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Friday, August 21, 2015

“LONG.LIVE.A$AP” debut album review

DJ Linda Lovely/flickr

A$AP Rocky has had a quick ascent to fame and he knows it. “Introduce you n—-s to the new swag/ Make you say a n—- blew up too fast/ F— I’m ‘sposed to do with all this new ass?/  F— I’m ‘sposed to do with all this new cash?” Rocky spits on Clams Casino-produced banger “LVL,” the fourth track on his recently released major label debut “LONG.LIVE.A$AP,” and it pretty much sums up his career thus far.

When Rocky burst onto the scene in 2011, he had a firmly established niche as a New York rapper that didn’t look or sound like a New York rapper. Foregoing the established boom bap sound NYC is known for, Rocky opted for smoked-out beats and Southern hip-hop influenced flows. Off the strength of his music videos for “Purple Swag” and “Peso,” the self-described “pretty motherf—er” inked a $3 million record deal before his first mixtape, the impressive “LiveLoveA$AP” even dropped.

It is fitting that Rocky laments that he now has too much money and sex at his disposal on “LVL,” because it’s really the only track that sounds like it could have been on “LiveLoveA$AP.” Rocky still has all the same influences but this is the blockbuster version of his vision. With big-name producers and the most talented rappers of this era at his fingertips he goes all in.

“LONG.LIVE.A$AP,” the album, opens with title track “Long Live A$AP,” the song, which despite the less stylized type starts the album off with a bang – literally. The first sound heard on the album is thunder. Then an equally powerful beat kicks in and over chopped vocal samples Rocky breaks into his trademark Houston-inspired flow. While the vibe is similar to the songs on his mixtape, everything is more polished and tight. The first real surprise is when the chorus kicks in. Upon hearing the impressively smoothly sung hook, it is easy to glance to the liner notes to see who is featured, but in fact it is Rocky branching out.

And Rocky braches out a lot over the course of this album. He has co-producer credits on three songs and a producer credit on another. As previously mentioned, he breaks out his singing voice on multiple songs, including on the bonus track “I Come Apart,” which finds him sounding a lot like Kid Cudi in juxtaposition to Florence and the Machines’ Florence Welch. He toys with softer songs than he has previously done such as “Fashion Killa,” though he doesn’t sweeten up too much. It is hard to tell whether he is more infatuated with the girl he addresses the song to or the high-end clothing they buy together; it’s probably the clothing though.

There a lot of huge tunes on this album. “Goldie” finds Rocky going hard over a Hit-Boy beat (best known for producing “N—-s in Paris” for Kanye West and Jay-Z). “F—in’ Problems” finds Club Paradise tour-mates Drake and Kendrick Lamar joining Rocky over an awesome Noah “40” Shebib

beat, though even the catchy 2 Chainz chorus can’t stop a song produced by Drake’s main producer and featuring the Canadian rapper himself from sounding more like a Drake song than a Rocky tune. “1Train” suffers from a similar issue. The cypher track finds Rocky joined by pretty much all of the fastest rising stars in hip hop – Kendrick Lamar, Joey BADA$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. – and he gets out-shined by all of them. Though to be fair, if your biggest problem is that your songs feature some of the best rappers in the game giving amazing verses on your songs then that isn’t the worst problem to have.

Interestingly, the most unexpected collaboration on the album is also the best one. “Wild for the Night” is billed as featuring Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam though they aren’t any more involved with the track than the other producers on the album, perhaps due to the fact that in hip-hop, producers are background players, and in the electronic music world they are the stars. The beat is a slight rework of the Skrillex “Goin’ Down” mix of Birdy Nam Nam’s “Goin In” that the EDM giant produced for their “Jaded Future EP.” Reworked by Skrillex, Birdy Nam Nam and Rocky himself for this album, “Wild for the Night” takes the song to the next level. Many rappers have sampled dance music, but it isn’t very often that the result ends up better than the original. Perhaps it is due to working with the original artists, but Rocky’s version amps up the energy into pure party furor. As a hip-hop song assembled from a dance song influenced by hip-hop, it is interesting to see the chopped and screwed “going wild for the night f— being polite” vocals from the original go from a reference to the type of music Rocky makes, to just being the type of music Rocky makes.

Not every song on here is great, however. Some, such as “Hell,” “Pain,” “Phoenix” and “Suddenly” are just straight-up boring. While Rocky can do slow and mellow with the best of them, there is a certain point where a song just starts sounding sleepy and tame. This, unfortunately, halts “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” from being the type of album you want to listen to straight-through every time.

Overall, “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” is an incredibly solid and diverse album from a very promising young emcee. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t an instant classic, but as long as you skip over the right tunes it’s got a lot of replay value and more than a few quotables. His debut mixtape had more character but his debut album definitely has more class. This isn’t the guy in the “Peso” video anymore, roaming the grungy streets of New York with 40 ounces of malt liquor in his hand; this is the guy in the “Goldie” video, roaming the posh streets of Paris with 40 ounces of malt liquor in his hand. “LONG.LIVE.A$AP” shows that A$AP Rocky deserves the stardom he’s gained- and hey, maybe he’ll figure out what to do with all the newfound money and women.

Gabe Scarbrough can be reached at gscarbro@student.umass.edu.

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