In the compressed world of modern hip hop, stars are not born. There are no sudden explosions, no mad dashes, no emerging from the woodwork through pure velocity, as, say, one of young New York MC A$AP Rocky’s principal inspirations, DJ Screw and the SUC collective managed through his unique, slowed down Houston sound.
Yet, in Rocky’s world, a star is essentially raised in a vat, a genesis free for all to watch, poke at, and ultimately, judge. A rapper in 2013 that can actually push albums – let alone grab regular airplay – is a most valuable of beasts, fenced in by warring labels as soon as the first blog peeps of their existence. Then it happens. All eyes on them, in a way 2pac could scarcely have imagined while recording his first LP in 1991. Kids still in the midst of finding their voices are practically saddled with the future of hip hop, and the expectations of the businessman and fans that come with it. It creates an atmosphere in which there’s practically a cultural expectation for a hyped rapper to succeed, and for all to fall into place in selling him.
Everything is distracting. Take the over attentiveness towards Rocky’s ‘dirty’ inspiration, which is in truth as rooted in Memphis as in Houston, betrayed a fresh concept with collective goggling amounting to, “Ooh, he’s a New Yorker that sounds Southern!” Rocky endured the judgment period required for all “indie” backed artists, keeping folks interested by seemingly dating both Lana Del Rey and Iggy Azalea, grabbing Rihanna’s butt, and unenthusiastically beefing with former ally SpaceGhostPurpp.
Purpp is the perfect foil to Rocky’s career: his volatile nature put him at odds with the hype world, and he was gone. A$AP, on the other hand, has been careful building his brand, dodging the weakness of his Mob’s collective Lords Never Worry, to arrive at his major label debut, Long.Live.A$AP.
It’s at this point that a piping hot rapper’s momentum grows beyond the potential of stalling. Yet, this doesn’t always make the final product as flawless as those involved in allowing it to reach us – whether through investment or praise – need to believe it is.
At its best, Long.Live.A$AP is a delirious, energetic trip through Rocky’s Houston-Harlem world. Yet, while 15 tracks is hardly overlong for a hip hop LP, all together the album is shapeless, tracks venturing off in different directions without ever latching together into the impressive musical narrative of Live.Love.A$AP. The album-titled intro track glides the listener perfectly into Rocky’s affairs, the rapper’s first words hurling, “I thought I’d probably die in prison!” Then “Goldie” putters things to a halt; the track was perfect radio fodder a year ago, now it’s not only stale, but the blatantly Hit-Boy beat has no natural place amongst the lush soundscape of Clams Casino et al. The same can be said for Drake soundsmith 40’s “Fuckin’ Problems”; the track may have been what brought Drizzy listeners to Rocky, but it’d only sound truly at home on Take Care. Most offensive is the dreaded Skrillex collaboration “Wild For The Night.” You can’t blame Rocky for tapping into one of the most popular artists his age, but the results are unlistenable and in complete opposition to the deliberate grooviness of the MC’s sound.
These tracks underscore the flaws in the groundwork of this debut. Skipping around makes for a highly enjoyable listen, Hit-Boy more than redeeming himself with the dream posse cut of “1Train,” but if you’re looking for a cohesive vision from Rocky, look elsewhere. Rather, his debut comes across as a scattershot collection of ideas, never quite venturing deep enough into any of them to make an impact. Unsure whether he wanted to create a sunny, party album, gangstafest, or a record of cool pop vibes, Rocky seems to have tried to make them all, and with minor successes in all departments, he sacrifices something stronger. This doesn’t make Rocky a failure by any means, he’s still a promising voice capable of building fantastic songs, but this is hardly the work of perfection some want to guilt you into thinking it is.