A$AP Rocky is not New York’s rap savior. That doesn’t mean he isn’t the most intriguing, most watched rapper to emerge from New York in the last decade. It’s hard for an artist’s project to live up to the level of hype critics and fans set for Long.Live.A$AP. Like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, A$AP rose to the occasion with the (Polo Grounds/RCA) debut–not for producing an LP with a cohesive story arc like his Oakland colleague–but for its production and experimentation.
Criticized for his lack of depth on the mixtape Live.Love.A$AP, the 24-year-old Harlem rapper didn’t buckle under pressure to create a forced pseudo-deep LP. It’s unapologetic in the grandiose boasting of extra zeros in his bank account, the fly women he’s sexing and posturing of street life. “Yes I’m the s—-/Tell me if it stink/It feel good waking up to money in the bank/Three model b—-/cocaine on the sink/And I’m so ’bout it ’bout it I might roll up in a tank,” he raps on the lead single “Goldie.” The themes are much of the “look at how much money I have” and “I know fancy designers,” but his voice over the drums, snares and keyboards, it all bangs. Hard.
The standout tracks of the album:
Over eccentric synths and a sporadic cash register chime he raps about riches between glimpses of what it was like growing up in the ‘hood. “I thought I’d probably die in prison, expensive taste in women/Ain’t had no pot to piss in/now my kitchen full of dishes.” Produced by Jim Jonsin and Rico Love the intro record sets-up more of what’s to come from the album–southern, west coast and New York influences.
“PMW (All I Really Need)” featuring Schoolboy Q
Borrowed from the southern style dated back to 3 6 Mafia‘s heyday when Juicy J made beats that bumped loudly in 15″ speakers in the trunk, this song draws you in for its infectious bass. The subject matter of a song abbreviated for p—-y, money, weed is obvious. That doesn’t mean A$AP or Schoolboy Q use this as an opportunity for lazy lyrics.
“Hell” ft. Santigold
There’s an electric indie-pop vibe led by Santigold on the second track produced by Clams Casino. It’s one of my personal favorites, again, because it sounds divine. “We use to wear rugged boots, now it’s all tailored suits/Audemars Piguets for my criminal recruits/Champagne flutes, bumpin’ rhythm and the blues/My partner made bad moves, he might end up in the news/Or end up in the tombs or living in the boondocks.”
“1 Train” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T.
Adiverse collective of MCs unite for a competitive round of word slinging on this salute to the 1 train in NYC that runs through his old stomping grounds in Harlem. From A$AP’s intro to Big K.R.I.T.’s ending it’s impossible for rap purists not to attentively listen to each rhyme, each verse, with the goal of essentially ranking who comes out on top. The seven verse song sans a chorus or hook isn’t favorable to the guy whose song it is. Kendrick Lamar owns this one, followed by Big K.R.I.T., Joey Bada$$ and YelaWolf. You don’t come to this track for A$AP.
He finally gives the listener a brief story about his life. In the final record, which is produced by A$AP under his pseudonym Lord Flacko, he reflects on an upbringing he’s happy he escaped. It’s the all too familiar story of being poor, black, trapped in a environment suffering from violence. He rhymes impeccably over an old school sample. “Roaches on the wall, roaches on the dresser/Everybody had roaches but our roaches ain’t respect us/On the park bench playing checkers, sipping nectar/Girbaud jeans with hologram straps and reflectors/We had cookouts and dirt bikes and dice games and fist fights/And fish fries and shootouts like one SIG with two rounds/And click left two down, that’s four kids but one lived/Left three dead, but one split, that one miss, that one snitch/That’s everyday s—, s— we used to that.” A$AP dabbles in his slow as molasses flow and speeds it up as the beat drops for the second verse. Once again he taps into the influences of the south with a few Master P grunts and “bout it bout it” adlibs.
“Ghetto Symphony” ft. Gunplay and A$AP Ferg and “I Come Apart” ft. Florence Welch from the deluxe version are great additions to a sonically majestic album. “Ghetto Symphony” sounds like a harmonic symphony, but with bass and street poetry. No shade to Rocky, but we’re mainly here for Florence on “I Come Apart.”
Harlem has birthed a similarly flamboyant, flashy, stylish rapper before in the form of Cam’ron. And before Cam there was Mase. While the comparisons of A$AP to the two obvious elder statesman are easy to make, the difference is rooted in the signature flow Mase and Cam owned. The flaw in Long.Live.A$AP is it’s lack of narrative. The moments of identifying with who he is as a person are sparse. Outside of hearing his fetish for fashion we don’t really get to see A$AP. He’s purposely esoteric. Hoping for more than brag-rap from such a promising artist will leave one disappointed as the moments like this in “Phoenix”: “Kurt Cobain even died cause you scrutinize/It’s a fine line between truth and lies/Jesus Christ never lied, still was crucified/That’s why I never judge another n****/Life’s a bitch, but that bitch in love with other n****s,” are buried beneath the piles of Helmut Lang and Balenciaga.
A$AP’s first label effort soars because the instrumentation is ear porn. He’s a good rapper with the tools to becoming a great success. Now, as in today, he’s lacking the totality of what it would take to satisfy New York hip-hop elitists who have long awaited for a native rapper to regain the reigns of hip-hop from the region south of the Mason Dixon that is currently dominating the genre. New York’s new rap messiah? Not right now. But damn sure the closest the city’s had in a minute.
[Photo: RCA Records]