Review Summary: Rocky's rapping ability is sealed here as a promising talent. Unfortunately, this potential would feel more at home on a tighter, fresher, more focused release.
A$AP Rocky’s particular brand of hip-hop will be familiar to anyone who has listened to any music in the genre released in the last five years. Popular artists such as B.O.B and Wiz Khalifa spring to mind as stylistically similar rap artists, but Rocky is probably the purest distillation of all the prominent motifs featured in modern hip-hop. After going solo from A$AP Mob, Rocky joined forces with Kendrick Lamar as an opening act for Drake, and shortly after began performing his own solo shows, steadily becoming more prolific thanks to guest appearances on more popular artist’s material, such as on Rihanna’s ‘Cockiness (Love It)’ from her Talk That Talk
Album. Rocky also had a hand in the production of his debut release, albeit with assistance from a number of other producers. Really, it’s not particularly trailblazing or even particularly inventive music, but anyone who has even a fleeting interest in hip-hop music would do well to listen to this album, as it serves as a refreshing change for popular music. In an age when the majority of rap artists working in the mainstream charts feel lite in comparison to the seedy underbelly of underground hip-hop, it’s pleasant that some of the grittier sensibilities have been carried over into the charts, and this is especially noticeable on Long Live A$AP
One of the more noticeable aspects of Long Live A$AP is the musicality; rather than employing the typical hip-hop style of processed beats and samples, the album utilises a more club-friendly vibe, with booming bass, sleek synths and old skool hip-hop rhythms, in a manner very reminiscent of artists such as Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash. Despite this, the similarities start and end there, as Long Live A$AP
only features these musical traits as a backdrop for Rocky’s rhymes. The club feel of the music affords the lyrical content some kitsch value, but doesn’t feel progressive or even interesting. In the same manner that trance and bassline music feels at home in a club environment, but listening to it through headphones can feel monotonous, I struggle to work out what target demographic Rocky was striving to reach when this album was going through the final phases of mixing. Hip-hop fans may find that they enjoy the juxtaposition of simplistic, bassy, anthemic tunes and Rocky’s lyricism, but it definitely appears to be narrowing the album’s appeal somewhat, as conversely, it’s difficult to imagine anything from this album being considered a club classic. From a critical standpoint, though, the combination is serviceable and – dare I say it - quite enjoyable. The production is solid and the bass booms admirably, but replacing hooks and melody with the thrum of low, ambient tunes is a little misguided.
The highlight of the album is undoubtedly Rocky’s delivery, which fluctuates impressively between tongue-twistingly spry and quirkily unhurried. A particular instance on single track ‘***in’ Problems’ features a neat break at the end of a line, but not before the end of the verse music, after which Rocky immediately continues his rhymes. It creates the illusion of the song being freestyled, and although this is clearly not true, this novel way of creating a rapport with the listener works memorably well. The lyrical content touches all the usual hip-hop bases of women, recreational drug use, guns, and general gangsta activities, but these themes are balanced out with a surprising emotional touch on certain songs, even when the subject matter itself isn’t particularly sympathetic. A$AP even uses the old soundbite of a shotgun being cocked and fired. Unless it’s fleeting, post-N.W.A rappers/rap outfits cannot carry off this kind of tough-guy nonsense convincingly anymore. It’s puerile and since it has been done countless times before, it has little to no effect. Elsewhere on the album, a few collaborations show a different side to Rocky’s music; ‘Wild For The Night’ , which features Skrillex on mixing duties (as Rocky makes unequivocally clear, the popular dubstep producer is his nigga), and 'I Come Apart’, featuring Florence And The Machine’s Florence Welch. Both tracks feel a little crowbarred in and blend in with the other tracks somewhat, but they work thanks to the efforts of the respective collaborators. Welch’s low but soothing voices serves as an enjoyable antithesis to Rocky’s aggressive rhyming, and, shock horror, Skrillex actually does something of use too. The electronica/ dubstep/ hip-hop clash is a little jarring, but the first half of the song ensures that it stays in the listener’s head, thanks to a horribly catchy glitching tune and a distorted, slowed-down voice during the chorus.
A$AP Rocky’s debut doesn’t do everything right. In fact, in musical terms, it struggles with basic principles, opting for an old-fashioned club approach that functions smoothly but doesn’t stray or experiment with this tried and tested formula. It’s entertaining and there are some effortlessly cool flows to be found here and there, but a more focused, grounded hip-hop approach would have given Long Live A$AP
a wider appeal and a more streamlined sound. As a first step, it’s a little shaky, but there’s no doubting the young rapper’s potential, and if he continues to build upwards from this LP, then his future is going to be a bright one. Dare I say it" Long Live A$AP.