Being a critic is a difficult task. You can’t really judge one person’s album against someone else’s album. One may be more lyrical but the other just works better song-for-song. It all depends on which one you like more and then you make your decision.
For example, you cannot judge a Waka Flocka Flame album against a Nas album, and say, “Waka Flocka isn’t lyrical like Nas and therefore he sucks.” Waka is not a lyrical rapper so you can’t complain that “Round of Applause” doesn’t sound like Nas. If you review a trap music album, you have to look at it as a trap album. If you review a socio-conscious/gangsta rap album, you have to look at it as a socio-conscious/gangsta rap album.
That being said, A$AP Rocky does not want you to look at him wrong: “Don’t view me as no conscious cat, this ain’t no conscious rap/ F*ck the conscious crap, my Mac’ll push your conscious back.”
Rocky is, for many, a walking contradiction. He hails from New York but is more inspired by Southern hip hop. He is a gangsta rapper who mostly spits over woozy, indie-inspired beats. Hell, his name is Rakim but he sounds more like a mix of UGK and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. But the interesting part is that these contradictions serve as benefactors rather than crutches. In a world where originality is scarce, here is someone who, although is not wholly original, accepts his influences and creates a style that is pleasant throwback and at the same time, refreshingly new.
Many underground successes somehow come up short on their actual debut album (or what one can refer to as the “Big KRIT Syndrome”). Rappers spend most of their creativity trying to garner buzz that they end up giving away the best material for free. Rocky realizes this and he advances his sound rather than simply repeating it, thus retaining the feel of Live.Love.A$AP but also exploring different musical ideas. It may not mean the same thing as innovation but in an industry full of cliches and repetition, a different approach seems more than refreshing.
If there’s one problem about Rocky, it’s that his trash talk is more impressive than the actual claims (“Painting vivid pictures, call me Basquiat Picasso”) and more often than not, Rocky spits a few brilliant lines before slipping into near mediocrity for the next few. It doesn’t diminish the quality of the songs in particular but it doesn’t rebuke the claim that he could have done better. On “Phoenix”, he raps…
Bloody ink on my pen spelled suicide
Kurt Cobain even died cause you scrutinize
It’s a fine line between truth and lies
Jesus Christ never lied, still was crucified
before proceeding to end the rest of the bars with “n*gga”…
That’s why I never judge another n*gga
Life’s a b*tch, but that b*tch in love with other n*ggas
3 to a bed, sheets, no covers n*gga
Dirty kitchen, no supper in the cupboards n*gga
Sucker n*ggas, wassup my n*ggas
So my new attitude is like “F*ck the n*ggas!”
Again, it does sound sincere and meaningful but given that brilliant opener, one would expect a consistent follow-up.
A couple missteps aside (“F**kin Problems”, “Fashion Killa”), Long.Live.A$AP is a strong debut album by an artist whose potential is becoming more and more visible. Clearly, he has the ability to craft hits on his own terms and the adaptability to stay relevant. But as far as depth goes, Rocky still is better at talking ignorance over larger than life beats than he is at making consistently deep verses. But maybe that will come with age.
Favorite Tracks: “Long.Live.A$AP”, “Goldie”, “PMW”, “Wild for the Night”, “Phoenix”, “Suddenly”, “Angels” (bonus track)