by Adam Lukach
The demise of New York hip hop has been both well documented and greatly exaggerated, and, really, that goes step-for-step with the demise of regional affiliations and expectations as a whole. Regional repping can still be crucial from both a career and artistic perspective; look no further than Chief Keef and Kendrick Lamar most recently. But while “GKMC” was defined by its setting, cruising, literally, through the streets of Compton, or “Finally Rich” was the major label fruition of Chicago’s movement, the “LongLiveA$AP” debut of New York’s latest savior, A$AP Rocky, has a much more worldly outlook and scope.
On the title track opener, Rocky spits, “Rollin through your city like that muthafucka mine,” and that’s not just a nonsense boast. It’s the way he makes music, snagging sounds and clothes from everything, from Houston screw to Alexander Wang and a lot in between. He slangs Bone Thugs syllables about hanging out with Drake. He worries about dripping 40s on Dior. The dude born Rakim Myers is from Harlem and has plenty of swag to prove it, but he’s got his eye on the rest of the world.
His indulgences include a Skrillex crossover, “Wild For the Night,” that I frankly endorse wholeheartedly; it’s as good an American dubstep/hip-hop crossover as there’s been, mostly because the pair is malleable enough to do pull it off. (Although, “Middle finger to the critics/Me and my nigga Skrillex” is LOL-worthy every time.) That’s the meat of a “Fuckin Problem”/”1 Train” sandwich, the former the huge, star-studded, sexy single and the latter an over the top posse cut. “Train” is a “generation” cut, to borrow another favorite Rocky word, with Kendrick, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big KRIT all throwing down on a rather tame but VERY New York Hit-Boy beat. Even when Rocky stays home, he can’t go small. Clearly it’s a lot, but the purple-syrup-dark gothic haze that hangs over it all brings a shade of continuity. Think Three 6 Mafia making fashion party music.
The misses come off as bad ideas. The Santigold hook and stadium synths on “Hell” sound awkward and misplaced, and includes “Catch me out in China stunting, yeah, I’m about my guapanese,” one of several Rocky groaners. “Pain” is a lesser retread of “Acid Drip” from “LiveLoveA$AP,” both produced by Soufein 3000, this time with a forgettable Overdoz guest spot.
The other steadying presence is Rocky, who shows that he can still ride the fuck out of a catchy beat, but he’s also improved as a rapper a bit. He does some decent lyrical lifting on the finale “Suddenly,” driving it for a drumless first two minutes and carrying the Dangermouse-produced “Phoenix” about the same way.
It’s easy to long for the Clams Casino-assisted comfort of “LiveLove” during some of the colder, more spacious “LongLive” numbers, especially when he flashes familiar chemistry with Clams or Schoolboy Q during the lurching “LVL” and “PMW.” But he’s serious about “boom-bap mixed with new rap,” and even though he likes to break off a little more than he can handle, Rocky doesn’t care about the missteps. He’s already off that and onto more.