After signing a three- million dollar record deal with Sony Music in 2011, A$AP Rocky, the 24-year-old Harlem-based emcee had a hell of a 2012. Already considered to be on front line of the new wave of hip-hop artists, A$AP lived a life that many aspiring musicians only dream about. He delivered outlandish interviews and copped a feel on Rihanna at the MTV video awards. And let's not forget that he tagged along with Drake and Kendrick Lamar on the "Club Paradise" tour, one of the biggest tours in recent hip-hop memory.
Amazingly enough, Rocky achieved all of this without dropping his long awaited debut album. Anticipation has built to a fever pitch, and last week A$AP dropped his record, LONGLIVEA$AP. The amount of time, pressure, and hype that has been put into the young emcee has us believing that he would be able to deliver nothing less than a stellar album. Indeed, Rocky has managed to find a balance between the current trends of mainstream hip-hop, the diversity needed to set him apart from the pack, and the subtle nuances of the golden area hip-hop sound that he was brought up on.
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The first thing I immediately noticed were the production credits. Rocky opted to go for a balance between some the brightest up-and-coming producers (Hit-Boy, Clams Casino), to Grammy award winning neo legends (Danger Mouse, 40, Skrillex). The result is a surprisingly diverse soundscape that includes everything from bass-heavy club bangers to ethereal, melodic rhythms. The first single "Goldie," produced by Hit-Boy, features catchy synthesizers and a bouncy drum pattern designed to get you moving. Rocky's signature unabashed hood life flow bounces gracefully over the beat and acts as the perfect introduction to the glamor life that the young star leads. This seems to reach a peak with the monstrous, 40-produced hit single, "Fuckin' Problems," which features fellow hip-hop heavy hitters Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and 2 Chainz. The Santigold- assisted "Hell" chronicles the struggles that young Rocky had to navigate through to get to where he is at.
This is one of few occasions on the album where Rocky showcases a more introspective and thoughtful side to his persona. This is something that I would have liked to see more of; when Rocky goes to this place the results are incredible. "Phoenix," featuring modern legend Danger Mouse at the helm, acts as the deepest look into A$AP Rocky's mind state. The ghostly sounds, coupled with thoughts of suicide, betrayal, and pain, offer an unexpected yet welcom change of perspective that allow us to really understand the pressures that Rocky is currently experience -- a thoughtful counterpoint to the braggadocio that references Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain as pop martyrs.
Cashing in on the current EDM trends, "Wild for the Night" enlists the help of Grammy Award winning dubstep producer Skrillex. Using the template of the original Skirllex song of the same name, A$AP Rocky manages to further advance the trends of blending hip- hop with EDM. The result is a high energy, bass-heavy track mix with an infectious flow. The track "1-Train" can be considered a monumental moment for the current generation of young hip hop talent on the rise. The massive posse cut features a who's who of the new and future hip-hop elite and harkens back to the day where posse cuts like this were abundant. The Hit-Boy production even seems reminiscent of a mid-'90s era beat as A$AP enlists Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Big K.R.I.T. to help him out. The results are pretty fantastic as every emcee brings their A-game and signature style to the table. While Rocky daydreams about the basic carnal urges of a young man on the track "PMW" (which stands for "Pussy, Money, Weed") Black Hippy member Schoolboy Q provides one of the strongest verses on the album.
Most of the missteps on the record come from A$AP himself. The young emcee isn't considered to be one of the most lyrical artists in his field, and this results in the occasional lulls. You won't hear Rocky rap about the plight of the black man or name drop Barack Obama in a political rant, as most of his lyrics are drug-fueled, glamor-dipped bars that give slight glimpses into his psyche. The completely boring "Fashion Killa" features uninspired production and less than impressive lyrics. The positive thing is that a song like this is one of the only glaring problems on this project. A$AP Rocky's style is pretty straight forward, so don't expect complicated metaphors or insightful views on society. Rocky is extremely comfortable where he is at right now, and since this is his debut album, it is hard to expect him to really break out of that comfort zone. However, he occasionally does indicate that he is more than just about the P, the M and the W, which tells us that is capable of expanding his horizons and offering more diverse content down the line.
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The bonus edition of the album features a song with beautiful voice of Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine. This alone indicates that A$AP is willing to take his music to the next level -- but he also has to be able to cater to the young fan base that put him in this position in the first place. The result is A$AP Rocky walking the fine line between cashing in on trends and the current sound while still trying to deliver something that will truly set him apart for the rest, and solidifies him as one of the true leaders of this new wave of hip-hop.