(Today's Reader Review comes from Standos, who tackles a project that I'm sure at least three of you were intrigued by: newbie A$AP Rocky's debut mixtape, LongLiveA$AP. I'm not really sold on that rap name, but that's why I'm not a consultant. Leave your thoughts for Standos below.)
If you hadn’t noticed, a new trend in hip hop began to emerge in 2011, one that allowed rappers that were unconventional (to put it lightly) to slowly emerge and find as much as success as the rest. Whether they were sporting jeans tight enough to get rejected a deal with G-Unit Records (see: Danny Brown), which is by no means a bad thing, or releasing a mixtape entitled I’m Gay (see: Lil’ B) or even searing a slab of ahi tuna on YouTube (see: Action Bronson, who’s actually a kickass chef), it’s fair to say the hip hop world has slowly become more and more tolerant of weirdos. Perhaps one of the more profitable weirdos to come out of 2011 is A$AP Rocky, having just scored a three million dollar deal with Sony/RCA.
First, a bit of history. A$AP Rocky was born in Harlem, New York with the birthname Rakim Mayers. Anyone who actually listens to hip hop will immediately know the importance of this name, as it is shared with a man who is easily one of the most influential emcees in history. So, of course, naming your son Rakim and not expecting him to eventually become a rapper is kind of like naming your daughter Roxy and not expecting her to become a hooker. After the death of his older brother, he decided to take rap seriously, choosing Harlem-based hip hop group The Diplomats as his idols, which probably won’t help him win my favor, since The Diplomats suck cock (if you don’t know who they are, The Diplomats consists of Cam’ron, Jim Jones and their merry band of weed carriers). After releasing a couple of singles in 2011 and scoring that aforementioned multi-million dollar deal, Rocky hooked up with other indie producers with tastes similar to his own, including Lil B’s go-to producer Clams Casino (which is an awesome name), to cook up his first mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP.
Unlike every other newcomer in the hip hop world, Rocky didn't have every blogger in the universe throwing their arms up in hysterical praise at his arrival. Being named Rakim obviously puts a fucking shitload of expectations on one's shoulders, and many blogs referred to his record deal as a mistake on Sony's part. They also felt that older music fans may be completely alienated at Rocky’s Southern-influenced music that had absolutely nothing to do with anything that’s come out of the five boroughs (those same people probably thought Roc Marciano's Marcberg was the best shit ever). So basically, A$AP Rocky is everything that isn’t East Coast hip hop. At least until now.
Comparisons to Odd Future began circulating, which are utter bullshit, as you will read later on since Rocky encompasses absolutely nothing of what Odd Future rant about. He's also racked up a few enemies along the way: Hodgy Beats (of the Odd Future collective) called him “A$AP Copy” (really, that’s the best you could think of?), while Lil’ B claims himself as “the reason you got your deal, bitch”, which is ironic, since Rocky claims Lil’ B as one of his biggest influences.
But yeah, I’ve been talking way too much. So is A$AP Rocky really the next best thing, or is he just a really shitty investment?
That title is pretty fucking sweet; it has nothing to do with the song, and yet, it has everything to do with everything. Clams Casino’s beat is majestic, a perfect accompaniment to Rocky’s announcement of his arrival. Which is alright, but to be honest, I expected Rocky to have a little more spark in his lyrics (I did like the part where he switches up his style for a more Bone Thugs-N-Harmony-like speed rap, though). The hook was garbage (he claims he “knows them Harlem n----s gon’ be feeling this”, when the reality is that most Harlem heads outside of Rocky’s own crew won’t like this at all), but then again, I would have been surprised otherwise.
The first single that created most of the buzz circling this project right now. And with good reason too, as this was rather enjoyable. Unlike during the last song, the chopped and screwed voice that Rocky uses to no end on this mixtape works into the hook nicely. Rocky calls himself a “pretty muthafucka”, which really tells you how much hip hop has changed (had he said this back in the 1990's, he would have gotten his shit pushed in). The A$AP Ty Beats (a member of Rocky’s conveniently named A$AP Mob) beat sounded like something Curren$y would use, so I liked it better than the lyrics, which were kind of ordinary. But this wasn't bad, though.
Clams Casino brings a fucking pounding beat (and yes, before you ask, it does contain quite a bit of bass, a lot more than that other, more popular song with the word “bass” in its title). Like “Palace”, Rocky only delivers one verse, one that the older heads would probably dismiss completely had he not performed it with such charisma that it's harder to ignore. Even the chopped and screwed bit, which I normally hate, sounded menacing as shit over this extremist militant of a beat. But seriously, Clams Casino brings his fucking A-game on this one and Rocky knows it, letting it ride for another minute after he’s done. I especially liked how Rocky just chants the title in lieu of a chorus at the end, which isn’t as horrible as you might think. This was nice.
I wasn’t really feeling the beat on this one as much as the other three. Clams Casino’s work felt really generic and unmemorable, like it was just trying too hard to sound lazy. Rocky does okay with his verses (“Only thing bigger than me ego is my mirror” is one of the more memorable lines), but the hook was godawful. I really don’t need to be reminded of how Rocky is a “pretty muthafucka” any more on this mixtape. Over such a low-key beat, he needs to be more creative with what he’s saying.
5. BRAND NEW GUY (FEAT. SCHOOLBOY Q)
On the other hand, this beat felt like it was trying too hard to be epic, but it ends up sounding like a terrible mixture of noises. At this point you either like Rocky or you don’t; there is no middle ground, as his style of music will either appeal to you or alienate you entirely. For the record, I didn’t actually mind his verse on here either, although I feel there is a lot of room for improvement, but Schoolboy Q (otherwise known as the guy in Kendrick Lamar’s crew who isn’t Kendrick Lamar and whose debut album I found disappointing) attacks this beat in the worst way possible. The back and forth between them was bland as well: I hated the way Schoolboy bends the word “Smirnoff” just to make it rhyme. Now if it had been Kendrick on this song (and if the beat wasn’t horseshit)…
6. PURPLE SWAG: CHAPTER 2 (FEAT. SPACEGHOST PURRP & A$AP NAST)
If there’s one word that I’ve grown sick of in 2011, it’s “swag”. Seriously, what the fuck is “swag”? This is a remix of the original single that, along with “Peso”, earned Rocky all the attention he’s been getting. I really have no clue what a Spaceghost Purrp is, but he has a really annoying-as-fuck delivery, and both Rocky and Nast don’t do much to remedy the situation. I didn’t even like the original “Purple Swag”, so you can guess how I feel about this redundant remix.
7. GET LIT (FEAT. FAT TONY)
You’ll notice that most of the songs on LiveLoveA$AP are pretty short, with most running around the three-minute mark (besides “Brand New Guy”, which couldn’t end quickly enough for me), which means this project is suitable for those of you with short attention spans (such as, well, everyone these days). It should be pretty obvious what this song is about, and if you can’t figure it out, you’re beyond help. Apparently this song is Rocky’s favorite on the album, possibly because it features the head of Springfield's underworld, but I really didn’t hear anything special. The beat also sounds like something Curren$y would rhyme over (come to think of it, that could apply to just about any weed song that’s come out in the last five years), but one of the more uninspired (read: boring) instrumentals that the guy tends to gravitate to every once in a while. It doesn’t help that Rocky or his guest choose to make their contributions as short as possible in favor of a shitty chorus. This couldn’t end quickly enough either, and it wasn’t even long to begin with.
8. TRILLA (FEAT. A$AP TWELVY & A$AP NAST)
A step back in the right direction. The beginning of Rocky’s verse reminds me of how the second half of “Gotta Have It”, from Watch The Throne, kicked off, as that was the part where Jigga and Yeezy utilized a stutter that was surprisingly appealing to me. Rocky does the same on here, and it works, as he sounds pretty damn engaged here, especially when he channels Bone Thugs-N-Harmony once again near the end of his verse. His A$AP brethren can’t help but be outshined (and sound awful in the process) over a beat that I ultimately enjoyed, even though it sounds out of place due to its Western feel. Also, a gold star for not including a hook.
9. KEEP IT G (FEAT. CHACE INFINITE & SPACEGHOST PURRP)
The title made me expect something akin to “Brand New Guy” in terms of quality, but this one wasn’t bad. Spaceghost Purrp’s beat sounds like the score to a neo-noir film dripped in codeine, if that makes any sense. It made me laugh when Rocky claims he’s “never chilling til’ [he] get[s] a million”, yet he’s already got his multi-million dollar deal. But I don’t have any real complaints about this one, as complaining about the hook is futile at this point.
10. KISSIN’ PINK (FEAT. A$AP FERG)
Rocky’s delivery during his first verse was really tough to listen to, with his sing-song like bullshit attempt to sound spaced-out ending up annoying the shit out of the listener. But at least he doesn’t keep this up for the whole of his verse (the same can’t be said for his weed-carrier A$AP Ferg, who sounded goddamn awful). Beautiful Lou’s beat was kind of good; it was the musical equivalent of all the codeine that Rocky’s been taking and, as a result, serves its purpose. But Rocky and his weed carrier made this an excruciating.
11. HOUSTON OLD HEAD
This song is probably what will help Rocky win the argument that he is nothing like Odd Future, as it envisions the exact opposite of what Odd Future attempt to prove. Whereas Tyler, The Creator might argue that only the young should be revered, Rocky concedes that his “old head” may be able to teach him something (“If you listen when ya old head talkin' you’ll be straight”). It’s also a half-tribute to his Houston influences, which is clearly obvious when you hear the Southern-fried beat; at this point I would be wondering whether Rocky is even from Harlem in the first place had he not been proclaiming “Harlem’s what I’m repping” all the time. The hook isn’t too bad, and the change in subject matter was nice, so this was a win overall.
12. ACID DRIP
The disembodied chopped-and-screwed voice actually helps to recreate the feeling of being high on acid, but everything else about this song wasn’t memorable in the least, so it would be best just to skip this song.
13. LEAF (FEAT. MAIN ATTRAKIONZ)
The Ol' Dirty Bastard sample at the start of the song doesn’t really make sense when you realize that this song is actually a bitchfest played out over a menacing Clams Casino beat. Rocky claims that there are people who say he sounds like a mixture of Andre 3000, Kanye, Max B., and Wiz Khalifa, but that’s not the impression I get at all: I’d rather look at him as a mixture of Wiz and Curren$y, with a sprinkling of Layzie Bone when the mood calls. Rocky spits what is probably his most memorable verse to me at this point: when the man has something specific to spit about that isn’t about getting high and fucking bitches, he actually sounds really damn entertaining. Main Attrakionz, an indie duo that probably have the closest sound to Rocky in the industry at the moment (their debut mixtape 808s and Dark Grapes II contained this same song under a different name), are overshadowed by Rocky, probably because they don’t really stick to the same subject matter. But this was still enjoyable as shit.
14. ROLL ONE UP
This beat is fucking magnificent. Clams Casino really should have produced the entire project, Rocky’s A$AP brethren be damned. This is probably the most emotionally charged Rocky will ever get, and even then he manages to fit in the phrase, “I’m finna fuck the bitch you next to”. “Demons” also contains the only good hook on the whole mixtape, and that in itself makes it worth listening to. But I cannot stress enough how good this Clams Casino beat is. Easily the best song on here.
16. OUT OF THIS WORLD
This song is also out of place, but for an entirely different reason than “Trilla”. This beat, produced by The Olympicks, isn’t really the type of instrumental I would expect Rocky to spit over, as it sounds like an intro track on a debut album for a rapper better known for his mixtapes. Ironically, Rocky gives his most confident performance on here, dropping multiple pop culture references as well as a couple of smart punchlines (although it is a bit much when he claims that hip hop will be reincarnated through him, as even he knows that’s clearly not going to be the case). This was a really good closer, though.
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? I won’t lie: I had very low expectations coming into this review, but I was also intrigued as to how LiveLoveA$AP would sound. I don’t know about you, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever heard a Harlem rapper sound so comfortable over beats obviously not from his part of town. I think even A$AP Rocky himself knows that he’s no Rakim when it comes to lyrics: most of his rhymes consist of fucking about 13 to 14 women in the space of 56 minutes, smoking enough dope to maintain a year-long high, and repping Harlem as the “prettiest muthafucka” alive (whether Harlem appreciates that or not is another question). Granted, that’s not going to draw in the group of hip hop heads expecting the next Big L (I think the name A$AP Rocky with a fucking dollar sign for an ‘S’ should give it away), but Rocky seems to know his limits for the most part. Rocky excels most with his charisma, as he frequently switches from a slow Southern-influenced drawl to a melodic, speed-rap flow within the space of half a minute. Some of the lyrics on here are fucking garbage though, and most of Rocky’s A$AP brethren have the quality that makes me think of them as Young Money henchmen who will never get a deal because they’re forever destined to base their careers around guest appearances (although Rocky is apparently planning an A$AP Mob album next). Hopefully Rocky can build from on his performance here for his next mixtape, since his ear for beats (with a few exceptions) is pretty damn amazing, with some of the most epic Clams Casino works I’ve heard thus far popping up on LiveLoveA$AP. This certainly isn’t the best mixtape of 2011 (as certain blogs have painted it as), but Rocky shows some promise (“Bass”, “Leaf” and “Demons” are on replay in my neck of the woods), and I would recommend LiveLoveA$AP to anyone who’s interested in branching out from the norm.
(Comments go below. You know the drill.)