Does The New A$AP Rocky Video Sample Daniel Johnston?


In 2011, Harlem rapper, A$AP Rocky, began making waves on a global scale, first with individual singles going viral and, later, with his critically acclaimed, breakout mixtape, LIve. Love, A$AP and a $3-million record deal signed with Sony SubsidiaryPolo Grounds Music with distribution through RCA Records.  Part of a much larger collective of artists — rappers, producers, directors, designers, etc. — known as A$AP Mob, Rocky had his deal structured so that $1.3-million of it was designated toward funding his own company, A$AP Worldwide, alongside A&R/producer/A$AP Mob founder, A$AP Yams.  That foresight allowed them to successfully develop the careers of other members, to make moves independently of the label, and for the mob itself to gain traction and thrive over the years.  While rappers like A$AP Ferg elevated to join Rocky in the spotlight, Yams was more of a figure behind the scenes, albeit it a vital one, until his untimely death in January of 2015.  In May of that year, Rocky revealed that Yams had actually been working on a “crazy album” of his own, before his passing.  He explained that, since they were planning to work on it together, he was now dedicating himself to finishing it, stating, “he left his notebooks and blueprints and I’m just picking where he left up.”

Recently, A$AP Rocky announced that the project, which he’s been referring to as “Cozy Tapes,” has finally been finished.  He’s also mentioned that “The Cozy Tapes album is called ‘Friends Minus’” and that, along with the rest of A$AP Mob, it will feature all of their friends, associates, and “people that Yams would have wanted.”  Rocky has, more or less, promised to usher in a new wave of hip hop with the release, describing it by saying, “It’s really rap-punk meets alternative underground.”  Hoping to both meet and maintain the surrounding hype of an album that is still yet to have an official release date attached to it, a new 12-minute video just premiered via, a couple of days ago.   Shot in black and white over 3 days in Northwest London and directed by Rocky‘s creative collective, AWGE, the short film features Cozy Tapes tracks,”Money Man (feat. A$AP Nast)” and “Put That On My Set (feat. Skepta)” operating almost like 2 separate music videos embedded within a larger connecting narrative, which, as Redbull explains, “tells the tragic story of Rina, a character trapped in a world of crime and misfortune.”

It’s an ambitious project that is already beginning to pay off, with this first 12-minute sample quickly making the rounds across the internet and yielding a solid response.  But, while so many have already been following the progress of Cozy Tapes with baited breath, and/or are tracking and discovering these updates through their favorite hip hop-minded outlets or retweets from other prominent artists, my attention was brought to this video via a much more left-field and unexpected resource: the Facebook page for The Stress Records Museum of Love featuring the art of Daniel Johnston.

Those well versed in the history of lo-fi legend and outsider artist, Daniel Johnston should also be aware of the name Jeff Tartakov, if not his cassette label, Stress Records.  Daniel‘s official website provides this brief, partial description of Jeff and Stress‘s immeasurable contribution to Johnston‘s legacy.

Daniel’s early song-writing years were characterized by his individually hand-made cassette tapes which he made and handed out to friends and strangers.

He use the cheapest tapes he could buy, and even subscribed to free-by-mail subscriptions to denominational preachers just so he could re-use the cassette tapes. Some of the preaching on those tapes later were kept on the albums he created!

Jeff Tartakov and Stress Records then continued the tradition of hand made / hand copied cassette tapes for decades.

Although Tartakov is no longer responsible for distributing his musical catalog, Stress continues to faithfully promote Daniel and his artwork in other ways, driven by a sincere desire to assist in the expansion of appreciation and visibility for Johnston‘s work.  Earlier today, the Stress Facebook page posted a link to the Redbull piece featuring the A$AP video, along with the question, “Anybody else hear Despair Came Knocking?” making reference to the song, “Despair Came Knocking” which originally appeared in 1983 as a track on Daniel‘s most famous release, Hi, How Are You?: The Unfinished Album.  If there’s one person in this world who is familiar with the Daniel Johnston catalog inside and out — especially, the early stuff — it has to be the man responsible for hand-copying and distributing those titles for all of those years.  That’s why, when I saw that post, I knew that there was a high likelihood that there might be some merit to it.  That being said, please keep in mind that whoever posted and commented regarding the apparent similarities between the A$AP Rocky video and Johnston‘s tune on the Stress page (I’m assuming it’s Tartakov) never made a definitive claim or accusation pertaining to their assumption one way or the other.  In fact, they even clarified that they’re “not sure,” simply noting that it sounds like it could be a sample.  As for my own opinion, however, it definitely sounds like it, right down to how the tempo slows at the very end in each of them.

Check it out for yourself, below.

The music in question doesn’t appear during the actual A$AP songs “Money Man” or “Put That On My Set,” but rather in the lead up and outro segments surrounding them.  The very beginning seems to mirror the notes of Daniel‘s tune, but the portion that sounds like it could possibly be a direct sample enters at around the 1:25 mark and extends until about 2:41.  It then returns for the last minute, resurfacing around the 11:11 mark.

Here’s Johnston‘s recording to compare it to.  Let us know what you think.

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it's hard to recall all of the details. "I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn't actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room... but it wasn't actually here... it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle."

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