A$AP Rocky: Worth the Listen

Courtesy of RCA Records

Since “LiveLoveA$AP” dropped on Halloween 2011, A$AP Rocky has found few doubters. Really, the only consistent critique of the much-praised mixtape focuses on the Harlem-darling’s supposed lack of depth; despite his exquisite taste in beats and smooth-as-butter flow, doubters say, A$AP Rocky doesn’t talk about much more than purple drink, dice, women, weed and brews.

It’s true. Rocky’s music is largely a celebration of good times. And the hedonistic tradition continues on “LongLiveA$AP,” A$AP Rocky’s major-label debut.

“Little codeine, n**** get throwed right / Two blonde dykes wanna kiss all night,” he raps in “PMW” — a pulsating, acronymic track about women, cash and cannabis.

The immoderation, especially delivered on top of choice beats, is both joyful and aspirational, as rap should be. But Rocky can’t survive on style alone. Luckily, the album is both historically aware and comfortably introspective.

It’s not hard to think that “LongLiveA$AP” is as much an adage to Rocky’s love for the genre as it is an ode to “red bottom loafers just to complement the mink.” For every epicurean preference described with immaculate flow, there’s a reference to the rappers whose shoulders Rocky stands on.

And that’s what makes the album so wonderful. Rocky isn’t rapping about suicide doors and super-sized female thighs because he lacks personal depth (read: Wiz Khalifa). He does so because he understands his historical context in rap. The complex beats that almost blend hook and verse are part of his era. And he embraces the style, all while nodding to earlier influences.

Take “1 Train.” The hookless song features Rocky along with six other rappers, each eager to deliver their 16 bars. The track’s inclusion on the album is a neat reference to the music that influenced Rocky: it’s Wu  with modern panache, all served over a Hit-Boy produced track — always a winner.

Fans of Rocky will be relieved to know that strains of familiarity surface on “LongLiveA$AP.” Rocky favorite Clams Casino produces two tracks, “LVL” and “Hell.” Rocky also delivers in the hits department, with both “Goldie” and “Fuckin’ Problems” sure to bump for a while. And the familiar pitch-modified voice is still lurking in between hooks and under verses.

But the highlight of the album arrives a little over halfway, on “Phoenix.” Rocky, who was arrested for assaulting a paparazzi last summer, concedes, “Bloody ink on my pad spelled suicide / Michael Jackson even passed ’cause you scrutinized.” In a later verse, he switches out Michael Jackson for Kurt Kobain.

The song isn’t a cheap, “alright, let’s do something emotional” effort. It’s Rocky at his most vulnerable. Yes, Rocky enjoys wealth, fame, women and controlled substances on a daily basis. (In fact, the fight with the paps began after he was photographed taking illegal drugs while shopping.) But he’s not free from pressure. It’s a fine line, walking between complaining and introspection, but the supposedly shallow Rocky handles it well.

The album fails in one place. “Fashion Killa” is a song for the ladies, as an A&R at RCA probably described it, where Rocky name-drops his favorite brands as an explanation for why he loves a girl. With corny lines like “She jiggy like Madonna, but she trippy like Nirvana,” it’s a wonder that Rocky can produce something as wonderful as “Phoenix,” which unfortunately follows “Fashion Killa” on the track listing.

Still, get the album. Add “Fuckin’ Problems,” “Goldie,” “Angels,” “Wild for the Night” and “Hell” to your party mix. Listen to “Phoenix,” “LVL” and “Pain” with someone you love — but probably not your parents. Then close your eyes and listen to “LongLiveA$AP” in its entirety. There’s a lot to work with here.

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