In an interview before LongLiveA$AP dropped, A$AP Rocky claimed that he wasn’t a hip-hop artist, he was an artist, period. While it’s easy to dismiss a statement like that as empty bravado, from another angle it appears as humble honesty. Put bluntly, Rocky has a stunning lack of interest in expanding his approach as a rapper. From his star making mixtape to now, it appears that Rocky emerged fully formed. He reuses the same three or four flows, throws in some Bone Thugs N Harmony triplets and warps his voice into a cartoonish deepened pitch for variety. He has an incredibly limited lyrical pallet (which he convenient summed up in the new song “PMW”) and doesn’t have a problem with repeating phrases wholesale from song to song. What he does have however is the best ear for beats in the current hip-hop landscape. A$AP Rocky is an expert aesthetician and LongLiveA$AP proves that he knows how to surround himself with music that makes him sound amazing, and where to stretch into new territory without losing his identity.
To be clear, this is not a retread of LiveLoveA$AP; it’s a refinement. The most noticeable improvement is a complete lack of other A$AP crewmembers spitting on the album. Instead Rocky has surrounded himself with the brightest names in the field when necessary. The only repeat performers from the mixtape are Schoolboy Q, who again plays nice and doesn’t steam roll the track the way he’s capable of, and Clams Casino. Bringing back the later is the second smartest decision made on this album, as the blissful white noise ambience that Casino produces is half the reason people fell in love with Rocky to begin with. The single smartest decision on the record was to hire producers who had other takes on the cloud rap sound. While Casino’s songs remain unique, nearly every other beat on the album takes elements of his sound--soft reverb heavy vocal samples, hazy synth textures, unobtrusive drums--and expands them into the high fidelity experience required of a major label debut.
Rounding out the production team are a trio of big names who each provide the most noticeable deviations from the A$AP aesthetic. Hit-Boy, the chameleon master of the banger, provides a sleek radio take on the cloud sound with “Goldie”. He then switches gears completely on “1train”, where his cinematic boom bap recalls classic Wu-Tang and serves as the backdrop for a flurry of verses from representatives from nearly every scene worth listening to. Danger Mouse’s contribution, “Phoenix”, strips away the murk and weed smoke for a contemplative piano ballad, over which Rocky gets as close as we’ve ever seen him to introspective. On the other end of the spectrum, Skrillex does exactly what you’d expect him to do, and as a result “Wild For The Night” becomes so obnoxious and abrasive that it slides back into complete hedonistic nirvana.
Rocky himself has remained much the same, but is beginning to show sides that he may have hidden on his early material. While “Fashion Killa” is mostly just an excuse for him to show off his knowledge of designer clothing, it also functions as the first love song Rocky’s attempted. Near the end of the record he takes time to reflect upon his own rise to fame and shows signs of developing as a storyteller and not just a catch phrase engine. And even though his rapping hasn’t moved too far forward, he’s developed a strong sense of melody and a surprisingly good singing voice. All of these small steps add up, and if they continue, it won’t be long before A$AP Rocky’s arrogance is completely warranted.