A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP (Album Review)
Since A$AP Rocky first burst onto the scene with his “Purple Swag” and “Peso” videos, listeners were immediately able to identify that the young Harlem emcee was bringing forth a new lane to the New York hip-hop sound. Following the success of his solo mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, Rocky’s early listeners and newly acquired fans haven’t stopped clamoring for a commercial release from the self-proclaimed “Pretty Mutha F***a.” Being that his tape offered an array of head-nodding tracks filled with luxury-laced lyrics and notable guest features, the anticipation for a label-funded LP seemed as if it would surely surpass the bar previously set. Just as plenty of artists before himself with highly successful mixtape releases prior to their commercial debut albums (e.g. Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Wale, Frank Ocean, etc.), Rocky has strategically set the stage up for himself to release one of the best projects this year.
With expectations high, Rocky pleasantly does deliver with his debut project LiveLoveA$AP. Rocky’s sound undeniably draws inspirations from multiple cultures throughout hip-hop, and fuses them into something that he’s finely tuned and packaged for his debut album. While Rocky’s most notable weakness throughout the album would have to be his lyrical ability, listeners should keep in the mind that the 24-year-old emcee still has plenty of time and projects to improve his penmanship. Instead of providing tracks with intricate wordplay and heavy lyrical content, Rocky plays to his strengths which highlight his keen ear for beats and hooks, and sugarcoats the setback with his charismatic flow and unique style.
His latest 16-track project comes jam-packed with an all-star cast of features – some more expected than others – and also some better utilized than others, but ultimately a notable collective of artists all lend their support to help make Long.Live.A$AP a quality offering. Finding himself reconnecting with ScHoolboy Q (“PMW”) and producer Clams Casino (“LVL” & “Hell”), Rocky also extends his hand out to upcoming talents such as OverDoz. (“Pain”), Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson (“1Train”) on the album. With modern-day fans finding themselves more and more drawn towards a track’s producer over the actual artists, Rocky takes note and finds himself alongside notable beatsmiths such as Hit-Boy (“Goldie” & “1Train”), Noah “40” Shebib (“F***in’ Problems”), Danger Mouse (“Pheonix”) and even EDM super-producer Skrillex (“Wild for the Night”).
Rocky even exercises his own talents behind the boards, co-producing a handful of tracks on his album under the moniker LORD FLACKO. Immediately giving listeners a sample of his personal production style on the album’s opening title track, he resorts back his hazy, bass-bumping sound that first burst him onto the scene. “Long Live A$AP” gets the album started off on the right foot as the cash registers ring, and gunshots bang and Rocky provides listeners with an alma mater track for him and his A$AP Mob.
The intro tune gets followed by the familiar single “Goldie,” where Rocky taps his Houston-inspired chopped and screwed style over the Hit-Boy production. The tempo of the track may feel a tad too slow to get the clubs “turnt up,” but the single is most definitely one fans will enjoy blasting through their car systems, making it a solid choice for his lead single. Hit-Boy’s production definitely shines through the most on the single, as Rocky’s mediocre lines such as: “Yes I’m the sh*t, tell me do it stink? It feels good to wake up to money in the bank,” seem quickly penned and unsatisfying. The track does give listeners an adequate anthem for those days when they wish to stunt are their haters though, and there might not be enough of those types of a days in a year for some, so it’s understandable if your play count on this finds itself on the high end.
Rocky and ScHoolboy Q try to prove the “third time’s a charm” theory on their track “PMW,” and which after hearing their previous collaborative efforts (“Brand New Guy” & “Hands On The Wheel”), automatically looked to be another standout track on the album. Unfortunately in comparison to its two predecessors “PWM” falls a bit short, not really supplying that chemistry we initially found from the two. Rocky attempts to showcase his vocal ability as he sings the hook, and it doesn’t quite live up to what Lissie’s sped-up “Pursuit of Happiness” sample did on “Hands On The Wheel.” Although the track is still one of the album’s highlights, it relies on a few favored subjects throughout the hip-hop community, as the two emcees drops verses in ode to girls, cash and drugs, aka “P***y, Money, Weed.” Being that Rocky has mostly supplied listeners with lifestyle raps in the majority of his previous work, we now get ourselves a revamped tune in celebration to the hip-hop holy trinity.
Although his reconnection with Q fell a bit short to what we’re accustomed to, Rocky’s reconnection with producer Clams Casino picks right back up where the two left off on their tune “LVL.” If any bit of doubt comes through your head within the first 30 seconds or so of the track where we see the Harlem emcee dropping his verse over various rapidly-repeating synths and vocal samples, that uncertainty is sure to go out as soon as Clams comes in with his drums and Rocky switches up his flow. “I’m a rap town n***a with the roof back. Introduce you n****s to the new swag. N****s say a n***a blew up too fast,” Rocky confidently proclaims over the cloudy production. Serving as a prime example of the newly carved lane A$AP Rocky has speared-headed, the track is then followed up by another tune with the two artists bringing along electronic songstress Santigold, titled “Hell.”
Both “Hell” and “Pain” see Pretty Flacko slowing things down for the listener. The 24-year-old emcee gives both established artist Santigold and upcoming Los Angeles-based crew OverDoz. the opportunity to highlight their talents to an audience they may not have previously harnessed, and the two parties set things up perfectly for the Club Paradise reuniting track “F***in’ Problems.” Calling upon the who’s who of current hip-hop with 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, the four artists combine their talents and drop a solid party track. 40 supplies a successful bass-heavy beat, and the four all bring their own unique element into the final outcome.
Looking to build off this party vibe, Rocky looks to crank things up to the max as he enlists arguably one of the biggest names in EDM with Skillex, on his track “Wild for the Night.” Kicking things off with screwed-up vocals and Rastafari-feel, the tune turns quickly with demonic vocals kicking in along with Skillex’s bass drums and synths. One can practically paint a mental picture of the lights, lasers and fog machines going off as this one plays along.
If the electronic scene is something you’re absolutely opposed to and “Wild for the Night” isn’t for you, then Rocky looks to make up for it with his superb posse cut “1 Train.” Each looking to outshine the other, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. all see the Hit-Boy production as a scouting, combine and run wild on it. No hook necessary, as each offers their talents in a cypher-esque fashion. Up to this point in the album, it’s hard to say that any of Rocky calculated moves have yet to fail him. His longtime fans have been satisfied with singles such as “Long Live A$AP” and “LVL,” and for those freshly introduced to him through radio and/or television should be more than pleased with his singles “Goldie,” “F***in’ Problems” and found a few others to add to a playlist.
What Rocky’s reason were to include “Fashion Killa” on the album aren’t certain. He tries to compose a high-fashion brand role call, and although it’s nothing new for him to name drop a few his favorite clothing companies, this one overdoes things beyond belief. The inevitable stemming from this track is plenty of Instagram selfies hashtagged #FashionKilla, and dependent upon which scantily clad models contribute, this may be the only positive note to take from this one.
The album is then followed up and put back on track with the Danger Mouse-produced single “Phoenix.” Returning to his dark, lifestyle raps, we hear the Harlemite boasting over the smoothed out, ghostly beat. Rocky questions if the hate he’s generated over time stems “Cuz the ride comes with doors that be suicide? Or the thighs on [his] whores be super-sized?” Serving as a tune to elaborate on his worry-free and fearless creed, he shares how he doesn’t allow criticism from those outside of his circle to affect his decisions. Little is known about the personal life of Rakim Mayers, but with this track Rocky takes a moment to open a bit, and describe how his success story is truly one of rags to riches. And if you don’t think he got personal enough with “Phoenix,” then he’s got you covered with the closing track on the standard edition of his album, titled “Suddenly.”
Producing the track himself, “Suddenly” is easily one of the most personal tracks Rocky has released to date. The rags to riches closing track has been a successfully implemented strategy used on albums such as Danny Brown’s XXX (“30”) and Kanye West’s College Dropout (“Last Call”). Rocky is the latest to apply the technique and absolutely closes out the album beautifully, leaving listeners wanting to know more about how one goes from his rough upbringing to practically overnight success. The looping vocal sample gets a haunting flanging effect, and Rocky’s lyrics echo throughout. Sharing stories of his early rap inspirations and even how he now views himself as a role model with his newly found success, the song shows fans that there’s another side we’ve yet to see from Pretty Flacko.
For those who shelled out the extra couple dollars to grab themselves the deluxe edition of the album, you’ll be happy to know that it was money well spent. Giving listeners four additional songs, Rocky first takes time out to address his recent beef with SpaceGhostPurrp on track number 13, “Jodye.” Rocky’s sudden raise to fame can partially be credited to Purrp’s early influence, and when the two joined forces on “Pretty Flacko,” it seemed as if the pairing was a match made in heaven. Now with multiple altercations having been reported, Rocky looks to air out the situation. Drawing its inspiration from SGP’s “phonk” style, LORD FLACKO again makes a co-producing appearance, as the Harlem emcee attacks his foe’s credibility. “Sneak diss you just to make a bill, now the world won’t take you serious,” Rocky spits towards the Raider Klan affiliate.
As one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album, “Ghetto Symphony” brings along MMG emcee Gunplay and the only feature from his A$AP Mob with A$AP Ferg. The trio take turns reciting their tales from the hood over the hard-hitting production, and both featured verses offering such unique contrasts from Gunplay’s raw lyrical display to Ferg’s playful and choppy flow. One instantly wonders why this track comes as a deluxe addition over a track such as “Fashion Killa,” which would have served a better purpose as a bonus cut. Rocky and Ferg take on the roles of OutKast emcees Andre 3000 and Big Boi for the delivery style of their verses, and the infectious rhythm of the hi-hat pattern is guaranteed to have your head nodding in synch.
For his final two bonus tracks we get “Angels” and the Florence Welch-assisted track “I Come Apart.” “Angles” comes as a familiar sounding tune, as he rhymes over a chiming instrumental that sees a dreamy layered “Ouu”-ing vocal throughout. Once again finding himself stepping out of the box on his outro track with the leading lady of Florence + the Machine, Rocky gives us his final offering with “I Come Apart.” Although the collaboration may not have been perfectly executed, there’s something there that still makes the track quite enjoyable. The tune is in no way a letdown, but given Rocky’s track record, it leaves a bit more to be desired for the album’s farewell.
Long.Live.A$AP is all in all a high-quality project for the budding star, providing something different for listeners on a wide spectrum. The fun nature of the LP makes it an enjoyable listen, and his ability to maintain the sound that made his mixtape so successful carries through on the commercial stage. Rocky’s attention to details is what will make him last in the long run, and his fearless attitude to push the envelope sonically has to make him one worthy of keeping an eye out for. Surely some will look at the album and consider it a step back from his LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, but you shouldn’t. If you’ve enjoyed the music he’s provided in the past, then the growth from his “Peso” days is displayed marvelously throughout his debut album.
- By Richard Brooks