It was only a few years ago when Rakim Mayers, named by his mother after that Rakim änd better known as A$AP Rocky, decided to stop his illegal activities in favor of a rap career. A decision that turned out far from bad for him, as his buzz on the web already reached such hights in 2011 that Sony was willing to part with 3 million dollars to get his signature under a contract.
When your solo debut, the mixtape Live.Love.A$AP, is subsequently internationally lauded, it’s no exaggeration to say your the next big thing in this game of rap. Still, it’s been relatively quiet lately around the young Harlem star, who made such an impression with his “dirty south” influenced style, flowing dexterously over atmospheric, sprawling beats. Especially when those beats were delivered by the up ’til then fairly unknown Clams Casino, it resulted in a striking and distinctive sound. There was beef here and there, a successful collaboration on Schoolboy Q’s album (‘Hands On The Wheel’), a well-received single (‘Goldie’) and then, nothing. His album was pushed back multiple times until it didn’t even see the light of day in 2012. Officially that is, because in a somewhat ironic twist, the album leaked to the web way back in December. That same medium the A$AP Mob so effectively employed to their benefit. Now the album will finally be released, and the world will be able to judge whether Rocky fulfills on his initial promise.
He may be named after a man once dubbed the “God MC,” but A$AP Rocky has never been known as a man working his way through extended metaphors, punchlines and elaborate concepts. That isn’t necessarily a shortcoming; Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s maniacal funk was in a class of its own, but it wasn’t filled with double entendres either, while Biz Markie’s party anthems won’t be compared to the words of Socrates by anyone. Nonetheless, these guys have undeniable rap classics to their name. Rocky’s strong suit is in lacing spacious, minimalistic beats, with a nimble flow that dances through the music, has captivating, catchy lines and simply sounds good. Coupled with a preference for unconventional beats it may lead to an unpretentious, entertaining rap album, like his mixtape proved earlier. Long.Live.A$AP however, his first album actually hitting the store shelves, only partially succeeds in doing so.
The album has a strong opener in its title track, where the falsetto chorus is juxtaposed with a chopped & screwed part. Rocky certainly isn’t a great singer, but through the interesting contrast, a dose of confidence and a dope beat, he gets away with it it easily. After the aforementioned ‘Goldie’ follows ‘PMW,’ which adds another notch to the line of tracks by Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky with great chemistry between the two. The two Clams Casino productions are highlights as well, but unfortunately they’re the only contribution from the man who had such a key role in shaping Rocky’s sound. Solid performances by Drake and Kendrick Lamar can’t stop ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ from being marred by a horrible and nonsensical hook by 2 Chainz, who besides name recognition, adds absolutely nothing to the track. What’s probably worse for Rocky though, is that by the end of the track you’ll have a hard time even remembering his verse, rendering him a guest performance on his own single. The same thing happens to the posse track ’1Train,’ on which the entire American “new school” of rappers comes along for an impressive guest feature, casting a shadow over the host he’s unable to escape from. This relegates the man who’s supposed to be the main attraction to the background, and while the track works on its own, it causes the momentum of the album so sag. Besides from that, the album also suffers through tracks like ‘Wild For The Night’ featuring Skrillex, which may score points during the nightlife with its lazy baiting of the dubstep audience, but utterly fails to do so in the headphones, and ‘Fashion Killa,’ which offers a sugary parade of brand names that might be of interest to readers of Vogue, but far less so to those of a decent rap blog.
The momentum built during the first five songs doesn’t return on the rest of the album. The track ‘Phoenix’ still manages to create a late, pleasant surprise. It finally finds A$AP Rocky coloring outside the lines of his regular lyrical content, as he spins tales of his youth on a beat that builds so slowly it’s barely recognizable as such. When at the end the drums finally take the stage a superb tension and a remarkably intimate mood have been expertly accomplished. Unfortunately, Rocky doesn’t have as much to say on the rest of the album and neglects to compensate this lack of content and concepts with musically interesting ideas. Is Sony going to earn back its investment? Probably. It’s not hard to imagine Rocky delivering hit records and he’s the sort of rapper that could effortlessly add a verse to, for instance, a Rihanna track. To maintain attention for an entire album however, there’s simply not happening enough on Long.Live.A$AP. It’s not a bad album, but at the same time it’s nowhere close to focused enough to argue the opposite. As is the case with many major label debuts in the second decade of the 21st century: the mixtape was better.