Artist: ASAP Rocky
Album: Long Live A$AP
ASAP Rocky is a Harlem rapper who has been riding one of the largest waves of hype in hip-hop in recent memory. He first appeared on the radar with blunt and lean anthem Purple Swag. Following up from this success came one of the best mixtapes of 2011: Live Love A$AP. Rocky is clearly a product of the internet generation; being from Harlem has not limited his musical style. Live Love proved you could combine Bone Thugs flow, New York grittiness and a love for high fashion with Southern flavoured beats. He took the best of these elements and turned them into a truly good mixtape. Rocky was poised to be the next big thing in hip-hop. He may not have been the most lyrical or thoughtful rapper going, but he presented his style in a package that worked. If it knocks, then it knocks.
Which brings us to Long Live A$AP, Rocky’s studio debut. After months of delays due to sample clearances and final mastering and mixing for the album, people began to lose interest. 2012 gave us a wealth of decent hip-hop from rappers who not only presented well, but were lyrically gifted (Kendrick, Joey Bad, Action Bronson just to name a few). Like many projects that get delayed, there is always doubt on whether the project will actually deliver. Long Live A$AP basically achieves this with a mixture of the entirely predictable and the refreshingly interesting.
Like his mixtape, ASAP Rocky has proven yet again his immaculate ear for beats. Amongst the producers credited are old favourite Clams Casino, Soufein3000, Hit Boy, with a welcome return from the always great Dangermouse. Like Live Love there a few beats that stand separate from the others: the chopped up drums, great crashing chords and soaring strings of Phoenix; the slamming bass with the various chimes, gun cocks and cash registers of the title track; Clams Casino’s LVL showing why he ought to be remembered; the orchestral, theatrical strings of monster posse cut 1 Train. However, as good as all the production is, it lacks a certain memorability of the beats featured on the mixtapes. There is no Peso, Palace, Trilla or Get Lit here. The surprising guest feature (more on these later) of Skrillex provides one of the album’s “you’ll either love it or hate it” moments. From this reviewer’s perspective, it doesn’t work.
You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks Rocky is truly lyrical. Yet again, lack of lyricism proves to be his biggest short coming. By and large, the theme throughout the whole album is the braggadocios presentation of that “Pretty Motherfucker Lord Flacko.” After whole mixtapes of this theme, it is beginning to wear thin (that said, he easily holds his own with and even betters his fellow rappers on 1 Train, easily one of his strongest verses to date).
That’s not to say ASAP Rocky is always talking about how great he is, he does touch on introspection at points on this album. And there is worthwhile content to be found. Some of the introspection is laughable though, with Rocky taking potshots at the YouTube community for claiming he is “Illuminati.” It is both difficult to connect with or care about. Furthermore, while Phoenix was a high point on the album for me, rhyming several bars ending with the words “n****s” is lazy. His constant name-dropping of high fashion brands is also grating (not too mention patronising as the measurement of the perfect woman) and makes Fashion Killa the worst track on the album despite it having a dream beat. Like his mixtapes there are some lyrical gems to be found. On the title track he raps:
Where they shoot without a purpose, services ‘n hearses/Kids who ain’t deserve it, can’t survive a thing, you’re worthless/Strangers make me nervous, who’s that peekin’ in my window with a pistol to my curtains?
A good line for sure, but these are too few and far between. You are far more likely to hear:Yes, I’m the shit/tell me do it stink? If Rocky wants to achieve true success, lyrics are an area he needs to work on. Plenty of rap artists have delivered party hits with lyrical content. Rocky should too.
One thing this album is notable for is the number of (and strength of the) guest appearances. 1 Train is particularly notable for having six rappers and includes the strongest verses on the whole album - Big KRIT and Joey Bada$$ kill it big time. Elsewhere, Florence Welch, the most surprising guest, helps deliver one of the strongest cuts on the album - unlike Santigold, whose delivery on Hell felt uninspired, even forced. ScHoolboy Q and ASAP Rocky is always a good combo and PMW (All I Really Need) proves this once again. Mostly though, the guests are unremarkable. They simply occupy their verse (or hook) space and nothing else. Even Kendrick Lamar fails to truly deliver on his guest spots. The less said about ASAP Ferg’s atrocious guest spot the better.
Overall, this is a good album. Cut down to about nine tracks and it makes an excellent EP or short album. However, thematic and lyrical content, a few shoddy or boring guest spots and slightly less impressive production than past releases let the whole project down. A strong debut from that Pretty Motherfucker, but he will need to pick his game up come next album.