There are few debut albums that come steeped in as much hype as A$AP Rocky’s major-label debut. After releasing his critically-acclaimed mixtape Llive.Long.A$AP in 2011, the Harlem rapper was shortlisted for BBC Sound of 2012 and was considered by many music critics to be the next big thing.
Another year has passed since then and another list of artists set to dominate the New Year have materialised, but finally – after several scrapped release dates – A$AP Rocky’s debut has arrived.
Delaying the release of his first major studio album for so long was a risky move from the 24-year-old, especially with Kendrick Lamar bursting onto the scene in the meantime with his own near-flawless debut. You only have to look at how Azealia Banks – a fellow BBC Sound of 2012 nominee – has been usurped by newcomer Angel Haze, to see how risky it is for an artist to miss their moment to shine.
However, A$AP Rocky is not someone who is lacking in confidence and asserted that the material on his new album, entitled Long.Live.A$AP, was good enough to justify the wait. Yet after being pushed back to Halloween from its original release date in September and then again to the start of 2013, concerns understandably started to arise. While these won’t necessarily be put to bed by the end result, Long.Live.A$AP does manage to maintain Rocky’s status as a rising star.
The album starts off impressively, with the hectic, sprawling and triumphant title track. Rocky’s flow is as sharp as it’s ever been over a whiny beat, as he raps: “I thought I’d probably die in prison, expensive taste in women/ Ain’t had no pot to piss in, now my kitchen full of dishes.” Lead single from the album Goldie also hits the mark, using a relatively innocuous beat to draw out Rocky’s free-flowing style. However, from there on in, the results are much more varied. This isn’t helped by the long list of guest appearances that feature on Long.Live.A$AP – something Rocky’s mixtape largely avoided with success.
There is nothing wrong with the tactical use of guest appearances here or there, but as the album progresses it feels more like Rocky is flaunting his new found acquaintances, rather than using them artistically. Hell is one track that does not fall into this trap, with the appearance of Santigold judged to perfection on the chorus. Her semi-spoken, melodic vocal fits in seamlessly with the frenzied, woozy beats, which come together to make the song an album highlight.
Yet while some of these collaborations show Rocky’s ambition to experiment with other genres on his debut – such as the fascinating collaboration with Skrillex on Wild For The Night – others feel forced. None more so than Fucking Problems, which includes Drake, 2 Chainz and man-of-the-moment Kendrick Lamar. It’s not a particularly bad track, but it’s lacking in focus and intent. 1Train also crams in a number of cameos, including the promising Joey Bada$$, but this time Rocky manages it with more craft over a gritty and compelling hook.
As the album approaches its conclusion, A$AP Rocky becomes much more nostalgic and this comes across in the Danger Mouse-produced Phoenix and virtually a cappella Suddenly. These two tracks capture the overriding sense of relief that often manifests itself in different ways throughout the album. Whether it be bragging about how much money he has in the bank or reflecting on his troubled upbringing. Long.Live.A$AP is unlikely to win over the doubters, but it will consolidate A$AP Rocky’s status as an exciting talent.