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By Otis Graham
In an interview back in October, 24-year-old rapper A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) talked about the difference between his 2011 mixtape Live.Love.ASAP. and his upcoming debut album Long.Live.ASAP. To him, the latter displays his maturation from “A$AP Rocky, just the kid that wears the weird clothes in Harlem and gold teeth to the world phenomenon A$AP Rocky; there’s a difference”.
His first release was hardly a ragtag affair (RCA put out the mixtape having signed Rocky for $3,000,000), but here, indeed, the boy has become a man, and traded his occasionally unconvincing bravado for a far more effortless confidence.
The first sign of this is the album’s structure, which feels much better integrated than before. Live.Love. seemed to suffer from ADHD at times, being somewhat arbitrarily sprinkled with a good 16 tracks, but Long.Live. has a coherence befitting its status as Rocky’s first album proper.
Opening with the state-of-the-nation title track, it builds up to an explosive, guest-laden central section before gliding into a calm conclusion which is arresting nonetheless.
Production-wise, the album boasts a more diverse set of beatmakers than its predecessor, but there’s still a strong cohesion between tracks like ‘Hell’ and the haunting Danger Mouse-produced number ‘Phoenix’, which both fit the eerie and immersive A$AP template.
Where the production diverges from this tried-and-tested recipe, it does so with style. The case in point is lead single ‘Goldie’, which boasts an absolute monster of a beat courtesy of back-to-basics wunderkind Hit Boy (of ‘Niggas in Paris’ and ‘Backseat Freestyle’ fame). With artillery like this backing him up, Rocky often has little to do but coast towards the end of the track.
Which brings us to perhaps the most important issue here: the rapping itself. Rocky has often been criticised for his lack of depth, and here as before he’s frustratingly unwilling to move beyond listing his designer clothes and telling us he’s banging our girlfriends. Those who like their rap with a side-order of social commentary will probably find little to excite them in lyrics like “I be that pretty motherfucker you can call me what you wanna/ Cause I’m in love with that ass, she in love with the cash”.
But Rocky’s skill lies in bending cadences and switching up the rhythms of his verses in a way that keeps things exciting even if his lyrical content is hardly Talib Kweli-grade. More than ever, he here controls the listener’s attention with a variety of flows and a subtle charisma that few other rappers are capable of these days.
And if you ever do tire of him, there’s always the album’s guest appearances, from a duet with sparring partner Schoolboy Q to the stunning line up of ‘1 Train’, a complete who’s who of hip hop’s avant garde.
So there’s enough variety in the rapping on Long.Live.ASAP. to keep it interesting, and it’s supported throughout by production as luxurious as the designer labels that A$AP Rocky never shuts up about. Along with the success and fame that he’s achieved over the last year has come a confidence and vitality that gives an edge to the album, and makes what were once idle boasts seem gleefully real. The result of all of these factors combined is an impressive and fully realised rap album.