Before fully delving into Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky’s major-label debut, one important thing must be acknowledged: his music simply doesn’t feature the depth and lyricism of other Pitchfork darlings like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. If that is enough to immediately turn you off to Long.Live.A$AP, just stop reading this review. If not, you will be rewarded for your open-mindedness many times over.
The album kicks off with the title track, and it highlights exactly why Rocky is so successful despite his frequent lack of technical ability and occasional shallowness. An excellent beat ushers in A$AP’s darkly abstract lyrics and laid back flow before he abruptly transitions into a shockingly smooth falsetto for a dreamy chorus. Somehow, it feels completely natural and is the first of what ultimately turns out to be many pleasant surprises on the album.
It’s the versatility that’s featured here that makes even the weakest moments bearable. For example, the Skrillex-produced “Wild for the Night” had the potential to be exceptionally awful but is salvaged by Rocky’s effortless confidence. Sure the hook and squealing synthesizers are pretty annoying, but the pitched-down, electronic vocals and high energy verses make the track fairly decent for what it is: a big, stupid, fun song. In the end this makes for few actual missteps (even the much-criticized “Fashion Killa” is aided by a delightful beat and refreshingly unique, if somewhat vacuous lyrics), with the only true exception being the just plain bad “PMW.”
Of course, A$AP usually does better than just making ridiculous song ideas listenable. Frequent collaborator Clams Casino handles production duties on “LVL” and “Hell” with fantastic results. Both utilize his signature mellow and ethereal electronics, and this provides the perfect backdrop for Rocky’s musings on success on the former and the brilliant Santigold chorus during the latter.
The album also has incredible success when it ventures into commercial, pop-rap territory. “Goldie” has no guest verses, but A$AP proves he is more than capable of carrying a song himself, and the great Hit Boy beat certainly doesn’t hurt. “Fuckin’ Problems” serves as the perfect foil to the aforementioned track with plenty of features (Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and 2 Chainz create an absolutely stacked lineup) and a subdued beat, but the end result is the same – a very fun and catchy track with plenty of quotables.
However, “Fuckin’ Problems” isn’t even the best posse track on the record. No, that title belongs to the truly magnificent “1Train” which features Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Big K.R.I.T. The song’s quality is about as great as you’d expect with the given guests, but what is surprising is its tone. Rather than being another loud, high-energy club banger, the listener is treated to a thoughtful, intelligent, and astonishingly introspective song. Each emcee remains true to their personality with Yelawolf and K.R.I.T. retaining their Southern sounds, Lamar and Joey Bada$$ describing the flaws of America from firsthand experience, and Brown and Action Bronson providing their signature skewed senses of humor before ultimately hinting at the bigger issues that the other emcees attack head-on. And introducing us to the beautifully orchestrated collaboration is A$AP Rocky himself who chooses possibly the best time to deliver one of his strongest verses on the entire album.
As a whole, Long.Live.A$AP is fairly inconsistent, and Rocky doesn’t entirely prove his naysayers wrong when they say he is a rapper who relies too heavily on his production and has little to no technical ability. But what he does prove through his tendency to subvert expectations and choices in production and guests is that his taste as an artist is truly impeccable.