by Rob Wilson
After his self-released debut mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, was shoved out into the ether in 2011, New York rapper A$AP Rocky was praised by critics as a high-quality MC but criticised for focusing more on clichéd, braggadocios lyrics rather than the lyrical profundity of his peers. Two years, a few singles and a couple of pushed-back release dates later, A$AP Rocky is finally back with LongLiveA$AP – the title being a clear indication that A$AP Rocky wants to be here for the long run.
It seems as if he has the reputation, or at least industry hype, to do so as too, as he has collaborated with some big movers and shakers in the present hip-hop and electronica worlds on his debut major label release – most of which have been given producing and writing credits for the album. Despite this, one of the strongest aspects of LongLiveA$AP is its instrumental freshness where it could have suffered heavily from sounding over-produced and artificial. Lead single ‘Goldie’ has a playful beat which allows A$AP to tell a story of wealth and swagger, while comparing himself to Bill Gates in the process. However, it could be said that ‘Goldie’ does seem to promote A$AP as being slightly more in touch with himself – by his standards at least – while the opening title track operates as a way for A$AP to lay down his fears of dying in prison right from the off.
Particularly as the fourth track ‘LVL’, on which A$AP is helped out by returning producer Clams Casino, closes, we hear a sample that wouldn’t sound lost on a Crystal Castles album, displaying some sonic versatility and careful production choices. Moreover, the instrumentals on the track that follows, ‘Hell’, wouldn’t sound out of place if Crystal Castles’ front-woman Alice Glass decided to use them to show her more vulnerable side – the reverb is turned up to the maximum to add an icy touch to a chord sequence that transforms the track from being fairly innocuous to something positively haunting.
However, this is where the problems with the album begin to appear. Santigold is given the job of controlling the chorus of ‘Hell’ but sounds unusually awkward, bored and slightly off-time. This results in the chorus lacking in impact and not only fails to add anything to the song, but manages to detract from it in the process. It’s here that the collaborative choices begin to hurt the quality of the album for a number of different reasons.
While second single ‘F***in’ Problems’ has a skippy beat and some of the most gripping instrumentals on the album, it unfortunately brings Kendrick Lamar down a level away from his usually expert introspection and lyrical depth on his appearance by pointing him in the direction of something Kendrick actually sarcastically criticises on his own track ‘Backseat Freestyle’ – shallow brag rap. Not to mention that Kendrick’s flow here is way below the level we expect of him.
Before the next huge collaboration attempt arrives, electronica and dubstep producer Skrillex is wheeled in to perform the instrumentals for ‘Wild for the Night’ – LongLive’s “club anthem”. The most rewarding thing from this track is that it thankfully does sound like “A$AP Rocky (feat. Skrillex)” rather than the other way around, but the lasers that are caked in reverb swallow the beat whole. Not to mention that the more thoughtful lyrical promise that was shown earlier on in the album is abandoned completely as A$AP slips back into the brag rap approach, sounding as shallow and crude as ever (“Wild for the night, f*ck being polite”). And the huge collaboration effort that follows turns out to be a mistake as Danny Brown completely outshines A$AP on ‘Train’. Brown makes the song his own with his unique delivery – which I imagine wasn’t the ideal scenario for A$AP to be faced with on his debut release.
Hope that A$AP could begin to be more thoughtful is raised again as the album begins to draw to a close, with the sweeter, more vulnerable samples returning as instrumentals for “Fashion Killa”, and the piano-lead “Phoenix”, produced by none other than Danger Mouse, providing a calming message from A$AP who again hints that he is more human than his shallow attitude suggests. But I guess that’s his problem – A$AP’s immature, shallow lyrical approach to ‘swag’ takes away some of the maturity, progression, speed and fluency that he could successfully attempt with his flows and replaces it with slow, slurred, almost drunk delivery that again completes this shallow image of a man with golden teeth and a garage full of limousines. However, it’s ultimately the friendlier, more understanding A$AP is on display occasionally which makes LongLiveA$AP frustrating on the whole as the clichés creep back in to spoil what could have a positive showing.