In 2011 Rakim Mayers, known as A$AP Rocky, signed a major label deal reportedly worth $3m, off the back of just two singles, ‘Peso’ and ‘Purple Swag’, and then released his critically acclaimed mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. Not bad going for a 22 year old ex-drug dealer from Harlem. After numerous delays, Rocky has finally delivered the follow up, with his debut album LONG.LIVE.A$AP.
The opening title track kicks proceedings off nicely, alternating between an absolutely thunderous beat and a softly sung falsetto hook, setting the dark, moody tone of the album. The first single off on the album, ‘Goldie’ has a superb up-tempo beat, crafted by esteemed producer Hit-Boy, which is the perfect vehicle for Rocky’s charismatic braggadocio.
A$AP Rocky’s sonic inventiveness is still very much at the forefront. ‘LVL’, ‘Pain’ and ‘Fashion Killa’ are all classic examples of the trademark Rocky sound, layers of lush and hazy synths that envelope the listener, a style responsible for much of his mixtapes critical praise. ‘Hell’ is another example of this electronic style of production, however the track is let down by Santigold’s vocals, which unfortunately only detract from it.
‘F**kin Problems’, the second single on the album, is the arguably poppiest moment on the album, with a catchy hook and two excellent verses from Drake and wunderkind Kendrick Lamar.
A smorgasbord of current hip-hop talent, ‘1Train’ is an astonishingly good posse cut. A rapid-fire sequence of seven rappers in fewer minutes, over a bouncy and somewhat surprisingly traditional beat, it is undoubtedly one of the highlights on the album.
Noticeably mellow and down-tempo, on ‘Phoenix’ Rocky is at his most reflective. He goes from rapping about suicide to describing himself as Lord in a just a few lines, an effective portrayal of his concern with the balance between self-criticism and self-belief. The production from Danger Mouse echoes the more serious themes, with subtly poignant vocals and strings forming the backdrop.
ASAP Rocky is fearlessly ambitious about changing the face of hip-hop. There is no question, he is doing and has done exactly that. However his desire to innovate does occasionally lead him into dodgy territory. His collaboration with dubstep superstar Skrillex on ‘Wild For The Night’, whilst nowhere near as awful as it could have been, does stand out from the rest of the album as being particularly weak.
Lyrically Rocky does often resort to superficial topics, like listing designer fashion labels, expressing his love of women, money and drugs, and telling everyone how great he is. Admittedly these things come with the territory in hip-hop, but Rocky is perhaps more guilty of this than most. It is for this reason that A$AP Rocky’s music always leaves him open to the criticism of style over substance, but generally this is a misplaced criticism. He isn’t about style over substance at all, with Rocky the substance IS his style. LONG.LIVE.A$AP is not a perfect argument for this; the occasional weaker material demonstrates that sometimes style is just not enough. But when it comes off, it comes off exceptionally well. Overall LONG.LIVE.A$AP is a highly enjoyable and extremely confident debut album.