I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A$AP Rocky - LongLiveA$AP

A$AP Rocky is the stage name Rakim Mayers, a rapper who despite the inclusion of a dollar sign in his name is much more than a ripoff of '90s gangsta rap. While A$AP certainly spends a fair amount of time dealing with the themes of that particular genre, LongLiveA$AP makes it clear that A$AP is concerned with other things, like compassion and social justice, having a good time, and the thing that makes him a rapper of note, art.

While the first couple of tracks on the album make it seem like LongLiveA$AP is just a cheap callback to the works of Puff Daddy and Biggy, with weak beats and a ridiculous menacing deep voice, it is clear through this haze that A$AP is a really talented rapper. He is highly intelligent and referential, and when he's willing to be vulnerable he is really thoughtful. Of course, anyone who delves into gangsta-style rap, even for a couple of tracks, has difficulty with vulnerability, so you have to dig a little bit for thoughtful moments. When you get to a song like "Suddenly," however, A$AP effortlessly incorporates wisdom like the following line: "You my brother, you my kin / F*** the color of your skin."

For the most part, the album is well produced, and songs like "LVL" and "F***** Problem" are a couple examples of songs with amazing hooks. A$AP has the same problem that most of my favorite rappers have: he has difficulty producing an album. Don't get me wrong. He makes amazing tracks. But rap and techno tracks are often made differently than those of other genres because they're more likely to be mixed into other tracks by DJs. As a result, there will be more emptiness at the beginning and end of tracks and less flow from one track to another. While A$AP may have flow (ie. a decent amount of money gained by having successful records), he does not have flow (a consistent sound and feeling from track to track), and it certainly doesn't help that his album is a little bit too long. I would have cut out a couple of the first tracks and then sequenced and mixed the album a little differently, but I can't say that A$AP and his production crew have the same goals in mind. I can't fault A$AP too much for being better at tracks than albums. The only two rappers I've ever encountered who can put together an album that would make the Beatles and the Beach Boys proud are Kanye West (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and Outkast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below).

On that note, I have to digress and bring up a constant theme on LongLiveA$AP. After my first listen, I was certain that A$AP is obsessed with Outkast and the ATL scene. The first track "Long Live A$AP" has a chorus that could have been borrowed directly from Love Below track if I didn't know any better. With a high-pitched dreamy voice and enveloped sound, this could easily be Andre 3000 singing (although, I have to say Andre is a better singer). The fast rapping on "PMW (All I Really Need)" sounds like a throwback to Andre as well. In "Wild for the Night," A$AP directly references Outkast and the song "She Lives in My Lap," while Andre and Big Boi are both mentioned later in the track "Ghetto Symphony." This is a strong enough theme that I wonder whether I should review this album on its own merits or as a tribute album.

LongLiveA$AP didn't blow me away, but it certainly put A$AP Rocky on my map of rappers to look out for. My girlfriend said that 2013 is likely to be a great year for rap, and that means that the January release of LongLiveA$AP is merely the warning shots. Even if I'd skip a track or two here and there, songs like "Hell, featuring Santigold," "Fashion Killa," and "Like I'm Apart" were strong enough that I wouldn't be surprised to see them on a few reviewers end of the year favorites list.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

1 comment:

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