A few minutes into “Leaf”, the psychedelic Clams Casino produced track from his debut mixtape “LiveLoveASAP”, A$AP addresses his haters quite frankly: “They say I sound like Andre mixed with Kanye/ a little of Max a little bit of Wiz/ a little bit of that, little bit of this.. Get off my dick.” It is a rare moment for A$AP, giving us a glimpse of something close to introspection, a look into the mind of a man who got himself famous by the self-proclaimed accolade “Dat Pretty Mutha Fucka. “ I loved the mixtape, as did everyone who had an ear for good rap. Rocky truly was a little bit of this and a little bit of that, joining together the gaudy, liberal sense of fashion that Harlem’s very own Diplomats brought us, with the slow, syrup-infused production you’d likely hear on a Z-Ro track; a member of the new school, Rocky picked and chose the elements of music he liked best growing up, and added a little bit of his own flavor to it, and got a whopping three million dollar record deal out of it.
Rocky hit a slump shortly after the release of “LiveLoveASAP”, faced with the usual affliction an up and coming rapper deals with: a poor sense of artistic direction, by hopping on the most unlikely of tracks that really didn’t fit his aesthetic, which had a lot of us scratching our heads. But doubts were dismissed as he hadn’t truly had a chance to prove himself yet, he was still a rapper without a studio album to his name. “Long.Live.A$AP” however, easily overcame those doubts and obstacles, bringing back that same cadence and swagger that made him famous in the first place, discussing at length his discriminating taste in the finer things, and his insatiable appetite for drugs and women, this time however in a much more polished and well-sequenced set up.
Check out what I got to say about the album track-by-track after the jump.
1. “Long Live A$AP” – The title track sets the tone perfectly, A$AP feels right at home on this beat, shouting out UGK’s Pimp C, his “expensive taste in women”, and taking breaks between verses to allow an eerie, out of this world hook to breathe a little. This track could have slipped in at the end of “LiveLoveASAP” and no one would have known any better; if you liked the mixtape, you’ll love this one.
2. “Goldie” – The obvious banger, this is one of my personal favorites on the album. The screwed hook is an obvious homage to his obsession with the South, and the production, courtesy of Hit- Boy leaves plenty of room for Rocky to kick back and tell us more about his climb to fame in long, laid-back bars. I have to say this song grew on me quite a bit since its release last spring.
3. “PMW (All I Really Need)” feat. Schoolboy Q – I suspect this instrumental will land a spot on one or ten different mixtapes within the next year or so. It sounds like a beat someone like Wayne or Drake would love to do a remix to, but I have to hand it to A$AP for the Q feature. They easily dominate the beat, their rhyme patterns bouncing along perfectly with the beat’s rhythm. This song holds its own for, if nothing else at all, its display of A$AP’s ability to find the pocket on any beat played through his headphones.
4. “LVL” – Every big Artist needs a go to producer, giving the audience a sense of relaxation just by seeing his name in the production credits. For A$AP, that man is Clams Casino. I still contend to this day Casino played an invaluable role in making A$AP the rapper we know today. This is the first of two Casino produced tracks on the album, and both bring their A game. They both seem to be mimicking each other’s style on this song: notice A$AP’s panache in alternating between his quickened flow and his more laid back, high inducing delivery, and how that compares to Casino’s use of vocal samples and varying rhythm speeds. I really liked this track.
5. “Hell” feat. Santigold – The second half of the pair of Casino beats proved to be slightly disappointing: a weak hook and a Casino beat that seems virtually devoid of everything that makes his beats so signature. This is without a doubt intentionally placed, giving listeners a break from all the A$AP with a girl on the feature, and the strong pop appeal, and lest we forget this is a debut album, meaning there are people in suits making decisions as to what is hot and what isn’t.
6. “Pain” feat. OverDoz – Straight up, A$AP saved this song. I honestly don’t know who the other guy is, and he did manage to bring a pretty entertaining verse to the table, but there is no question this is Rocky’s song, and even he didn’t necessarily bring his A game the whole way through.
7. “Fuckin’ Problems” feat. Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar – Wasn’t a fan of this one. When I first saw this on the track list, I knew it would be one of those tracks that I would probably not even listen to, but for the sake of the review, I gave it a close listen. Firstly, it is hip hop taboo to place K Dot with industry products Drake and 2 Chainz. I understand A$AP’s intentions of blurring the lines between regional taste and creating a sort of blend of several subgenres, but each artist rapped as though he didn’t even hear the other verses; there was simply no cohesion whatsoever. Plus 2 Chainz on the hook was an ill-advised move, no excuses for that one.
8. “Wild for the Night” feat. Skrillex – If someone played this track’s instrumental to me back when I first heard LongLiveASAP and told me the same guy who did “Peso” is going to rap over this I would ask if you were shitting me. But somehow, he manages to pull it off, and he does it quite impressively. It’s hard to tell who had the final say on this track’s survivability through the chopping block, it’s hard to say if A$AP even liked this song as much as I do, but nonetheless, he doesn’t sound like he has to try extra hard to keep up. He sounds like he didn’t even break a sweat.
10. “1 Train” feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T. – Wow. That was my initial reaction when I saw this, but without question, this is the posse cut of the year. The hardest part of approaching this song is deciding which verse is the best, for over six minutes, these young MCs trade some of the hardest bars you’ve ever heard over a masterful Hit- Boy production. The beat itself is a mix of low piano keys, and chopped up strings that will place any rapper, no matter how skilled, to the test. While it feels like a cohesive work, the artists flowing easily one after the other without any hooks or breaks of any sort, every artist manages to keep his singularity and deliver to us his own, distinct voice. Big K.R.I.T. sounds every bit as southern and conscious as he does on his best solo tracks, Danny Brown is as crazy as ever, and Action Bronson still manages to paint those vivid pictures in your mind with that gritty NYC flow. If you don’t like this song, I really have nothing for you.
10. “Fashion Killa” – What is this, a track for the ladies? A practice run one morning in the studio? A fluke? This song runs for just under four minutes and there are literally zero memorable lines to take away from this one. Call it my opinion, I call it the truth: this track is bad, and the weakest one on the album.
11. “Phoenix” – “Life’s a bitch, but she’s in love with other niggas.” A$AP isn’t known for his extraordinary lyrical abilities, or his ability to effectively evoke emotion in the listener’s mind, but this song is a rare moment of just that. His lyrics really do reflect the mind of a man trying to find his place, a man with one hell of a story to tell and the charisma to do it over song. I like this one a lot, and I think it’s one of the strongest on the album, as far as the lyrics are concerned.
12. “Suddenly” – This is the last song on the official track list, a cool affair with production credited to A$AP himself alongside a couple others. In it, A$AP discusses, as he does very infrequently, his past and his upbringing in Harlem. Often times that reality slips my mind, that this guy is in fact a Harlemite, with a repertoire of lost loved ones, street corner battles, and gun fights to show for it. When the drums finally drop more than halfway into the song, they disappear just as suddenly as they came, coming back again just to let the beat ride, over the faint sound of harried conversations in the background, as the album comes to a close.
13. “Jodeye” (Bonus Track) – I kid you not when I say everything about Rocky’s flow in this song screams Houston. The fretful cries to the Lord halfway through when we would expect a hook, the rhyme structure, everything, speaks of a long lost era in music: the era of Rap-A-Lot and Geto Boys and that classic Houston sound. I really liked this song, and I think A$AP absolutely murdered the beat with one some of the strongest bars rapped throughout the whole album.
14. “Ghetto Symphony” (Bonus Track) feat. Gunplay, A$AP Ferg – This one is a banger. Over the past year or so, A$AP Ferg and Gunplay both have been powerfully divisive figures in the rap world: if you knew who either of them were, you had a very strong opinion of them. Gunplay for his sheer lack of predictability and his ability to raise eyebrows and questionable behavior outside the studio, and A$AP Ferg’s insane lyrics. The fact that the two made it on one track, and it managed to sound as mastered and tightly produced as this does, is truly a feat worth noting. By the time the song ended I found myself rocking to it that I was disappointed they took away Ferg’s tense, quick flow as sharply as they did.
15. “Angels” (Bonus Track) – “I brought Harlem back” raps A$AP amidst various other profound claims he makes throughout this song. And when you take a minute to really think about it, you start to entertain the idea and give it some serious contemplation. As a whole, New York’s rap scene is nowhere near the dominance it once held over the rap world several years ago, put to rest by the likes of Lex Luger, Drumma Boy, and the MMG YMCMB camps. To hear someone proudly proclaiming his singularity and difference is refreshing. The song itself is quintessential A$AP, complete with the screwed hook, minimal beat, and his signature flow. A$AP does what he does quite well on this song.
+ I do like and respect the direction he is taking as an artist today. His style and overall swagger is something new in the rap game, quite frankly, the simple fact that he is aspiring to be different is worthy of praise in this day and age.
+ Lyricism notwithstanding, A$AP is one talented rapper in many other respects: his flow is insanely catchy, his beat selection is one of the best of anyone making records today, and both of those are strongly reflected on this album. As a debut work, A$AP Rocky showed us that he really is, at least trying to bring Harlem back, and he makes it look damn easy.
- A few weeks before the official track list came out, I tweeted that the A$AP debut better include at least a couple truly southern artist features, and better return to that sound that most of us fell in love with on “Peso” and “Trilla.” I was hoping for a Slim Thug feature, maybe Devin the Dude even? I didn’t know what I was looking for, but it wasn’t there regardless. With the exception of Big K.R.I.T. and Yelawolf, the entire album is devoid of any real southern presence. Whether or not that is necessarily a weakness is a point of discussion, and I think it is, for I was interested in seeing what he could do alongside a true southern legend.I’m a believer in growth as an artist, and even a change of sound. But I’m also a believer that your debut album should be a distillation of what you do best as a rapper. Once that is out of the way, by all means please, show us something new on your sophomore album.
- Another weakness I noticed was the pretty obvious lack of lyrical prowess: I can count every single thing A$AP rapped about on one hand. Hell, three of them were mentioned in the title of track three. And I do understand that not every rapper needs to spit utter brilliance, but a rapper does need to be able to evolve lyrically.
8.5 OUT OF 10