By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
And, perhaps most memorably, on "High Fly and 2Fresh," A-Game opens with six aesthetically brilliant bars where he bounces rhyming syllables off a succession of upbeats before exploding into a full pair of bars on the beat drop, in a display of verbal dexterity so jarring and pleasant it's hard not to immediately rewind the track. It was A-Game's biggest risk on the mixtape, and it suggests that somewhere beneath the gifts that produced these very good songs, lie abilities he has yet to explore.
Seven hours into the session, and A-Game is keeping pace. He's in the booth, recording "My Nigga," a dedication to people who helped him get within arm's length of his dream.
The first verse is about his brother and growing up poor in north St. Louis and dodging all those obstacles of urban poverty that picked off so many young men around them. The second verse is about his father and how he taught him to be a man and how he forgives him for leaving. Then he gets into the third verse:
"Let me tell you how I got here, though/Me, Korey and Sterl started this a year ago..."
A year ago, A-Game had climbed out of rock bottom by returning to school, which is when Sterling and Korey pushed him to record a mixtape. Because A-Game was broke, Sterling and Korey put together some savings and bought him studio time. He released Hottest in tha City. Then he started performing; sometimes he got paid to do a set, sometimes he just jumped on an open mic. Each time he networked, shaking hands and handing out his mixtape and phone number. More shows. More fans. More connections.
In March, he released Tha Coolezt Lozer, and a month later he opened for J. Cole in Columbia in front of 2,000 people. More fans. More connections. More shows. He signed with a manager, and, since spring semester ended, he's been shuttling between St. Louis and Southern California, where he couch hops and performs. He opened for Noreaga in LA earlier this summer. In June, he hosted one of the S.L.U.M. Fest stages, cracking jokes and performing between the scheduled acts. He was named one of the festival's "Freshman Class."
"Still broke as a mother, but I'm living comfortably/I thank all of y'all/'cause you were around when it way ugly."
A-Game's out of the booth and listening to the final product. He's leaning on a swivel chair as the song winds down.
"So when I get this money, we gon' live large, 'cause y'all my niggas, y'all my niggas."
He pulls the brim of his fitted over his eyebrows. The achievements and failures and fears and dreams of the past twelve months, of the past twenty years, rush through his mind. That's why tears are dripping down his face...
And that's why his smile is so big ten days later, when he looks out from the stage and sees more than 100 people packing the Dog House, dancing to his music, celebrating the release of Hottest in tha City 2.
After performing several songs, he strolls to a dark corner of the bar and picks up a Creative Recreation shoebox filled with 200 burnt CDs. Then he goes around and hands out his mixtape.