Harlems what Im reppin, said ASAP Rocky over and again on 2011s LiveLoveASAP mixtape. Okay, but the defining narrative on the 24-year-old so far has revolved around his penchant for embracing sounds with origins everywhere but his native New York. That tape, his breakout, often found Rocky amid a seamless composite of disparate pieces: hooks built from codeine-lubricated vocals traceable back to DJ Screw and the S.U.C.; a pliant flow seemingly derived entirely from Wish Bones verse on Bone Thugs East Eternal 1999; and beats from or in the vein of Clams Casino and the New Jersey producers diffuse grandeur. For those keeping score at home, those are three things rooted in Houston, Cleveland, and hours of YouTube sample-searching, respectively. And on LongLiveASAP, his major-label debut, Rocky expands his horizons even further, indulging in relative experimentation while also adhering to the gifts that have catapulted him to stardom in just over a year.
Theres something of a trip-hop influence embedded in much of this music; opener LongLiveASAP, for instance, has a precedent in something like the dark-tinted churn of Sneaker Pimps’ Spin Spin Sugar. But that only begins to catalog all thats going on here. The much-blogged-about Skrillex collaboration Wild for the Night opens with some of those screwed-up vocals but soon erupts into lightning brostep. Three tracks later, Danger Mouse, another unlikely collaborator, gets a production credit on Phoenix, which is testimony to the albums panoramic nature in itself. Funny thing is, while Rocky is nowhere near as malleable as, say, man of the moment Kendrick Lamar, he handles every surprise here with so much grace as to lead the listener to wonder whats more surprising in the first place his dexterity or his immaculate beat selection.
Take the first three tracks. Over its five minutes, LongLiveASAP finds Rocky cycling through virtually every flow imaginable, be it by taking things relatively slow and bending the last word of every line or by diving into not-a-millisecond-wasted triple-time. Its dizzying and its awesome. Then, on lead single Goldie, dude evens things out and gains an almost melodic bite it’s one of those songs where the cadence of every line seems to fit absolutely perfectly with whatever’s happening in the beat (in this case, bouncing pan flute riffs and overall chromed-out-ness). And on the Schoolboy Q-assisted PMW (All I Really Need), Rocky alternates with ease between that triple-time and the most extended showing yet of his actually-not-that-bad singing. Ultimately, Its things like these that are bound to fend off those great many Rocky naysayers who deem him all style, no substance.
Lets talk about style for a minute, though. Like T.I. circa Trap Muzik or, shit, even pre-retirement Jay-Z, Rocky is one of those guys who just sound cool as hell at all times. Complementing this, naturally, is his habit of rapping about the other things that make his swagger so impressive, spouting sartorial endorsements (Margiela! Balenciaga! Audemars Piguet! More names with lots of vowels!) and describing the dozens of ways he fills his cups (cups which, staying true to his Houston influences, undoubtedly have Jolly Ranchers at the bottom). But, despite his insistence that he aint no conscious cat, we get glimpses of his humanity here, too. There are several references to suicide, both of the door persuasion and of the, uh, fatal kind. And on Phoenix, we find Rocky sunk in philosophy, which, while maybe falling short in the profundity department, makes up for groaners like Yes, Im the shit tell me, do it stink?: Its a fine line between truth and lies / Jesus Christ never lied, still was crucified.
Despite that timeless wisdom, this is a very now album. The ubiquitous 2 Chainz shows up on Fuckin Problems, and there is more than one allusion to this mysterious Molly lass apparently every rapper has befriended in recent months. But also appearing is 1 Train, the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx-reminiscent, cypher-resembling cut that marks Rockys first foray into those Big Apple sounds hes been avoiding. Another one of the major talking-points re: Rocky is the opportunity he supposedly has to bring New York back, or whatever, provided that he excavates sounds like these more often. As we now know, its not that he wont. Its that, as the album as a whole shows, hes had better ideas to chase down first.
Essential Tracks: LongLiveASAP, Goldie, and Fashion Killa