A$AP Rocky’s Harlem-meets-Houston sound hits a home run

A$AP Rocky’s Harlem-meets-Houston sound hits a home run

“I wonder if they’ll miss me? As long as I make history…”

That line sums up A$AP Rocky’s album.

The A$AP Mob frontman makes his long-awaited major label debut with Long Live A$AP, an album that’s equally parts cocky bravado and uncertain introspection. Opening almost every track with his distinct, slowed-down “Uh!” Rocky announces himself as a fully-formed artist—a benefit of dropping mixtapes that sounded as focused as albums.

On the spooky title track, the rapper lyrically references everyone from Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Goodie MOB while blatantly name-dropping Three Six Mafia and Lil Flip. Rocky rhymes about paranoia and immortality. It’s an interesting album opener; it’s not meant to be an anthem, more of a slightly-funereal look at his own psyche. And it lets the listener know that Rocky may not be going for “conventional” on Long Live A$AP. The popular single “Goldie” is a little more standard-issue flossin’ radio rap, but that isn’t a bad thing here. Rocky’s strength is his cooler-than-thou persona, so as he tosses off lines about leaving you brainless and scoffing at haters, the rapid-fire verses serve as an excellent contrast to the chopped-and-screwed-esque hook.

“Pain” is the more introspective side of Rocky, but even it is filtered through musings on money and fame. “The year they say might be the end. Better look within,” raps OverDoz, as he and Rocky reference cocaine being lined up with EBT cards and male “groupies” feigning fandom. “Phoenix” is easily the album’s darkest moment, as Rocky reflects on his own suicidal thoughts and mentions tragic figures like Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and Basquiat. “The Bible or the rifle,” he asks–openly pondering which is best to remedy pain over a melancholy Danger Mouse track.

“F—ckin’ Problems” features 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar and, unlike the aforementioned “Long Live A$AP,” it sounds like the obligatory club/radio song. The Noah “40” Shebib-produced track feels more generic than anything else on the record.

But the album’s highlight is the throwback posse cut “1Train.” It’s virtually the only time on the album that Rocky acknowledges his East Coast roots, and it captures the feel of posse cuts from back before every other track on a rap album featured 4 or more guest artists. With Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$ and Danny Brown, it aims to be the 2013 “Symphony.” And it just might be. “Suddenly” is another stellar moment for Rocky, again musing on his newfound success while throwing references to his influences in over a bounce-friendly beat.

Rocky’s Houston influences are squeezed into virtually every corner of the album. The production echoes everything from Pimp C to DJ Screw to Suave House—all filtered through a 2013 sensibility. The Schoolboy Q-assisted “PMW” wouldn’t sound out of place on a UGK album; but Long Live A$AP isn’t a “throwback” or “retro” album. No, this is definitely a set of songs firmly rooted in right now; Rocky masterfully juggles his influences and melds them with his contemporary vision. This is the sound of a young rapper paying homage to his influences without aping them; and reveling in his money and fame while also questioning the struggle that came with attaining it.

–          stereo williams

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