When A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie” dropped in April, trend-setting fashion blogger Lawrence Schlossman of How to Talk to Girls at Parties tweeted, “Rappity rap is dead. Please just say some fly shit over some fly beats and the people will make you rich.” Enthusiasm on his part isn’t surprising, given that the fashion-loving rapper goes so far as to mention avant-garde designers like Rick Owens and Raf Simons in his songs. Regardless of similarities in taste, such a statement from Schlossman says a lot about the A$AP crew’s shaky spot at the top of the internet’s hype-machine. For one thing, I hardly think that a single from the most over-represented rapper on the internet is any evidence of a larger artistic shift. Rather than an observation about the direction of the music industry, the tweet is an ignorantly narrow view of rap lyricism. Read with Rocky and company in mind, however, its a highly perceptive observation about A$AP Mob’s sound.
The group has always favored style over substance, so much so that it was once very easy for critics to boil their music down into a thinkpiece-ready formula: a combination of breakneck Dipset-era Harlem menace and thick Swishahouse-era Houston drawl. Its a genius, if mildly simplistic, meeting of two highly compatible, attitude-heavy sounds. Unfortunately, from his early tape Deep Purple to his breakout LiveLoveA$AP, Rocky hasn’t really been capable of holding the sound aloft on his own, leaning on screwed vocals and repeated, empty boasts in the place of creative rapping or content. “Fly shit over some fly beats” certainly was the best way to describe his music, an aesthetic fit for the consciously superficial fashion world, but not enough to hold the attention of serious music listeners for very long.
When Rocky did manage to maintain a full head of steam for more than half a song, it was mostly with the help of his cohorts, the frenetic sing-rapping likes of A$AP Ferg, Nast, and Twelvy. Songs like “Get High”, “Kissin Pink”, and “Trilla” showed that the crew was capable of something more than just shallow attitude, but actual dynamism between a few high-energy characters. Lord$ Never Worry runs with that idea. A posse tape is a good format for these guys, none of whom really have much to say. When continuously passing the baton, they can make a convincing case for themselves as a crew with a lot of variety and character, reducing a an earlier need to fall back on platitudes and repetition.
Their signature sound can no longer be dismissively reduced to a simple combination of Harlem and Houston. On Lord$ Never Worry, it shows itself as an amalgam of just about every trending style that the cool kids have played up on the internet over the past two years, from Lil B, Odd Future, and Danny Brown, to Rick Ross, Juicy J, and French Montana. At times they can go even deeper, pulling from all of today’s most nostalgically recalled regional scenes like early Wu Tang, late ‘90s Hypnotized Minds, and pre-Universal Cash Money.
Just like today’s rap scene, however, the tape can front quantity over quality. The mob often gets caught in a sound that requires more nuance than they are capable of offering. A$AP Ferg’s “Work” is a swipe at the keyed-up arpeggio style that ravaged the street rap world throughout 2011, most comparable to Juicy J and Lex Luger’s Rubba Band Business mixtapes. Its a sound that Juice’s significantly off-the-wall character can barely maintain over the course of a mixtape. Ferg’s far less developed persona falls far flatter in comparison.
At their best, however, the crew and their guests present near-unmatched creativity in their flows and personalities, showing a much more dynamic snapshot of rap today than pretty much anyone else. The crew’s patchwork sound makes it very easy for the varied personalities of a number of guests, from DC’s Fat Trel to the Flatbush Zombies. On the best tracks, the group is what they should be: cool, menacing, and unhinged. The Araabmuzik-produced “Dope, Money, and Hoes” is just that. Da$h delivers lines like “thought of this when I was drunk driving” over freezing synth chords. “Bangin On Waxx” is a presentation of Nast and Ferg as the crews two most off-kilter lyricists, recalling Harlem’s wave OG Max B as well as legends like Snoop and ODB. Even Rocky’s solo tracks have improved. He’s grown as a rapper and even more so as a songwriter, maintaining high energy levels on album-opener “Thuggin’ Noise” with an expert bite of Juvenile’s “Ha” flow. The A$AP Mob has always shown themselves to be impressive students of numerous styles. On the best parts of Lord$ Never Worry, they show us that they could be talented artists as well.