Written By Ryan Lyons
Every once in a while, when my friends stop by the crib, we find time to recite our favorite Asaad rhymes in the open space of my Bushwick apartment. It’s true that though the way bits of his mind splatter over a record are almost random, that randomness is an element of what entices fans to listen to his gospel. Asaad's sound could be described as many things - charismatic, youthful, poignant, violent, honest, soulful and materialistic - but it’s never been boring.
I wrote a piece on the Philly rapper about three years ago called “A Rose That Grew From The Concrete” for RESPECT. Magazine, not too long after a friend recommended I give him a listen. The article focused on who Asaad was at that time: a black kid speaking about his plight in inner-city America, who was using his natural gift to express his differences, while still blending in his community. In between that time and now, Asaad’s amassed a discography that’s quite incomparable to the rest of his budding rap peers, with each entry of his discography being unique and inventive. With Flowers II, Asaad’s managed to create a somewhat consistency between all of the personality traits he has revealed in his previous works. As of right now, that consistency is the key to unlocking his mainstream arrival.
When Asaad showed up to a playground not far from my regular hangout spot in Soho with his childhood friend, P, and manager, Kev Storey, he was noticeably a little bit stockier than before. His face tattoos could provide all that is necessary to stereotype someone as typical gangster, but a short conversation with the emcee proves that he's more than just what meets the eye. No matter how carefully managed his answers to my questions were, there is a distinctive air about him. The energetic smile upon his face shows he's entirely ready to get the ball rolling on his career after a short stint away from the public eye. There's an understanding that that he doesn't necessarily want to engage in conversation about what he may reckon' as old news, but alas we drift.
“This record is sort of like me talking to my brother,” Asaad says of Flowers II, the second entry his Flowers series. He’s referring to his cousin Quill, who’s currently locked up. In many of his raps he is often referring to Quill as a mentor. “I wasn’t even planning to do a Flowers II”, he reveals. They don’t reveal what Quill’s locked up for, but Kev tells me that during certain periods Quill and Asaad grew up in the same house, which made their brotherhood bond much stronger.
While sitting in the shade on a green bench, Asaad told me that the “young bulls” in his neighborhood requested this record from him and maybe that’s why it feels so special because he went back to his neighborhood in North Philadelphia to ingest that inspiration. He ended up recording over 30 songs for the project, which Kev helped chop down to a concise 13 tracks. It was just the step Asaad needed to take.
Some fans took it on the chin when Asaad transformed into Saudi Money, the gun-toting antagonist that he portrays in songs like “VGM666” or “Bank Roll.” Many of the records that he released around the time are dark, and almost feel like someone’s pushing his buttons. In our 2012 interview when I mentioned the recent slight change in his content, he mentioned his first record Flowers saying, “My first installment was Flowers. And the message from that was the flower has to grow. There’s people who’d like to say I changed. No, I don’t believe in change. I believe in growth.” I still remember the conversation with him, where he also said that he’d rather be cool with the gangsters than the hipster kids. And it’s pretty obvious that the people that he grew up around are those that he wants to reach. Looking at artists like Chief Keef and Fredo, one could assume their own agenda, but where’s the balance in the tough talk? Where’s the conscious effort? In Asaad’s gangster, at least he gives us constructive things to think about. Yet still, I couldn't help but wonder if his new movement was counterproductive.
- Brain Outside My Head, Flowers, 2011
It didn't get any clearer to me, but rather got more confusing, when I stood backstage taking pictures last year at a Pusha-T show in Philly where Asaad was one of the opening acts. The energy in the show took a negative turn when when Asaad sprinted to the stage and yelled, “Fuck Pusha-T and everybody that love him.” This was around the time he dubbed himself Saudi Money. I asked his then best friend Troy and his management at the time what the deal was but either no one knew what was up or they just weren't willing to divulge any information.
Fans stood in the audience understandably confused. Here was Asaad, Philly’s brightest new star, dissing the headlining act. Back then it felt like a vie for attention. When I interviewed Pusha-T later that night, he partly answered my lingering questions as he stood near RE-UP GANG member Ab- Liva (who is reportedly Asaad’s cousin). Pusha responded, “ I’ve always been in Philly, but I don’t have to be friends with anyone. I don’t have to know Asaad.” That was it.
There’s much speculation that some of the work on G.O.O.D MUSIC’s Cruel Summer album can be traced back to inspiration from Asaad. Coming up in the ranks, he was mixing things like high fashion and street tales, branding hood aesthetics with higher taste, and the only artist that had really done that in such an avante garde way before him was Kanye. But, in terms of a prelude to Cruel Summer, for a deeper, darker, more spastic version of Kanye, we can look no further than Asaad’s 2012 project "White" for comparison. One of the songs from White bears the title, “God Flow” and coincidentally most of us know one of the singles from Pusha-T and Kanye West on Cruel Summer is called “New God Flow.”
Is it really a coincidence? One song from White, “Holy Mountain,” is named after a film released in 1973 by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Kanye West has cited that film as being one of the Yeezus Tour’s main influences. Asaad also uses this playbook for the first single on Flowers II, “Alejandro Jodorowsky” featuring Ab-Soul. At one point Asaad was even rumored to be apart of a supergroup along with rapper Curt@!ns and Pusha-T. He confirms it on Flowers II admitting, “RE-UP Gang group member, I was sort of psyched.”
It’s not that the music from any of these artists necessarily sounds the same, but there is definitely a similar aesthetic driven. Either Asaad and Kanye are on the same plane creatively, or there’s definitely been some interaction there. Speaking in interviews he’s hush-hush about the Pusha-T topic, almost looking to move past it. However, he divulges his frustration in his music: “Pusha T stole from me, he ain’t do me right.” He adds, "It’s fucked up, I can’t even listen to Lord Willin."
After Asaad’s "Saudi Money" movement and the first Pusha-T diss, it seemed like he had become a threat to anyone around him and was losing his relationships within and outside of the industry. He spoke vehemently on Twitter about an industry trying to lock him out. On record, he spoke about his parents ignoring him, his girlfriend breaking up with him, and the loss of friendships/record deals. His feud with former friends, including Fool’s Gold artist Grande Marshall became public and it took a toll on a more important burgeoning scene. He addresses it all in Flowers II like he's lifting a bowling ball off his chest.
During our first interview 3 years ago, he was surrounded by a bunch of friends, some of which he’s still on good terms with, and some not. It would be all too easy to blame it all on a dissolved friendship with Troy, the ex-friend who’s throwing up the middle fingers on the front of the Dirty Middle Class album cover, but that’s a topic that requires more conversation. That said, back then they were helping to usher in the beginning of a movement with New Black, a collective of kids who pushed Philly rap forward in an avant guarde way I hadn't heard prior. The projects that came out of that movement were a clever mix of eclectic taste and hood sensibility like Walt Fraze's I Represent The Ark, and Grande Marshall's 800.
Today, Asaad sat in between Kev and P, a noticeably smaller entourage, and he explained the process behind his smaller clique. "I definitely know that sometimes there’s a wrong crowd for certain people and if it doesn’t fit with your greater good and your goals then you have to cut things off so you can work for yourself.” P, Kev, and his girlfriend have been the main people that he surrounds himself with at this point. He continues, "Most of all I just learned to stay with a smaller circle and keep things true with them instead of inviting a parade or something like that.”
All the drama and rap beef aside, it’s Asaad’s masterful catalogue and mysterious aesthetic that’s gained him interest from many labels and respected artists alike. Though numerous label deals have fallen through, Asaad has essentially shown himself to be a black cat with nine lives. A recent open ear from Black Hippy’s Ab-Soul has kept Asaad in the midst of current rap royalty. “We just built a relationship. He was a fan of my shit, and I respected his work as well." Simple as that. On twitter Ab-Soul has tweeted his lyrics like a fan, and it’s what probably led to an eventual opening spot on tour with Schoolboy Q for a couple of dates. This fall he's been the opening act for Ab-Soul’s upcoming tour as well.
His manager, Kev Storey, who splits his time as a brand strategist at Epic records, couldn’t have come to Asaad’s aid at a better time. Later, on a phone call, he confirms how his affiliation with Asaad went down. “I saw Asaad before, but I make it a point to never really give rappers my opinion on their music. I didn’t take a second look until my friend told me I should get with him.” Kev recalls getting Asaad’s girlfriend’s number, and he eventually got back to him.
“I look at him like a little brother,” he continues. Kev spent time in Philadelphia working with artists through major labels like Atlantic Records, and became somewhat of “the guy” to meet as an intermediary into the music industry. He maintains that he’s learned to latch himself to his artist, and with Asaad he’s done just that. In the months that Asaad went haywire on social media, Kev convinced him to get rid of all that internet contact, and get back to where he was supposed to be. With all the relationships he's lost, the roles of non-blood brothers seems to be quintessential for helping Asaad stay on track in one way or another.
According to Kev, it's already easy for them to get a record deal. I think it’s important for Asaad to understand how records are broken so we can do that for other people. For us, we’re not opposed to a record deal, but we’re doing everything on our muscle. Right now, if we do sign with a label they would have to offer us something that we can’t refuse."
Asaad just sits back as if he couldn't have said it better himself.