It’s been well over a year since A$AP Rocky’s critically co-signed debut tape Live.Love.A$AP dropped on the hip hop world, and made the young Harlem native one of the most talked about – and questioned – artists in the genre’s recent history. While his first full length effort won over both die-hard hip hop heads and alt-rap fans in a big way with its once unfathomable blend of gritty NYC rap, the now classic Houston “chopped and screwed” sound, and a strong Bone Thugz influence, the $3 million dollar advance that Sony gave him (before Live.Love dropped no less) was one of the biggest in the industry since 50 signed with Interscope. Luckily for fans of hip hop, the label, and the whole A$AP movement, it seems like Sony’s once ridiculously risky investment is about to pay off in a big way.
Granted, a high quality “explicitly mastered” leak of the album dropped late last month – which might affect its sales – to get straight to the point, Long.Live.A$AP is hand down the most “mainstream” accessible, yet still original and artistically honest albums in a long time. It might not be the “best” album the genre’s seen in a while (especially considering how relative that term is). It might not be the most lyrical or meaningful hip hop experience you’ll have this year. But, as far as achieving the rare blend of offering big hit potential, and delivering something fresh and new at the same time – this one has few equals over the past few years.
While A$AP’s approach on Long Live A$AP is much more friendly to the tastes of the casual hip hop listener than Live.Love was, it’s still a decidedly A$AP Rocky experience that shouldn’t alienate his pre-exisiting fan base much (minus a few moments). But, at the same time, it very blatantly brings a ton variety to appease the masses. From the hard, almost straight from Swisha House sounding “LVL”, to the obvious cut for the ladies “Fashion Killa”, all the way to the EDM/hip hop mash-up with Skrillex on “Wild For the Night” – A$AP Rocky brings a ton of different sounds to the project. Beyond the sub-genres, approaches and styles just mentioned, you could add Boom Bap, “Radio-Friendly”, and alt-pop to that list too…this one is that diverse.
That wealth of variety is both this one’s biggest strength, and the one thing holding it back from being an album that could be considered a near perfect commercially-minded debut too. While there’s definitely something for everyone, and plenty for Rocky fans, it does lose its focus at times, and undoubtedly, will probably leave almost everybody with a few “skippable” moments, no matter what their taste is. As an artist, Rocky should without a doubt earn a ton of respect for his ability to come with so many different aesthetics convincingly, but as a full-length album experience, it’s tough to imagine all but the biggest A$AP die-hards loving absolutely everything about this one. It’s definitely a high quality, strong effort throughout, but by trying to do so much, it lacks the focus that typically makes for truly special front-to-back album experience.
Not so surprisingly, Long Live A$AP is all over the place lyrically too. On tracks like “Suddenly”, the song that reintroduced the term posse cut, “1Train” (which will be getting a ton of space on our Top 10 lines from Long.Live.A$AP piece), and the Danger Mouse produced “Suddenly”, we get some legitimately introspective lyricism that would impress even the most hardheaded backpacker. On its lead singles “Fuckin Problems” and “Goldie”, Rocky and his featured artists come with an accessible, much more lighthearted approach that’s already made for solid single sales and a solid buzz for everyone involved (even though Drake dominates the latter, and the Noah Shebib production makes that even more noticeable). With the album’s title track “Long.Live.A$AP” and the Santigold aided “Hell” he comes with an approach that any fan of the indie scene can embrace. For the most part, all of these different lyrical looks are good ones…for the most part.
While he definitely has his corny moments as a lyricist (“Shorty I’m the Shit/ Tell me do I stink”…really?), dude doesn’t take himself seriously enough in those moments to make them a serious issue for all but the most critical listeners. His 30-something references to designers on “Fashion Killa” is a bit questionable too, especially outside of the song’s context, but considering the track’s obvious intended purpose, they’re forgivable too – though it does make for the album’s most “skippable” moment. But, all in all, Rocky comes through in a strong way from start to finish behind the mic, and the same can be said for every single one of his featured artists too, minus a few downright cringe worthy bars on A$AP Ferg’s verse on “Ghetto Symphony”.
Production wise, this one sounds exactly like an album from a guy with a $3 million dollar advance should. Again, variety is the main theme here, but while lyrically that’ll make for an undoubtedly “hit-or-miss” vibe for most – this one is going to be musically on point, at all times, for all but the most narrow minded hip hop fans. With 2 Hit-Boy beats, one from Danger Mouse, one from Drake’s close collaborator Noah Shebib (which we already mentioned), and 2 from Clams Casino – the project definitely lives up to the big names in its production credits. Even Skrillex comes through with his signature style that somehow works well, and almost makes for a track that sounds like what would happen if EL-P tried to spin a set at a your city’s trendiest night spot.
While A$AP Rocky definitely comes with a more traditional sound as a whole, the production still carries that spaced out feel that made the greater hip hop landscape – along with the indie music scene – pay so much attention to Love.Live. But, it brings a little more polish, and while it does admittedly lose the tripped out quality that made that project unique, there’s no way he could have faithfully kept that sound and widened his fan base in a big way. For the sake of repaying his advance, and building his brand, that’s a move we can understand, and even get behind. Musically, this one’s as nice as all but some of the most immaculately produced stuff out right now.
All in all, Long.Live.A$AP should go down as one of the most critically embraced, commercially focused albums in a long time. Hip hop purists will definitely find a few faults, or at least some moments they could do without…and that’s reasonable. But, it’s hard to remember the last time that a debut made such an obvious effort to appeal to the masses, but still managed to stay so true to the artist’s older catalog at the same time. It’s not perfect, but it does a ton of different things, and it does them all well. Chances are you won’t feel every single track, but it’s likely they’ll be enough here to make it worth a purchase if you’re even the most casual fan of modern hip hop.