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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Album Review: A$AP Rocky- LongLiveA$AP

Grade: A-
After A$AP Rocky’s electrifying debut dropped in 2011, it seemed as though a sophomore slump was inevitable. The sheer quality of the first album combined with the massive failure that was A$AP Mob’s Lords Never Worry, which featured lazy verses from Rocky himself, seemed to only lend credence to the slump theory and the frequent delays in release (all the way from September 2012 to now) had fans questioning why the album was trapped in purgatory, and whether it would see the light of day at all. With the deadline issue now resolved the biggest question remaining is: can A$AP build off of his well-laid foundation, in a Kendrick Lamar-type manner? Or was Clams Casino- who only produced 2 songs on LongLiveA$AP- the true reason for LiveLoveA$AP’s success?

It’s apparent after just the title track (doubling as the opener) that Clams was far from the only reason for Rocky’s meteoric rise to the top. A rumble of thunder precedes the opening as a kind of foreshadowing before Rocky goes in. It becomes clear immediately that the vibe on LongLiveA$AP is a high octane one- it’s a world away from the stoner rap that characterized LiveLoveA$AP. On the opening track, Rocky bares all: contrasting his life now to the one he led as a poverty stricken youth in Harlem who thought he’d “die in prison.” The two sides of his life will remain as pervasive themes throughout the album, especially the juxtaposition between beauty and grittiness. On “Pain,” Rocky opines about posing for cameras despite rolling with “ghetto girls”; lead single “Goldie” features a hook describing the gold in Rocky’s mouth and his enemy’s “glockjaw,” courtesy of Rocky himself. The album makes clear that he’s no one trick pony lyrically or stylistically.

Part of the appeal of LongLiveA$AP is his refusal to sound complacent. Incorporation of beats from producers like Danger Mouse, who chips in a Lollipop-meets-Bon-Iver beat on “Phoenix,” and Skrillex, who brings his trademark sound to the comically commercialized “Wild for the Night,” brings a non-hip-hop perspective to otherwise traditional sounding songs and the different spin on these songs makes them stand out, not necessarily as highlights, but as manifestations of Rocky’s fearlessness as an artist. The tone of the album changes randomly, yet transitions seamlessly between larger than life beats to minimalist offerings; a feat that can be pulled off only by a true talent and Rocky, with a little help from his friends, makes it work. Album centerpiece “1 Train,” a ‘Protect Ya Neck’ style showcase of today’s hottest young rap talents, is a perfect exemplification of why LongLiveA$AP is as good as it is. The beat crescendos and quiets multiple times and the crew involved- ranging from Joey Bada$$ to Danny Brown to Action Bronson- have predominantly conflicting styles. However, the way they interact and each turn the beat into their own shows the greatest strengths of LongLiveA$AP: it’s funny and loud when it wants to be, yet quiet and pensive when it needs to be.    

If there is a flaw in the album, it’s that the toned-down songs simply aren’t as entertaining as the rowdy ones. Tracks like “Goldie,” “1 Train” and “Fuckin Problems” are inherently more fun and memorable than ones like closer “Suddenly,” which discusses traumatic events from Rocky’s childhood- including a shooting. It’s inherent for us to focus on the glitter he has now and want to repress images of the gutter from which he came; the images of his hometown are stark and uninviting, the intended contrast is ever-apparent. Otherwise, LongLiveA$AP hits all of its marks and staves off the sophomore slump so many had prophesized. 

Tracklist:

1. LongLiveA$AP
2. Goldie
3. PMW
4. LVL
5. Hell
6. Pain
7. Fuckin Problems
8. Wild for the Night
9. 1 Train
10. Fashion Killa
11. Phoenix
12. Suddenly

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