A$AP Rocky’s ‘LongLiveA$AP’: Album Review

Patrick Bowman | January 15, 2013 5:30 am
A quick survey of the most critically lauded, young MCs working in hip-hop today reveals a generation of artists who thrive by combining underground experimentation with mainstream polish. There is no demarcation line between spheres of influence; all that matters is pushing their craft and vision forward. (It’s the Kanye West trickle-down effect.) A$AP Rocky has produced some of the most fascinating hip-hop of the decade due in large part to this philosophy, but the 24-year-old Harlem native stands apart from his peers because of his creative malleability and seemingly effortless charisma.

On his debut mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, Rocky embraced disparate types of production — Clams Casino’s cloud-hop, Lyle’s metallic grind, Beautiful Lou’s Spaghetti Western vibe — and sounded fantastic over all of them. On LongLiveA$AP (out today, ), Rocky used his bigger budget (as executive producer no less) to significantly amplify the things that worked so well the first time around. With only a few small adjustments to cadence and speed, Rocky immediately adapts to seemingly any beat, remaining charmingly unflappable through every heroic couplet and sing-song chorus that spills from his lips. But it’s not just the sheer variety of production touches that impresses: Rocky has assembled a seriously legit roster of superstars and young MCs. This all combines to complement his slippery flow and enduring coolness.

The title track opens the album and immediately starts kicking down doors with an ominous, gladiatorial beat from Jim Jonsin and Rico Love, and a typically cool Rocky who has few, if any, fucks left to give: “I said I’d probably die in prison, expensive taste in women/Ain’t had no pot to piss in, now my kitchen full of dishes.” From there, it’s a pretty steady onslaught of tracks that have banged around music blogs for the past six months punctuated by newer cuts, experimental and populist alike.

The Hit-Boy helmed “Goldie” was (hopefully) on everyone’s 2012 year-end list, with this line alone worth the price of admission: “Cristal go by the cases/Wait hold up that was racist/I would prefer the Aces/Ain’t no difference when you taste it.” “Fuckin’ Problems” with 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar is probably the most conventional track on the album (and closest to a radio single), but comes off as entertainingly slick and gives K-Dot a chance to pretty much blow everyone out of the water on his verse. The Clams Casino-produced tracks “LVL” and “Hell” both vibrate with a warmth that Rocky reciprocates with a syrupy flow, eventually spiked by Santigold‘s anthemic chorus on the latter. Then there’s the already-legendary posse cut “1 Train” featuring no less than Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. going H.A.M. over an extremely sturdy 36 Chambers-ish Hit-Boy beat.

Rocky closes out the album with the epic, self-produced track “Suddenly” that plays like a stream-of-consciousness memoir with moments stolen from his youth in Harlem. Over a chilling, sparsely tuned beat, Rocky describes his desolate surroundings (“Roaches on the wall/Roaches on the dresser”), his parents trying to get by (“Mommy watching Oprah/Daddy in the kitchen whipping soda”) and regular shootings next to family events (“And fish fries and shootouts, like one Sig with two rounds”). By the end of the song, he just can’t believe he’s suddenly so comfortable, given where he’s come from. Part of him is thankful, sure, but he seems more dumbfounded than anything. All Rocky can do is look up to God to make sure he can believe the success he’s had.

For the MC who has made his name on not giving a fuck, this moment of self-awareness is bracing. A$AP Rocky isn’t taking anything for granted, people. He swears.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: “Suddenly” might be Rocky’s biggest Artistic Statement, and he sticks the landing.

Best Listened To: Through a pair of Beats headphones while riding the 1 train.

Idolator Rating: 4/5

Patrick Bowman