No rap movement from 2012 captured the hip-hop world better than “Always Strive and Prosper.” A$AP Rocky is living proof of his own words, building an aesthetic that stems from syrupy Houston bounce with an appreciation for New York rap. The 24-year-old Harlem rapper’s worldview—consists of high-fashion trends by Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons and Rick Owens—follows the lineage of Harlem’s flashy roots, channeling an immaculate taste of hypnotic-cloud raps. It earned him a fat $3 million deal from RCA, while his lauded Live.Love.A$AP mixtape showcased the crew’s lifestyle beyond its music.
Despite an early leak of Long.Live.A$AP that hit the Internet a month before its release date, the conversation of Rocky as New York’s next rap star has been in the mix for a full-on year. Hype comes fast in the Big Apple, and fades as quickly as they come. But Rocky has seemed to exceed expectations. His lead singles—“Goldie” and “F**kin’ Problems”—have shown his successful attempts at radio play and pop appeal, but Long.Live.A$AP isn’t him adapting to mainstream standards. A$AP picks up right where he left off on his mixtape—only taking the sound bigger and better.
On the opening title track “Long Live A$AP,” he embodies similar themes found in his debut tape. The absence of new Rocky music works in his favor as he develops a much bolder feel without compensating his definitive sound. He is cocksure of his lyrical abilities, rapping about his youth, rags-to-riches story and “expensive taste in women” with an unparalleled flow that switches in mood. He’s emotionally driven in his lyrical content, consistently proving that he has depth and technicality. “I wonder if they miss me, as long as I make history/Now my soul is feeling empty, tell the reaper come and get me,” he reflects. As his records that foregrounded his credibility, the track serves as a small appetizer of what’s to come on Rocky’s brainchild.
Long.Live.A$AP mirrors as a walk through his influences, featuring blockbuster names such as Drake, 2 Chainz, Santigold, Skrillex, Florence Welch, to name a few. He sounds natural near his favorite artists where styles don’t feel like they are clashing each other. Quite possibly the best example is “1 Train,” a posse cut reminiscent of the Wu-Tang Clan featuring the best of the modern class, that easily wins for everyone trying to up the ante. It’s also found in “PMW” alongside Schoolboy Q that re-captures the chemistry found in “Brand New Guy” and “Hands on the Wheel,” ends up as an entertaining heavy hitter. This pairing of the right sound works as Rocky allows his guests to take center stage; even at times when he’s taking a backseat.
Long.Live.A$AP has its moments as a cohesive album with top producers (Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse, Noah “40” Shebib) and frequent collaborators (Clams Casino) that offer choice beats. Woozy sample selections, southern screw music and dark tones populate the album, as well as Rocky’s own personal touches under the pseudonym Lord Flacko. “Suddenly”—which almost didn’t make the album due to sample clearances—is a trippy foray into his life philosophy, highlighting his hand in soulful soundscapes while carrying a strange, melodic ambiance. With the standout “Ghetto Symphony” and the abstract “Pain,” we find Rocky’s most inventive production selection to date.
To the album’s detriment, there isn’t much happening outside what we’ve heard from Rocky before. But it’s clear that he covered all the popular leanings in hip-hop of today, whether exploding on the EDM anthem “Wild for the Night” or the indie pop sentiments on “Hell.”
Rocky is a fast-rising star who continues to stay in the discussion as one of the best rappers coming out today. While there’s no doubt that 2013 will be filled with talented emerging acts, Rocky’s album has him one step closer in pushing a new trend of unorthodox, hybrid hip-hop accepted by the post-Internet generation. “This is boom bap, mixed with new raps/”Look at all the n***as that I blew past,” he declares on “LVL.” “Hood By Air, to the do-rag/N***a make way for the new jacks.” Long live A$AP, indeed. —Eric Diep (@E_Diep)