Since he exploded on the rap internet’s consciousness, A$AP Rocky’s greatest strength—beyond his cheekbones—is how he populates his albums and the worlds around them. He had a part in making Clams Casino the fanboy magnet he is now. He was pals with ScHoolboy Q before that was beneficial for either of them. He welded his style to the sounds of SpaceGhostpurrp and Main Attrakionz. He had one of the weirdest commercial rap hits of recent memory (“Peso,” a real hit in New York, even though it’s amorphous). He toured with Danny Brown, and the two of them seem like friends.
Rocky picks up the best underground talent as friends like he’s out here catching Pokemon. Which is why it’s not necessarily derogatory to say that Rocky is maybe the third best thing about LongLiveA$AP: It’s an album populated with memorable guest verses and wild production from the likes of Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse, Drake’s pal 40, Jim Jonsin and Clams Casino. Neither of those things would have been possible without Rocky though, and that’s where his greatest credit for LongLiveA$AP comes in; I don’t doubt for a minute that he and Skrillex hung out and somehow “Wild For the Night” happened.
LongLiveA$AP is basically LiveLoveA$AP in blockbuster form; you could probably trade the Rocky solo cuts between albums and never notice the budget increase. It’s built on the hazy, cloud rap beats Rocky favors, cut with his everything in its right place flow. You already know what you’re going to get with Rocky; Most of his verses are about his tastes in expensive labels, broads, drugs and his probably fake tales of prolificacy at repping Harlem and moving said expensive drugs. He’s not going to drop a concept album about a night out in his neighborhood that worries aloud about a generation raised by drugs and gangs. So LongLiveA$AP is what it is; the same old A$AP Rocky, presented by major label dollars and 2 Chainz hooks.
The title track sums up everything that made Rocky can’t miss since 2011: the beat selection, the ever-shifting rhyme pattern, the song’s ability to collapse freestanding structures, and its quotables-per-minute ratio. “Goldie” should have been song of the summer; but thanks to the album being pushed back and an inconsistent media blitz, it instead comes early here, and is still one of Rocky’s most well polished tracks. He re-teams with ScHoolboy Q to try to recapture the lightning of “Brand New Guy”, failing in an entertaining way with “PMW”. And that’s just the first three tracks.
I could probably write a dissertation on the state of underground rap circa 2013 via “1 Train”, so I’ll refrain here. But the thing that makes it the best posse cut since “Last Huzzah” is that it sounds like it was recorded as a group, like Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar and Yelawolf* all got together and recorded this thing in one session. Who would have thought that “Triumph”-style, chorus-deficient posse cuts would be the norm now?
One of the most charming things about LongLiveA$AP is that for an album that is supposed to prove to RCA that Rocky was worth that $3 million advance, it is remarkably short on anything that could even touch the radioplay already afforded “Peso”. The most obvious single, the one that features 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, is called “Fuckin’ Problems”, and there’s no way to edit that down. “Goldie”, the other mega single, has a garbage disposal-voiced chorus, despite boasting two of Rocky’s best verses on the entire album. The Skrillex song isn’t enough Skrillex or Rocky to satisfy either dude’s fans. When a bonus cut featuring Gunplay (Gunplay!) is one of the most pop-friendly jams, you know Rocky had more of a hand in this than any A&R man, and that’s a net positive on LongLiveA$AP.
LongLiveA$AP more or less satisfies every requirement you’d have of an A$AP Rocky album, nothing more, nothing less. It can be a bit of a mess (especially towards the end), and it drags in places. It also has some of the most luxurious tracks this side of Kanye. Is it a disappointment that LongLiveA$AP isn’t a world-conquering masterpiece, the kind of album that cements Rocky’s status as the new King of New York? To some people, probably. But like I said before, Rocky’s greatest strength is creating an environment. As far as that goes, Rocky makes an environment here that is both rewarding and totally fun to return to over and over again. Long live A$AP.
*- This is the order of best to worst verse. Come at me.