A$AP Rocky has pulled off a seemingly impossible feat on his debut album, Long.Live.A$AP. Rocky doesn’t embody the endearing vulnerability of a Drake, the brazen personality of a Danny Brown, or the lyrical dexterity of a Kendrick Lamar. Instead, he is side-stepping tradition, bending genres, and crafting thoroughly enjoyable music by relying on aesthetics.
To know Rocky is to know his aesthetics. Though his French braids scream Harlem, he’s a post-region artist. He rapped his way to a $3 million deal by breaking traditional codes and ignoring regional boundaries. Something of a rap cassanova, he refuses to be tied down to one style. One moment he’s flirting with Houston’s chopped and screwed, the next he’s cavorting with a dank midwest sound. Long.Live.A$AP wears its influences loudly and proudly. OutKast is referenced three times. There are shout-outs to Pimp C, Lil’ Flip, Houston, Busta Rhymes, Three 6 Mafia, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Rocky’s obsession with styles originating anywhere but New York aside, his flow is just as fluid. He has a triumphant, musical sense of rhyming. He’s mastered every cadence and flow in existence. He opens the album with a rhythmic flow, follows up with a full-bodied Pharrell imitation, and rounds it up with a Three 6 Mafia homage. “Suddenly” starts with a calm and later explodes into double time raps. Rocky is in tune with every beat, delivering exactly what it demands. It also helps that he co-produced many of the songs on the album, including “Suddenly.”
A theory: A$AP Rocky wants to be remembered not as a rapper but as a curator, a stylist — as a fount of progressive ideas. He won’t wow you with lyrical calisthenics or break your rewind button with quadruple entendres. His strength, however, lies in blending seemingly disparate ideas, upending hip-hop traditions, and spewing forth seductive tunes. It’s a skill most…whatyacalllit, lyricists don’t have.
For all his envelope-pushing music, Rocky plays it safe in his content. He’s unwilling to let us too far into his world, thus subverting the idea of an introductory album. With personal moments sparse and sporadic, we’re left with tropes. The worst offender, “PMW (All I Really Need),” belongs on the How to Make a Generic Rap Song kit, with groaners like “My whip white, but my top black/And my b–ch white, but my c–k black.” Still, that hypnotic T-Minus beat will keep you nodding. Amazing how much sloppiness quality production can conceal.
Even when Rocky finally gives us a peek into his world on the bleak Danger Mouse number “Phoenix,” he has trouble staying on topic. After name checking Kurt Cobain and suicide, he gets distracted by “rides that come with doors that be suicide” and “the thighs on my whores that be supersized.” Again, Danger Mouse saves the day with grim keys, hazy vocals, and a ghostly sample oooh-oooohing in the distance.
Long.Live.A$AP is full of surprises. The posse cut “1 Train” is exactly the type of vintage East Coast cypher no one expects from the Houston-obsessed Rocky. The next song, “Fashion Killa,” sounds like something you might expect from a Fergie album.
Despite the mouth-watering features on Long.Live.A$AP, the standout moments are the solo cuts. If anything, collaborative tracks like “1 Train” and “Problems” expose Rocky’s lyrical shortcomings. It’s truly a testament to his star power that Long.Live.A$AP succeeds in spite of his limitations.
Ultimately, A$AP Rocky is rewriting the rules of rap. Over the years, rappers have internalized certain time-honored rituals. They were taught to rep their hood and rhyme our ears off. Rocky is saying nuts to that.