No rap movement from 2012 captured the hip-hop world better than "Always Strive and Prosper." A$AP Rocky is living proof of his own words, building an aesthetic that stems from syrupy Houston bounce with an appreciation for New York rap. The 24-year-old Harlem rapper's worldview--consists of high-fashion trends by Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons and Rick Owens--follows the lineage of Harlem's flashy roots, channeling an immaculate taste of hypnotic-cloud raps. It earned him a fat $3 million deal from RCA, while his lauded Live.Love.A$AP mixtape showcased the crew's lifestyle beyond its music. Despite an early leak of Long.Live.A$AP that hit the Internet a month before its release date, the conversation of Rocky as New York's next rap star has been in the mix for a full-on year. Hype comes fast in the Big Apple, and fades as quickly as they come. But Rocky has seemed to exceed expectations. His lead singles--"Goldie" and "F**kin' Problems"--have shown his successful attempts at radio play and pop appeal, but Long.Live.A$AP isn't him adapting to mainstream standards. A$AP picks up right where he left off on his mixtape--only taking the sound bigger and better. On the opening title track "Long Live A$AP," he embodies similar themes found in his debut tape. The absence of new Rocky music works in his favor as he develops a much bolder feel without compensating his definitive sound. He is cocksure of his lyrical abilities, rapping about his youth, rags-to-riches story and "expensive taste in women" with an unparalleled flow that switches in mood. He's emotionally driven in his lyrical content, consistently proving that he has depth and technicality. "I wonder if they miss me, as long as I make history/Now my soul is feeling empty, tell the reaper come and get me," he reflects. As his records that foregrounded his credibility, the track serves as a small appetizer of what's to come on Rocky's brainchild. Long.Live.A$AP mirrors as a walk through his influences, featuring blockbuster names such as Drake, 2 Chainz, Santigold, Skrillex, Florence Welch, to name a few. He sounds natural near his favorite artists where styles don't feel like they are clashing each other. Quite possibly the best example is "1 Train," a posse cut reminiscent of the Wu-Tang Clan featuring the best of the modern class, that easily wins for everyone trying to up the ante. It's also found in "PMW" alongside Schoolboy Q that re-captures the chemistry found in "Brand New Guy" and "Hands on the Wheel," ends up as an entertaining heavy hitter. This pairing of the right sound works as Rocky allows his guests to take center stage; even at times when he's taking a backseat. Long.Live.A$AP has its moments as a cohesive album with top producers (Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse, Noah "40" Shebib) and frequent collaborators (Clams Casino) that offer choice beats. Woozy sample selections, southern screw music and dark tones populate the album, as well as Rocky's own personal touches under the pseudonym Lord Flacko. "Suddenly"--which almost didn't make the album due to sample clearances--is a trippy foray into his life philosophy, highlighting his hand in soulful soundscapes while carrying a strange, melodic ambiance. With the standout "Ghetto Symphony" and the abstract "Pain," we find Rocky's most inventive production selection to date. To the album's detriment, there isn't much happening outside what we've heard from Rocky before. But it's clear that he covered all the popular leanings in hip-hop of today, whether exploding on the EDM anthem "Wild for the Night" or the indie pop sentiments on "Hell." Rocky is a fast-rising star who continues to stay in the discussion as one of the best rappers coming out today. While there's no doubt that 2013 will be filled with talented emerging acts, Rocky's album has him one step closer in pushing a new trend of unorthodox, hybrid hip-hop accepted by the post-Internet generation. "This is boom bap, mixed with new raps/"Look at all the n***as that I blew past," he declares on "LVL." "Hood By Air, to the do-rag/N***a make way for the new jacks." Long live A$AP, indeed.
Remember when hip-hop was all about guys rapping about their sneakers? It still is—at least on one level—in the world of A$AP Rocky, although the sneakers in question are more likely to be laceless Margielas. Of course, Rocky's music encompasses much more than that, but it's his intuitively reverent irreverence—toward hip-hop, toward fashion, toward most things that operate in an orthodox or circumscribed way—that has fueled his swift and sudden rise from fashion-obsessed mixtape hustler to idiosyncratic pop star. Within the last 18 months, he has signed a record deal worth a reported $3 million and recorded and released his proper debut, Long.Live.A$AP (Polo Grounds), which reached the top of the Billboard charts when it was released in January. He has also toured with Drake and Kendrick Lamar, co-directed a handful of his own videos, collaborated with Raf Simons, and was a near-ubiquitous presence at Fashion Week in New York City in February, even walking in a show for street label Hood by Air. It's Rocky's skill as a culture mixmaster, though, that is most surprising. Like so many artists today, he is a polymorphous glob of disparate elements and influences. But in terms of what he picks and chooses to make a part of his particular glob, he's got a connoisseur's eye and a curator's soul. He operates with what seems like an almost innate awareness of what it means to refer to certain things or borrow or appropriate others that is more common to find in contemporary visual art than it is in hip-hop right now, the dope-haze that fills the frames of so many of his videos somehow both earthly and ephemeral. Consider the presentation: there are the retro braids and the gold teeth (yellow and rose gold, to be precise); then there are clothes—urban, urbane, graphic, and occasionally even gothy, a seamless mix of high fashion and streetwear and earnestness and irony perhaps best exemplified by the wool hat emblazoned with the words Comme Des Fuckdown that he wears in his video for "Goldie" (which features less smoke than most of his other videos, but a bunch of other things you can't show on MTV—among them, swearing, nudity, and, most sinfully, brand names). Then, of course, there is the music, which is equally all over the map: there are gangsta-style melodies, old-school NYC flows, and plodding Southern-style beats; lyrics peppered with the requisite references to drugs, sex, and cars, as well as people like Rick Owens, Helmut Lang, and Isabel Marant; and collaborators ranging from the obvious (2 Chainz, Clams Casino, Big K.R.I.T.) to the eclectic (Skrillex, Santigold, Florence Welch). Designer Alexander Wang, who cast Rocky in a video for his Spring 2013 T line and was enjoying a quick break in Mexico after presenting his first collection for Balenciaga in Paris, caught up with the 24-year-old rapper by phone in New York, where Rocky was preparing to embark on a tour with Rihanna, which kicked off at the beginning of March and is set to run through early May. ALEXANDER WANG: Where you at? A$AP ROCKY: I'm in New York right now. I'm getting ready for this Rihanna tour. WANG: When does it kick off? ROCKY: Tomorrow. WANG: Oh, so you're right on the cusp! ROCKY: Hell, yeah! So how's this going? Are they recording us? Or is the interview just what you put down. WANG: [laughs] No, I think they're recording us. ROCKY: Oh, shit! [both laugh] By the way, congratulations on Balenciaga, dude—I just gotta hand it to you. WANG: Thank you. ROCKY: It makes me happy that you're doing that. How's it been for you so far? WANG: You know, it's still so new to me, having this experience and having this journey kind of be the first chapter . . . The first chapter is done but it's going to take time to really develop what the next step will be. I've been given an opportunity to do something really different from what I do. It was difficult, but I realized that I had to take a dive at it and not focus on the fear. Of course, there are so many people who say you can't do it because you have a reputation for doing something really different, but I ignored all of that and just went in there, and it was an amazing experience. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive. I guess I just have to let the work speak for itself and let it go from there.
A$AP Rocky is hip-hop’s young artist du jour, with a phone presumably ringing off the hook with people wanting to collaborate with him. But as far as the Harlem-raised rapper is concerned, what he’d really like to do is hook up in the studio with British singer Jessie Ware. “I’m going to work with her. I want to bad,” Rocky told the BBC during a recent interview. “I don’t care about her being a star, I just think she has a beautiful voice and a lot of talent. I haven’t got the chance or honor to meet her yet — I just love her art.” Of course, MTV couldn’t help but ask Ware about this the next time they spoke with her — and as it turns out, the feeling’s quite mutual. “I’ve wanted to work with him for so long, I can’t even tell you. I’ve been trying to get through to him; I’m desperate!” she revealed, adding, “We just need to meet! I think we’d get on very well. Apparently he’s very charming, he’s a gorgeous boy, and he’s amazing. Yeah, I definitely, definitely want to work with him. A$AP, it’s a no brainer!” Having attracted one fellow rising star’s attention, Ware couldn’t help pressing her luck. “This is stalker time,” she laughed, proceeding to rattle off a list of dream collaborators. “I’d love to work with Frank Ocean, A$AP and Kanye West. I’m aiming high. And I love Chad and Pharrell [from the Neptunes], so them too. And Justin Timberlake‘s new song is so good … so, why not, him too!”
'Long.Live.A$AP' is diverse, deep, and focused. The songs are wild and ig’nant, well-structured, and potent. A$AP Rocky has a new vision for modern rap music and he's not afraid to show it.
Ilaria Conte's insight:
“I only got one vision, that’s for kids in every color, religion That listen, that you gotta beat the system, stay the fuck out the prisons. They try to blind our vision, but we all got children and siblings, You my brother, you my kin, fuck the color of your skin.” A$AP
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