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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘A$AP Rocky’ defies stereotypes in debut album

Published: January 20, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

Hip hop artists are often slapped with labels that are easily accepted by the public, placing them in a restrictive box so their art can be interpreted in a logical fashion. Those who call the east coast of the country home are technically skilled rappers with a high intelligence who stay true to the craft. Those from down south are ignorant and flashy with no real talent, just trunk rattling beats and 808s. The rappers that hail from California are weed-heads who ignore relevant issues and only care about well-endowed women and getting high. A$AP Rocky, a 24-year-old rookie from Harlem, New York City, refuses to be stuffed in a convenient package, and instead draws influences from all over the map, resulting in a unique blend of sounds that helped launched Rocky to stardom these past few months.

“LongLiveA$AP” is Rocky’s official debut studio album, and his follow up to the 2011 mixed tape, “LiveLoveA$AP.” The album opens with the title track, which serves as a microcosm of what’s to come. Rocky’s appeal is immediately apparent. He has a charisma on the microphone and an easily identifiable voice. No one would dare call him a pure New York lyricist, though he does have a penchant for stringing together words that make for catchy verses that add to his already addictive flow.

The subject matter on the album rarely goes deeper than his fascination with booties, his newfound wealth and his impeccable fashion sense. “Goldie” is an exercise in decadence, as Rocky proclaims, “Cause my chain came from Cuba, got a lock up on the link and them red bottom loafers just to compliment the mink.” Songs like “Problems” and “PMW” also pander in the superficial. Questioning politics or social issues, however, isn’t Rocky’s forte, nor does he pretend it is.

The final two tracks of the album, however, take a different approach. Rocky proves he can do more than boast and brag and a level of self-reflection and inspiration is reached. “Phoenix” deals with Rocky’s past and his rising up from a dark place. He even touches on his one-time thought of suicide, and Danger Mouse’s instrumental suits the phoenix theme perfectly. The closing song, “Suddenly” sees Rocky again veering from his typical braggadocio, instead opting for another look toward the past, this time dealing with his rapid rise to fame and the changes that came with it. A nostalgic, soulful beat compliments the song well, and is a far cry from the woozy, drug-induced atmosphere of the rest of Rocky’s catalogue.

“LongLiveA$AP” is an album all about mood and Rocky’s vision is evidenced by the musical backdrops that various producers provide. The title track feels as if Rocky is rapping from a storm cloud, with its tense atmosphere and thunderous sound effects. Rocky rhymes about his riches and god-like stature that fit the music well. “LVL” sees Rocky reuniting with Clams Casino, the man largely responsible for Rocky’s blueprint sound that was found on last year’s mixed tape. The slowly building, haunting beat harkens back to the kind of vibes that made Rocky so successful with that tape, and proves the formula of Rocky and Clams Casino is still winning. Not all of the songs, however, mesh so well. “Fashion Killa,” while catchy, sounds like a cheap rendition of a 90s pop tune and contains too many fashion references that feel thrown together and clog up the track. The presence of 2 Chainz nearly ruins “Problems,” but a clever Aaliyah sample from producer Noah Shebib and guest spots from Kendrick Lamar and Drake buoy the song.

Besides his capable lyrical ability and ear for production, Rocky possesses the ability to choose collaborators that may seem odd on paper, but work on wax. “Hell” features indie pop/rock darling Santigold, and her catchy hook over the indie inspired production proves to be a success. Electronic music icon Skrillex provides the backdrop on “Wild for the Night,” and Rocky manages to adapt his flow to fit the music in what makes for an enjoyable foray into the EDM universe. Those who are pining for golden-age hip hop from the Harlem-ite need look no further than “1 Train.” The song’s dusty sample and distorted violin beat sounds tailor-made for Wu-Tang Clan or any other golden-age artist.

Rocky recruits fellow up-and-comers Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. for a new age posse cut that is as hip hop as the concrete jungle from which Rocky arose. Florence Welch from Florence & the Machine lends vocals to a bonus cut on the album, adding to Rocky’s appeal to fans of all music genres.

With his cornrowed hair, the gold grill in his mouth and the blinding bling draping his neck, A$AP Rocky, according to the label that accommodates this image, seems to be deeply rooted in the South, indicated by his drug-induced music and sometimes ignorant lyrics, paired with his physical appearance. He hails from Harlem, however, a borough of New York that produces hip hop artists that wear Timberland boots, Coogie sweaters and a gold link chain: Artists who withhold the poetic standard of the genre, artists who belong to the “pure” school of hip hop.

Since his rapid rise to the top of the music scene, A$AP Rocky hasn’t ignored where he’s from, but he hasn’t felt limited by its expectations. With 2011’s “LiveLoveA$AP” mixed tape, Rocky found his niche. With his debut album, “LongLiveA$AP,” Rocky stays within this niche, yet expands it without sacrificing the melting pot of influences that kept him from fitting snugly inside a box that many others are content to stay.