It’s slightly ironic that Harlem rapper Rakim Mayers’ pseudonym is A$AP Rocky, given that the release of his studio label debut LONG.LIVE.A$AP was anything but urgent. After dropping one of the most talked about mixtapes of the year in 2011, the rapper delayed the release of his debut for 4 months after hyping it for the better part of a year. To say there was pressure on Rocky’s album would be an understatement. On top of how well received LIVE.LOVE.A$AP was, Rocky actively stayed in the public eye in 2012, putting out a stunning collaboration with Lana Del Rey and guesting on tracks with fellow up-and-comers like Schoolboy Q and Chase N. Cashe as well as established veterans like Big Boi, T.I. and Usher. Everyone wanted some A$AP, but none more than a public who had seen two great singles from an album that was delayed more than a handful of times. Add to this the fact that his peers were helping to make 2012 one of the best years for hip-hop in a long tim, and 2013 seemed insurmountably far away.
And then it leaked. LONG.LIVE.A$AP met rave reviews, had “Fuckin’ Problems” become a huge radio success and the product of a year and a half of hype had finally come to a head. And I had to scratch my head. Like a talkative person after a few shots of Jack, I’m going to tell you to listen: LONG.LIVE.A$AP isn’t bad, but it’s not the fresh fashion rapping genius that made his mixtape relevant to begin with. With a few bouts of brilliance, Rocky makes himself a title contender, but the tonal inconsistencies (that were seemingly non-existent on the mixtape) make this a somewhat underwhelming debut. Again, listen. While he has moments of pure and unadulterated genius, namely tracks like “Goldie”, “1Train”, or the opener “LongLiveA$AP”, those are bogged down by collaborations with Skrillex and Santigold and club-jamz like “Fashion Killa”.
When “Goldie” did drop last year, it was fresh and exciting. HitBoy had produced a song that could simultaneously work within the DIY mixtape realm and the rave/club culture of up-beat dance numbers. Sure it wasn’t as obnoxious or over-produced as most of the horseshit Top 40 that comes out in a given year, but that’s what made it endearing. Then we got the follow up single, “Fuckin’ Problems”, which went against everything “Goldie” did great. It was filled with uninspired and predictable collaborations, repetition and production in excess, and an overly accessible and lazy chorus that sorority girls could sing to when getting shwasted at house parties. These two singles seem to accurately represent the type of album LONG.LIVE.A$AP became. The desire to create art and the desire to create something publicly accessible clash in equal measure. For every intricately designed bought of minimalism, it becomes derailed by tracks of gluttonous mainstream handouts. It’s as if A$AP Rocky knew that the consistent “bigger-than-life” homemade aesthetic of his mixtape was what WOULD be good, but fame and power and record labels made him create something less interesting and watered down for the masses.
And the reason all of this even somehow comes together into something okay is because when Rocky does excess, he does excess right. Minus “Fuckin’ Problems” and the Skrillex lead “Wild For the Night”, the tracks only miss the mark in regards to the albums cohesiveness, never to quality. Sure “Fashion Killa” and “Hell” (and especially the 4 bonus tracks) derail momentum but by themselves they aren’t bad songs. But it’s hard to listen to the first four tracks and not gape in wonderment at how comfortable (with “LVL” especially) A$AP Rocky is in space-y beats that give room to breathe. Even the penultimate track, “Phoenix”, is the very definition of modernist, sometimes removing instrumental beats in entirety. There is so much right that had we never gotten to hear something so much more focused and realized with LIVE.LOVE.A$AP, this debut might be considered an incredible work of groundbreaking art. But as it is, it’s a good album that gets derailed too often by the confusion of alternative and mainstream. Oh, and hey listen: Danny Brown steals “1Train”. Grade – B