I realize that this post doesn't make much sense when you read all of my prior comments regarding "finishing what I started" and how I can't really tackle new artists when I have many, many others I have to finish up with, but that's the best part about running this blog: I can write about whatever the hell I goddamn want. And I know a lot of people were curious as to how I would feel about Harlem-based A$AP Rocky's proper debut album, Long. Live. A$AP, so I figured, why not?
My first exposure to the artist born Rakim Mayers came with the video for his mixtape hit "Peso", which was played on MTV at an alarming rate. And I wasn't really impressed. The beat was rather hypnotic, making it very different from what I was used to hearing on the station, but the rhymes kind of sucked, in my opinion. Maybe I was turned off by his opening line, where he refers to himself as a "pretty motherfucker", I don't know. Shortly after, I received a Reader Review from Standos, who tackled said mixtape, Life. Love. A$AP, so that I didn't have to, and his rather positive write-up surprised me, but not enough for me to actually track the project down. I was a fan of the page hits the write-up gave to the site, though, so that was cool.
Anyway, Standos made the point that, even though A$AP Rocky hailed from Harlem, his music sounded like it was influenced from every other point in the country where hip hop is a major player, and that this is the new normal, considering that rappers can merely jump online and listen to anything from anywhere and get ideas. I imagine this tactic has helped him gain a rabid fanbase all over the country, since he's managed to make himself seem not just like a rookie from New York, but like a rookie from the United States: if everyone can make a territorial claim on your style, then you must be appealing to all of the right places.
That mixtape snagged our host a record deal that included distribution from RCA Records, which guaranteed that your parents could come across his proper debut, Long. Live. A$AP at Target if they looked hard enough. Although it leaked in full at the very end of last year, upon its actual in-store date A$AP Rocky was able to celebrate scoring a number-one album on the Billboard charts.
One look at the guest list on Long. Live. A$AP and I feel compelled to compare Rocky to a high school student who tried his best to make friends with every single social group out there. This project is littered with nerds (Danny Brown, Action Bronson), jocks (Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar (who himself just now made it out of 'nerd' status, but just barely)), cheerleaders (Florence Welch, who could also be classified as one of the "goths", although that's stretching this analogy rather thin), drama geeks (Santigold, Lana Del Rey (who, curiously, doesn't appear on this album even though she was scheduled to)), band geeks (Skrillex, producer Hit-Boy), freshmen who try to be one of the cool kids (Joey Bada$$), the crazy white biy (Yelawolf), the guy who is just too cool for school (Big K.R.I.T., Rocky himself), the not-so-hidden gang bangers (Gunplay), and, of course, Rocky's own circle of friends (the A$AP Mob, represented on here by A$AP Ferg).
That metaphor took a lot out of me, so I'll just get to the music now, if you don't mind.
1. LONG LIVE A$AP
The first track on Long. Live. A$AP, which includes the now-infamous introductory line "I thought I'd probably die in prison" that has been quoted both in the HHID comments section and in other reviews, is certainly much darker in scope than I was expecting. The instrumental, credited to Jim Jonsin and Rico Love, among many others, is very, um, instrumental in setting the mood, and actually isn't that bad, but A$AP keeps his audience at arm's length, only flirting with the concept of lyrical depth while spitting random catchphrases, distorted vocal grunts, an out-of-left-field reference to Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" (a song that our host will name-drop later on in the program, on "Fuckin' Problems", strangely enough), and singing off-key during the hook, where at one point he seems to be paired up with child vocalists. A weird way to introduce oneself to a mainstream-ish audience, one that doesn't altogether work. A$AP also commissioned a video for this shit, and that clip somehow makes even less sense than this song does. And so it begins.
Okay, now this is more like it. The much more accessible "Goldie" succeeds where the title track fails: the beat, by the omnipresent Hit-Boy, is catchy as fuck, and A$AP's attempts at passing off swagger and confidence as his currency actually works here, as this kind of musical backing demands materialism and superficiality. (This is most noticeable in the way A$AP throws the line "bitching with your bitch ass" away on two separate occasions, sounding so disinterested that he can't even be bothered to complete a single thought about your bitch ass.) The two verses on here are enjoyably goofy (at one point our host mentions the No Limit Records tank, which is never not funny), and he sounds like he's having a good enough time in the booth. The hook, performed in the distorted screwed-up vocal style our host is wont to use, is annoying at first, since it aims for creepy and ends up sounding kind of laughable, but it's easy enough to gloss over when the rest of the song is this contagious. Not bad.
3. PMW (ALL I REALLY NEED) (FEAT. SCHOOLBOY Q)
A$AP reunites with Black Hippy's Schoolboy Q for what I was hoping would be a natural extension of their "Hands On The Wheel" collaboration (a song I quite like), but instead meanders and loses focus like any story from Abe Simpson. Our host uses the T-Minus beat to craft an ode to his three favorite vices (pussy, money, and wainscoting), but while his actual verse sounded okay, his hook is performed in that distorted vocal thing that I'm sure is his trademark, but fuck, is that an acquired taste. Q then switches the entire point of the song (pussy, money, waterslides) and tells a tale where he boasts about paying a girl for sex. I don't know if I should find his honesty refreshing or if I should feel bad that a rapper who boasts about everything else going well in his life has to resort to the exchange of money for goods and services. And that mule went on to save spring break.
I imagine this track may be quite polarizing, since it definitely doesn't sound like anything else on the radio today, but I actually loved this Clams Casino instrumental: it comes across as a glitchy, hypnotic, rapper-friendly version of what the producer thinks a Crystal Castles song might sound like if sent through a Washed Out filter pissed on by M83. If you're looking for instant atmosphere, the beat on "LVL" runs circles around that of the title track. However, our host doesn't use the music to its fullest potential, choosing instead to rap about inane shit such as pussy, money, and washing machines, so "LVL" isn't as good a song as it most definitely should have been. Right about now, I'm thinking that sounding cocky just isn't going to be enough.
5. HELL (FEAT. SANTIGOLD)
Clams Casino also handles the beat for "Hell", but it isn't nearly as interesting as that of "LVL". A$AP's style-over-substance-masquerading-as-substance (which, let me make clear, isn't always a bad thing) rhymes fail to stick to the beat or to the listener's mind, and Santigold's hook is so generic that her role could have been played by literally any other singer or non-singer had A$AP not been going for the hipster / Pitchfork crowd with his guest features. (Speaking of which, why isn't Lana Del Ray on Long. Live. A$AP again?) I couldn't get into this shit, but at least it wasn't nearly as hellish as I had originally feared. It just sucked is all.
6. PAIN (FEAT. OVERDOZ)
This incorrectly-titled song is hardly about any kind of tangible pain: A$AP and his guests, the Los Angeles-based crew OverDoz, rhyme about the benefits and, ever so briefly, the perils of stardom. (The phrase "lights, camera, action" is used so often that I'm convinced that was the true working title of this song, right up until someone at the label remembered the Mr. Cheeks solo hit of the same name.) Everyone who isn't named Rocky on here sound pretty damn good, actually, not because they're especially great emcees but because, after five straight tracks of A$AP's too-cool-for-school flair, it was refreshing to hear someone give half of a shit. Groan.
7. FUCKIN' PROBLEMS (FEAT. DRAKE, 2 CHAINZ, & KENDRICK LAMAR)
A$AP Rocky on scoring a pretty major hit with a song called "Fuckin'
Problems" (and somehow convincing a major label, RCA, to release it to
radio). As everyone and their mother has already taken great pains to
point out, the Noah "40" Shebib beat is contagious, and the limited use
of Tity Boi on the hook guarantees that Max will find his contribution
goofy and not grating. However, the main fuckin' problem on this track
is Rocky himself: he sounds decent, but by surrounding himself with
bigger name Drake (who turns in a stellar guest appearance that actually
sounds like he was having something approximating fun while spilling
his verse onto his notepad) and with (much) better lyricist K-Dot, he
inadvertently minimizes his own contribution: there's no fucking way that
anyone listens to "Fuckin' Problems" for A$AP. Still, for what is
apparently a radio-friendly song, this is certainly one of the better
ones out there today. (This is the exact same paragraph I wrote when I posted that Billboard hot rap singles chart commentary, which, if you'll recall, I kind of warned you about, but I do have one new thing to add: I appreciate the fact that Rocky at least half-assedly came up with some cleaner lyrics for the video edit of "Fuckin' Problems". The new lyrics aren't very good ("...at least Hilfiger rich"? That's the best you could come up with?), but at least he tried to reach out to the MTV audience, unlike Drake, K-Dot, and Tity Boi, whose hook makes no fucking goddamn sense on the radio version. Kind of reminded me of when artists used to record entirely different versions of their songs in order to gain radio airplay. Ah, those were the days.)
8. WILD FOR THE NIGHT (FEAT. SKRILLEX & BIRDY NAM NAM)
I'm predisposed to hate electronic-slash-dubstep artist Skrillex because I'm over a certain age (wow, how much more vague can I be?) and because his hair looks stupid and because his face looks highly punchable, and I'm sure that our host only collaborated with Skrillex in an effort to appeal to as many advertising demographics as possible, but I actually don't hate "Wild For The Night". I don't really like it, either, but the beat (credited to our host and his two guests) would work well in a club (especially during the hook). A$AP tries to force it on here, and he doesn't sound nearly as comfortable over this busy beat than elsewhere on the project, but this at least sounds better than most rappers' attempts at faux-dubstep. Doesn't hold a candle, a motherfucking candle, to the Rampage and Busta Rhymes song of the same name, though: maybe A$AP could be nice and extend an invite to the Last Boy Scout for a remix or something. The fuck else is Rampage doing these days?
9. 1 TRAIN (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR, JOEY BADA$$, YELAWOLF, DANNY BROWN, ACTION BRONSON, & BIG K.R.I.T.)
For the massive posse cut "1 Train", A$AP explained in an interview that he "wanted to make a posse cut that felt like an original '90s underground track, and I didn't have to tell anyone what to do", and in that regard, he succeeds wildly with what may be the finest track on Long. Live. A$AP. Hit-Boy's instrumental bangs exactly in a late-1990s manner, and A$AP made some pretty goddamn solid choices for collaborators, aside from the miscast Yelawolf. Kendrick's verse blows his guest spot on "Fuckin' Problems" out of the water (and, for the record, yes, I did like Lamar's work on that previous track), and up-and-comer Joey Bada$$, along with HHID favorites Danny Brown and Action Bronson, destroy the beat admirably. Hell, even A$AP himself steps his game up. With the closing verse, though, Big K.R.I.T. walks away with the entire store, his shit is that. Fucking. Good.
10. FASHION KILLA
Also known as "the song for the ladies", which is a mandatory inclusion if you expect to actually move any units. The beat, credited to Hector Delgado and our host, is alright, if a bit repetitive, and A$AP's bars rarely stray from praising his anonymous lady friend and her choice in fashion designers, but he at least sounds invested enough in the material (remember, pussy is one of the only things "a n---a really need", according to his mission statement way back on track three) that at least eight female listeners will believe Rocky to be the sweetest man ever. Me, I just think the song was okay. Not bad, but not great. Then again, I'm not the target demographic, in that I possess a penis.
Danger Mouse (yes, that Danger Mouse; I know, I was impressed, too) provides a beat that is decent, but in no way does it fit A$AP's overall concept of the song, which apparently consists solely of abstractly talking about how he grew up poor and appreciating his success today. You know, like every other rapper in motherfucking existence. But there's nothing celebratory about the musical backing, and also the title doesn't make any goddamn sense: A$AP Rocky can't rise from the ashes like a phoenix if this is just his debut fucking album. Dude hasn't even had time to fail yet. Sigh.
The final song of the regular program. One weird artistic choice that our host has made throughout Long. Live. A$AP is seemingly rhyming independent (or in spite of, such as on here) of whatever kind of musical backing he's been provided with, but it's not that he's constantly off-beat: it just gives the listener the impression that A$AP simply speaks this way all the time, talking in rhymes like a drug-dealing court jester, while his producers race against time to record snatches of soliloquys and set them to music just so the label will be happy and to keep their host afloat. This comparison doesn't make all that much sense, I know, but right now I share the same sense of apathy as our host when it comes to "Suddenly".
The following tracks are only available on the deluxe edition of Long. Live. A$AP.
The first track on Long. Live. A$AP After Dark channels C-Murder and attempts an apocalyptic tone, what with the yelling and the sinister instrumental and all. The beat is kind of interesting, and A$AP's weak attempts to sound serious (but only in spurts) flail about like a child stuck on a see-saw in mid-air. Quite easy to see why "Jodye" was relegated to bonus track status: it doesn't fit anywhere in our host's life, let alone on the proper album. Next!
14. GHETTO SYMPHONY (FEAT. GUNPLAY & A$AP FERG)
Using Frou Frou's "Psychobabble" as a foundation (proving that they did have more in them than Imogen Heap and the one song used in Garden State), A$AP Rocky teams up with Rick Ross's legally-troubled coworker Gunplay, and his own weed carrier, A$AP Ferguson, for a quick, weirdly spirited posse cut that works better than it has any right to. Praise-slash-blame for this track's (mild) success lays at the feet at Gunplay, whose middle verse contains all of the passion, anger, and the need to prove himself that this entire goddamn album has lacked. He actually sounded great, and I'm not bullshitting you on that: hell, I'm shocked, too, considering that the motherfucker's nickname is "Gunplay", but here we are. Rocky sounds okay as well, but Ferguson sucks taint: dude sounds fucking awful, so much so that I'm convinced he's only a part of the A$AP Mob because he somehow blackmailed Rocky into gifting him with membership. Maybe this also helps explain why A$AP Ferg is the next one out of the group getting a push on the radio.
Meh. Yep, that's back.
16. I COME APART (FEAT. FLORENCE WELCH)
The final song on Long. Live. A$AP features Florence Welch (from Florence + The Machine, even though nobody actually says the word "plus" when talking about the band), making for the weirdest guest spot on a rap album since vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro's cameo on Willie D.'s Play Witcha Mama. The music isn't as complete as one would hope from a final song, and Welch's contribution is limited to singing vocals that have fuck-all to do with whatever the hell Rocky was aiming for on here. Kudos for being cognizant of other musical genres, A$AP, but you could have done so much more with what you were given on here, what with Welch basically singing about how our host's success "won't last forever" and all. At least we're done now.
THE LAST WORD: Long. Live. A$AP has received good-to-great reviews all over the place, but I fail to see why: it's merely an okay album. A$AP Rocky hasn't quite learned yet that swagger can only get an artist so far: it's impossible to coast on every single song and expect the same results each time. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Rocky has an interesting ear for beats, especially those that wouldn't obviously translate well into our chosen genre, so in that respect, I feel the guy has a pretty good future, because at least the music on this album was mostly interesting. But his rhymes leave a lot to be desired. I don't require complex rhymes or serious street tales whenever I listen to rap music, regardless of what the comment section on HHID will lead you to believe: I merely need to be entertained, and Long. Live. A$AP doesn't do a good job of consistently entertaining the audience. When everything clicks, such as on "Goldie" or "Fuckin' Problems", then A$AP Rocky seems like an exciting new-ish artist who deserves a wider audience. (Little wonder why those two songs were the first two released to radio.) But when A$AP crawls up his own ass, as he has a tendency to do (see: the title track, or "Suddenly", or pretty much any of the bonus tracks), it's increasingly difficult to root for the guy. This project left me interested enough to actually check out his debut mixtape, a feat that the Reader Review I've already run on it couldn't do, but unless he adds some more passion or awareness into his bars, his lyrical days may be numbered in my mind: not for nothing are the best three verses on Long. Live. A$AP performed by Big K.R.I.T., Drake, and Gunplay. And I'm dead serious when I say that. Take that as you will.
There's more to read on A$AP Rocky that can be found here.