A$ AP ROCKY
Long.Live.A$ AP (RCA/Sony)
(out of four)
Hot young rappers get written off quickly these days, victimized by impossibly high commercial expectations and a tendency to underperform during the transition from raw, hungry mixtape darlings to big-budget, major-label “priorities.”
Harlem hip-hop wild child A$ AP Rocky tore a swath through the Internet with his bristling 2011 online freebie Live.Love.A$ AP and landed a $ 3-million deal with RCA Records for his troubles, yet his “official” debut album has since been slow enough to materialize that some observers have been wondering if 24-year-old Rakim Mayers’ march to the top might have gone dangerously sideways.
The kid sounds perfectly on track on Long.Live.A$ AP, however. Although leaking to the web well ahead of its Jan. 15 release date might ultimately eat into the record’s sales figures a bit — which might not matter so much since the monster A$ AP/Drake/2 Chainz/Kendrick Lamar tag-team single has already moved 600,000 copies — the music is fairly unassailable.
It’s moodier, rangier and weirder than the brash, hardboiled thug-isms of Live.Love.A$ AP might have led us to expect, too. Rocky’s narcoticized splicing of East Coast and Dirty South hip-hop tropes ventures with confidence in a number of surprisingly dark and disorienting directions under the stewardship of such production collaborators as Clams Casino, T-Minus, Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse and Drake right-hand man Noah “40” Shebib. Even a potentially disastrous hook-up with dubstep wunderkind Skrillex on “Wild for the Night” slots into the overall flow of the album without disruption, perhaps because Rocky has already dabbled in dub mingled with rave-y synth chords alongside Santigold a couple of tracks earlier on “Hell.”
Granted, Rocky’s preoccupations aren’t much different from those of a hundred lesser mainstream rappers — “PMW (All I Really Need)” offers a succinct summation of his passions for women, cash and drugs, while the head-spinning array of fashion designers and brand names referenced willy-nilly here will do nothing to diminish his already-solid reputation as something of a dandy — but there’s nothing wrong with sayin’ nuthin’ if you say it artfully. Besides, A$ AP Rocky has no interest in painting himself as anything he’s not: “Don’t view me as a conscious cat,” he drawls on “Suddenly.” “This ain’t no conscious rap.” No, it ain’t, but it certainly conducts itself with star-making flair.
Top Track: “Wild for the Night.” A dabble in dubstep that doesn’t feel crass, wrong or unnecessary.