Album name: Long.Live.A$AP
Artist name: A$AP Rocky
Released: January 15, 2012
ZME Rating: 8.5/10
Quentin Tarantino’s had to defend violence in his films, mainly through the aestheticization of violence. He’s made some great points in doing so, but – let’s be honest – it’s bullshit to some degree. Given that his most recent film is in some way his most violent, he’s clearly convinced he’s right. Whether or not you agree with his view or his argument, chances are that you’re watching his films in spite of this fact. His movies are entertaining – and wildly so – which makes it easy to look past the bloodshed. You’re not necessarily agreeing with him by watching his films, you’re being entertained.
Speaking of self-proclaimed righteousness, A$AP Rocky obviously thinks he’s one of the – if not the – best rappers alive. And on his major label debut, Long.Live.A$AP, he makes a pretty great case for it by sheer force of belief. A$AP doesn’t have a whole lot to say beyond what he’s already discussed ad nauseum (sex, money, being awesome), but he finds slightly new ways of saying it. He talks a lot of shit, basically. “Goldie,” for example, contains the line “Niggas talk shit ‘til they get lockjaw” which seems hypocritical when coming from him.
But that’s Rocky just being Rocky. The key to A$AP’s success goes beyond his charismatic awesomeness – not that he doesn’t have a seemingly infinite amount of it (he does) – to a place where it makes total sense that a New York rapper borrows from every hotbed of hip-hop of the entire country. That is to say, he’s the incarnation of a Gen Y’ers iTunes collection: anything and everything goes together. Fuck trends. Fuck East vs. West. Given that he’s from NY, fuck the Five Boroughs.
You see, being awesome means you can do what you want and make it work despite it not making any sense on paper. On “PMW,” A$AP double-times it about sex, money and drugs over a half-time, screwed-esque beat for no reason other than because he can. Elsewhere, he’s got a six-minute posse cut (“1 Train”) featuring as many guests because why the fuck not? To Rocky, it makes perfect sense precisely because it doesn’t Not only that, he believes that he belongs alongside rappers who rap circles around him (Kendrick and Yelawolf) because he’s one of the best himself. And he’s got a quasi-Wiz Khalifa, Euro-trash song in “Fashion Killa” that sits comfortably next to current Top 40. It has what could be called lyrics, but are actually just a list of expensive brands. Think Watch The Throne meets keeping up with the Johnsons and you’re close. But that’s the intent: When you’re the best rapper alive making the best rap album of 2013, you can use the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach and make it work. You can even use second-tier Lil Wayne puns successfully: “My mama always told me keep your mind on your money/ Boy, you better pay attention.”
And while paying attention may not seem like something A$AP ever does, he’s got an amazing ear for cohesiveness. While Live.Love.A$AP was mostly filled with Clams Casino haze, Long.Live has an impressive guest list of rappers and producers. With a major label budget, the two Clams beats here are definite upgrades. The foamy whitewash he perfected in 2011 is given a sonic overhaul, allowing all the lushness to truly float to the top and the dark underbelly to sink to the bottom. There’s finally enough space for Rocky to run around in. Drake appears as both guest and producer, giving a hand to 40 with “Fuckin’ Problems” under the name C. Papi. A$AP even makes Skrillex production listenable on “Wild for the Night” by reducing the obnoxious metallic shrieks and skwonks to a minimum.
But it’s Hit-Boy’s two contributions that are the true standouts. The aforementioned “Goldie,” isn’t his best post-“Niggas in Paris” beat (that’d be Kendrick’s “Backseat Freestyle”), but it is his most memorable: The hi-hats and snare pogostick around a spirally ascending synth. His other credit, “1 Train,” has none of his copywritten flash; instead, it’s pretty basic boom-bap with a drunkenly staggering string loop and minor key piano plinking in the background. Yet, it works because the point of the song is to act as a vehicle for as many of A$AP’s friends as possible to brag and bullshit.
Yet, in the end, this is Rocky’s show. A$AP’s entire career thus far has been to give a “middle finger to the critics,” as he states on “Wild.” He opens Long.Live with, “I thought I’d probably die in prison/ expensive taste in women/ Ain’t had no pot to piss in, now my kitchen full of dishes,” demonstrating the bizarre dichotomy of his existence and effectively asserting he made it, despite any obstacle in his life. But this could also be a fuck-you to the critics who’ve argued Rocky isn’t worthwhile because he has little to say. True enough, but they’re missing the point: A$AP got here regardless of that. Simply ask Jules Winnfield: “personality goes a long way.”