LongLiveA$AP begins with the sound of thunder – hardly a reserved opening by any standards. Then again, Rakim Mayers isn’t exactly the embodiment of modesty either; in recent interviews he proclaimed: “I want people to say he’s the best artist – not the best rapper of his generation, but the best artist”. And while his long-delayed major label debut does not quite step toe-to-toe with his ambition, it certainly makes a strong case for his status as one of hip-hop’s most exciting prospects.
Developing on the success of 2011’s mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, Rocky further demonstrates his innate ear for fresh sounds by continually making smart production choices. From long-time collaborator Clams Casino’s thick haze to some unlikely reggae-tinged arena-rave courtesy of Skrillex, the album manages to stay on trend whilst satisfying both the commercial and alternative crowd. Not so successful however is the Santigold-featured Hell, in which her vocal appearance comes off flat and discordant to Rocky’s aesthetic.
Goldie marks an upgrade of his trademark sound: all screwed vocals, throbbing bass and high frequency beats – a scene of psychosis, if you will. Unfortunately, it exposes the record’s sole weakness and a recurring complaint amongst those familiar with his work. In the aftermath of Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Rocky is surely conscious of his sub-par lyricism, and it shows: ‘yes, I’m the shit, tell me do I stink?’ he asks – a line narrowly saved by the track’s playful instrumental.
Closer Suddenly teases with some rare depth though, detailing a childhood of struggle and adversity only for him to concede: ‘this ain’t no conscious rap.’ Frustratingly it relegates Rocky merely to hit-maker status – noteworthy enough, but barely indicative of his potential.
LongLiveA$AP does, however, do well to embrace its expensive nature. With a string sample reminiscent of classic RZA and roll call of hip-hop’s most exciting up-and-comers, 1 Train is the most ambitious posse track since Kanye West’s Monster. Making up for in flow what he lacks in lyrical insight, Rocky’s verse certainly holds its own; but top marks go to Danny Brown, whose outrageous wit and delivery elevates him from his peers.
Album highlight, Fuckin’ Problems hosts more established household names, but what is most evident from LongLiveA$AP’s veritable guest features is Rocky’s unwavering confidence amongst such heavyweights. Indeed this Harlem rapper is fully aware of his strengths, and with a tasteful and endearing work as this, the bravado isn’t entirely unfounded.