With all the glorious judgement and perspective that comes with being one whole month into 2013, the way things stand at the moment it looks like the most revered, the most defining, and the list-topping releases of 2012 were mostly hip-hop records. Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean smashed it, dominating end of year lists and radio waves alike, whilst Schoolboy Q, Killer Mike, Roc Marciano, and tons of others put out interesting, challenging and successful albums.
And on their heels, come to dominate the decade’s teenage years with his first full release, is one A$AP Rocky. After a huge amount of hype and much spin-doctoring, Rocky had signed (a reportedly $3 million contract) with Sony, been hailed around the internet as the biggest contender for OFWGKTA’s swag-hop crown, and finally, in 2011, put out the Live.Love.A$AP mixtape. Though the hype has subdued and there have been some major careers launched in the interim, there was still pressure on Rocky to deliver with his first album proper.
Unlike Kendrick or Frank’s confessionals, or even Tyler’s pseudo-anarchic rhymes, Rocky mostly stands by straight-up, classic gangster rap content. The first three tracks stick well within familiar tropes, backed up by the familiar Clams Casino-style slick sub-bass beats and clattering spills. ‘Long Live A$AP’ is a standard rags-to-riches tale, pieced round a gliding, dreamy chorus; “Who said you can’t live forever lied”. Next, lead single ‘Goldie’ is jammed with A$AP trademarks, and manages to be catchy without drops or gimmicks, relying instead on relentless flow. ‘PMW’ rounds it off, a case in point; “Pussy money weed, that’s all a nigger need”.
Lyrically, Long.Live.A$AP can feel somewhat shallow, with particularly ‘Fashion Killa’ (lyrics composed almost entirely of brand names) letting the side down. Just as his first mixtape dwelled almost exclusively on smoking weed, here Rocky is inclined to talk cash and hoes to the detriment of everything else. There are some flashes of potential for more though, most prominently on ‘Suddenly’, where finally there’s some humour (“Roaches on the walls, roaches on the dresser, everybody got roaches but our roaches don’t respect us”) as well as story-telling, with Rocky’s finest lines on the album; “cookouts and dirt bikes and dice games and fist fights/And fish fries and shootouts like one SIG with two rounds/And click left two down, that’s four kids but one lived/That one miss, that one snitch”.
Though evidently collaborations are in part what brings Rocky his unmistakable sound, with giants like Clams Casino, Dangermouse and Hit-Boy (amongst others) producing, his decision to incorporate a hip-hop who’s who onto his debut album has perhaps backfired. With guest spots from – (deep breath) Schoolboy Q, OverDoz, Kendrick Lamar, 2Chainz, Drake, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Gunplay and A$APFerg –Rocky risks his own identity being lost on his own debut, and at times it is certainly unclear who the dominate voice is supposed to be. And while at times the guest rappers add to the atmosphere, especially on 6 minute self-aggrandizing competition ‘1 Train’, the additions of Santigold and, mysteriously, Florence Welch are conspicuously out of place. Although, now that Tyler the Creator is supposedly singing on Miley Cyrus’ new album it looks quite a mundane choice. Worst of all is ‘Wild For The Night’, featuring Skrillex, with awful happy-hardcore chimes and airhorns.
It’s a confident, beautifully-produced record, which builds well on everything that made Live.Love.A$AP a success; but there is perhaps too little progress. Whilst there’s no doubting the hooks and the flow, lyrically it’s uninventive and repetitive in places, and there’s no doubting Rocky’s got more to give. Perhaps if it had come out this time last year we would have received it rapturously, but in the wake of 2012’s big hitters, it looks slightly pedestrian. Though he stands level with them as they guest on his songs, Rocky’s in danger of playing it too safe and being left behind by his cohort. Stay clear of the ridiculous collaborations though, and it’s an enjoyable, easy listen.