rocky would use so effortlessly and effectively in the future that you’d recognize that shit A$AP.
Rocky has done some of his best work with producer Clams Casino, and “Wassup” is the nexus of their collaboration, a meeting of the minds wherein two artists’ styles were so perfectly complimentary that the result was an instant classic and a declaration of an entirely unique aesthetic. The hook became iconic, one of the most memorable statements of purpose in rap this decade. “I be that pretty motherfucker/Harlem’s what I’m reppin’/tell them quit the bitchin’ I’ma make it in a second.” In an early show of branding genius, Rocky released the song with a wild-ass video. In it, he bathes in cash and drinks champagne while topless models swap spit and jewels in the shower behind him. It also features Rocky brandishing a leashed dog like a weapon, even if the dog doesn’t look too convinced about its own menace, and a 40-drinking, blunt smoking session on what looks to be the Harlem River. Here is Rocky perfecting the sound that would make him a star.
3. Purple Swag
This was the first Rocky song I ever heard. I think my friends and I passed the YouTube video back and forth enough times to make up roughly half of its now nearly 54 million (!) views. It’s short, fun, and has a dope beat change halfway through where Rocky sings a slowed down version of the “Wassup” chorus. In the caption for the song, which was posted on July 11, 2011, Rocky wrote “IM FROM HARLEM BUT I HAD TO PAY HOMAGE TO ALL THE HOUSTON LEGENDS.” His expectations-fueled excitement perfectly encapsulates what makes this extremely low-stakes song so perfect. He’s from Harlem, he loves Houston, and the two sounds blended to make a potential throwaway track a legendary flex.
After Rocky’s first studio album Long.Live.A$AP was announced in mid-2012, fans were understandably nervous. Would his first studio album lose the fun, carefully mishmashed beats of his mixtape? Would it be cleaned up for radio play to the extent that it lost its unique charm? Would Rocky still be the pretty motherfucker we’d come to love? The two release date delays didn’t help. Then came Goldie. The record’s first single, produced by Hit-Boy, puts everything that makes Rocky great front and center. The beat is a little cleaner than before, the accompanying video has considerably higher production value than the early internet hits, but Rocky’s personality and infectious charm shine all the brighter for it. The pitched down vocals are still here in the song’s extended hook, Rocky still raps with vigor and Houston-by-way-of-Harlem swagger about hoes and clothes, and the video is still curated with utmost taste. The song was a reassurance and a warning shot. Rocky’s still Rocky, but now he has the money and the platform to blow his competitors out of the water.
“Peso” is when we met the Pretty Motherfucker. He identifies himself as such himself at the 0:08 mark of the track, introducing a moniker that would stick for a considerable amount of time. After gaining traction with singles like the preceding “Purple Swag” and “Out of This World” and Rocky’s much-touted $3 million deal with Sony/RCA, Rocky teased his first mixtape with this piece of sublime genius. “Peso” is indicative of everything that would ingratiate Rocky to the listening public, combining the Houston Screw influenced production by A$AP Mob affiliate Ty Beats with Rocky’s distinctly Harlem bred sensibilities. The Pretty Motherfucker touches on subjects that would come to define his legacy in the first half of the 2010s-namely fucking whatever he wants, boasting an impeccable taste in high dollar street-wear, and pushing the general swagginess of the A$AP Mob.
Swag is a concept that has pervaded rap for years. It’s a catchall for fashion choices and the overt cockiness displayed by innumerable rappers that predate Rocky. Rakim Mayers, however, was the first rapper to take the term from a vague adjective to a hashtagable declaration of supremacy, a lifestyle and calling card that defined his aesthetic both musically and extracurricularly.
Despite, or perhaps in tandem with the untouchable cool Rocky effused at the beginning of his career, his music always betrayed a warmth and intelligence that made it stand out amongst numerous clout rap peers. Rocky stuck as soon as he came on the scene. His understanding of genre, cadence and rap history hinted at the multi-hyphenate mogul he has become. “Peso” puts all of these tendencies and (false) contradictions on display. As soon as he got here, the Pretty Motherfucker made sure we knew he was here to stay.