Review Summary: Rocky gon' spit it like Andre, I'm goin' kill it like Big Boi. Got rappers on my entre, eat em like COOKIES... CHIPS AHOY!
When I hear the bonus track “Ghetto Symphony”, the flaws in A$AP Rocky, and ultimately his album Long Live A$AP, become very explicitly clear. A$AP isn't a bad rapper, he has a very good handle on rhythm. However, what is the main concern of his rapping is the content. Themes are repeated – his mouth is full of gold, name drops of classic rappers, all of it done in a way that doesn't too much. Now compare that to verses by Gunplay and even A$AP Ferg. Gunplay comes off like an aggressive drill Sargent, raging “'til my cardiacs arrested and my 40 oz is empty/show me what you owe me and a porterhouse with that”. Now the comparison may be unfair; Gunplay has made some of the best rap anthems in the last year with his ideal mixture of the aggression of Waka Flocka with a touch of Young Dro-isms, but lets be a little more fair in the world of comparisons. A$AP Ferg hops on the track yelling about how he's going to eat rappers “like cookies – chips ahoy!”. It's not a great line, especially it follows an Outkast name-drop that aligns with Rocky's, but hip hop is also a lot about how a rapper will say the things that he says. And in the case of A$AP Ferg, joy overflows when he's rapping because we get the sense Ferg enjoys rapping. We don't get that sense from A$AP Rocky on this track, as Rocky prefers to live his existence in this post-Drake post-Jay world of dissociation from joy.
That's always a bit concerning considering where he began as a rapper: On his first mixtape Live Love A$AP, he gave shouts out to Lil B, a rapper whose sole goal of his music is to make himself and his listeners joyous. Lil B was enormously sloppy when it came to writing, sometimes when you read the lyrics you could feel when he just put the pen down and took a break before he got back to it, and you never get the sense of that connection again. At the same time though, Lil B was passionate about the music he was making. In much the same way was a lot of Live Love A$AP. It definitely wasn't the perfect release: while A$AP Rocky's immaculate, snake-like flow was in tact, he wore his influences on his sleeve very clearly, and his themes never really deviated too much. Add to that the undefined persona and you get a sense of a rapper who has some ideas of what he wants to do as a rapper, but sounds more like a culmination of his favorite artists and his words more a culmination of his favorite things, never getting into the man himself. Luckily, throughout Live Love A$AP, there are beautifully created beats, and one of the strengths of an A$AP Rocky is his ability to bounce of a beat and feel the instruments environment. Clams Casino's lighter than air, but darkly toned atmosphere also balanced the lyrical ideas that A$AP Rocky often likes to bounce around. It was a match made in heaven.
When one listens to Long Live A$AP, however, the days of Clams Casino are gone, and so are his instrumental ingenuity. The title track is probably the best song on the album, with an instrumental that feels as if it was dipped in haunted house strings, which benefits perfectly to the outer image of A$AP Rocky that he has managed to create for himself. Other than that, we have the other major stand-out on the actual album, the last track in “Suddenly”, which is a track that has a sample that sounds like a classic hip hop track, but its stripped of its classic drum structure and is instead torn apart into its little part. It builds up to a climatic point that Rocky defines. It's one of those few moments where we see some true subtly and song-writing ideas from Rocky, who defines himself in a very traditionalist manner in spite of some of his outward appearances and influences.
Now, it would be very easy to tear apart the album from track to track, but rather, it would be better to approach it from an overall perspective. In between the title track and “Suddenly”, so much goes ary. At most points, when Rocky is given a half baked instrumental that clunks around, he will also clunk around. It's all a lot of non-ideas. Instead of following the sound of Live Love A$AP, he allows the album to dip into gimmickry. We hear everything, from dub-step gone haywire (“Wild For The Night”), Drake goofs (“PMW”, “***in Problem”), and, oddly enough, Odd Future copycats (“Pain”). Danger Mouse is given “Phoenix”, and as he tends to do when nobody is paying attention to who he is collaborating with, he falls into the background. A$AP Rocky is very charismatic, and that is one of the reasons why he is actually one of the better points of the album, but nothing he says or none of how he says it can lift this track list of duds.
Nobody is claiming Live Love A$AP to be a classic, but its actually a much more realized release. Sure, influences run amok, but there is a vision of where he wanted to go with the sound: a Houston hard head with a fetish for airy instrumentals on the now and then. In much the same way as fellow swagger 2 Chainz, he abandoned aesthetic for fame, and ended up with an album that rings hollow and unmemorable. Oddly enough, the albums best moment comes from 2 Chainz, whose howl on “***in Problems” is more soulful and more pained than any of the symbolic posing or suicidal doors that any of A$AP's lyrics do. That's hard for me to say, considering how much of a dud 2 Chainz was on his own album after years of strong appearances on other peoples songs.