MD

Music

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Advertise with us »

Rocky balances mainstream and darker sounds on superb debut

RCA

By Thomas Klepacz, Daily Arts
Published January 15, 2013

The first real glimpse the world received of A$AP Rocky was entirely characteristic of his personality. Through a shifting, technicolored lens, Rocky glared at his audience and laconically mouthed words to what would become his first hit single, “Purple Swag.” The video — or song, for that matter — didn’t offer any definite hints to who Rocky would be as a person or rapper. He was good-looking and well-dressed (and knew it), but he didn’t make it the center of the video. He mimicked Houston rap as only a rap nerd could, but he wasn’t geeky in the slightest. He seemed to view the world around him like he knew he was somehow different from it all, but he embraced it and drank from the same 40s as his surrounding Harlem friends. He was simply cool, and that was all.

“Purple Swag” now has nearly 18-million YouTube views. Rocky has been featured in countless magazines, from Complex to Vogue. He’s even featured in the “FIFA 13” video game ad, along with none other than the newly crowned Snoop Lion (‘Dogg’ for those who don’t keep up with his Rastafarianism). From humble codeine-laced beginnings, Rocky’s propelled himself to the throne of worldwide cool. The only thing he had to do was release a great commercial album.

Long.Live.A$AP seems to be surprisingly reflective of Rocky’s enigmatic rise to fame. The album’s first track (aptly titled “Long Live A$AP”) begins with ominous Castlevania-esque thunder claps and stumbling synth, as if Rocky is arising from the dungeons of Harlem — a world in which the rapper thought he’d “Probably die in prison.” The track thumps like any other rap hit, but has hints of surrealism and even psychedelia: Crawling strings maneuver their way around the tremendous 808s, and Rocky’s chorus maintains the track’s melody with gentle guitar and his own falsetto. Yes, he sings it.

After the opening song concludes, the album quickly jumps to the other end of Rocky’s spectrum, from the dark and somewhat surreal title track to the lavish landscape of “Goldie." Even though the two tracks differ entirely in both content and sound (“Goldie” is produced by the famed “Ni**as in Paris” producer Hit-Boy, a seemingly eternal hit-maker), Rocky somehow makes the contrast work. His claim that “It feels good waking up to money in the bank” seems genuine, like every one of his mornings is truly a celebratory occasion.

Rocky miraculously “makes it work” on several occasions on his debut LP. Whether it’s on the 2 Chainz-carried “F*ckin Problems” or the Skrillex-produced (yes, Skrillex-produced) “Wild For the Night,” Rocky makes the seemingly generic interesting. As the rapper himself said in a recent Pitchfork interview, “What other rapper could collab with Skrillex and not make it sound corny?” Cocky, yes, but he’s absolutely right.

Long.Live.A$AP isn’t all pop either — songs like the echoing “LVL” and bouncing “Fashion Killa” are simultaneously peculiar and entirely listenable. "LVL" offers the usual underwater symphony sounds of its producer, Clams Casino, a man who can somehow balance Rocky’s stuttering Bone Thugs-flow with Gregorian-esque chanting. “Fashion Killa” is perhaps the strangest song on the album — the beat seems to place the rapper in a sonic Barbie-Land where obscure, super-high-end fashion labels (Isabel Marant, Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, among others) are the only substance to life — and Rocky somehow seems right at home.

The album has its pitfalls — “Jodye” and “Angels” are essentially the same vague diss-song with slightly different beats, and they’re both placed confusingly near the album’s conclusion — but in its greater entirety, Long.Live.A$AP is a superb debut album. Rocky manages to juggle both his druggy Harlem beginnings and FIFA commercial superstardom with ease, as if he were destined for mainstream-TV stardom but would rather drink 40s with his friends on a smoke-enveloped Harlem couch. Who knows, maybe he’ll also juggle a Grammy soon.