***1/2 (out of four)
On the highly enjoyable “LongLiveA$AP,” A$AP Rocky's much-anticipated and frequently delayed full-length debut, the only real problem is Rocky's rapping, which is uninspired and devoid of personality. While Rocky has claimed he thinks of himself as an “artiste,” his music lacks the defining quality that elevates fun songs to art: a sense of emotional truth or personal complexity. One reason rappers like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown so easily outperform Rocky on his own tracks is that they are more complicated characters. Instead of being funny or sad or anything else really, Rocky settles for being cool, stopping short of making great art in favor of showing good taste.
Of course, Rocky has very good taste. His visual aesthetic (album art, videos, wardrobe) is flawless, as is his ear for rap music from all parts of the country. He’s someone who – this is key to his appeal – understands that, for some artists and listeners, one important function of hip-hop is to make people feel cool. Basically, every part of being a pop star that falls outside of the music itself, Rocky has down. He has been designated the genre's newest star by hip-hop's reigning powers. This spring, he goes on tour with Rihanna.
So does the rapper’s work live up to his taste? If you've heard “[Bleep]in' Problem,” Rocky's brash, nu-boom-bap single with Drake, 2Chainz and Kendrick Lamar, the answer should be fairly apparent – the song's an inescapable hit, the perfect cap on a string of solid, fan-favorite singles like “Peso,” “Pretty Flacko” and “Goldie.”
Still, it's Rocky's weirder decisions that really define “LongLiveA$AP.” His ear for lush, ambient production – evident here on standouts like “Phoenix” and “Hell” – seems prescient enough to bend the genre's overall sound ever so slightly. The combination of Rocky's beloved pitched-down vocals and Skrillex production on “Wild for the Night,” something that surely was destined as soon as someone realized that Skrill rhymes with trill, promises to challenge everyone's preconceptions until they realize its potential to be massive in clubs. Even Rocky’s straightforward endorsements, like the label-name dropping “Fashion Killa” and the blog-favorite posse cut “1 Train,” are fun, when they so easily could have become just long, tedious lists of stuff.
Proof that a great rap record doesn’t always need to feature a great rapper, this entire album sounds fantastic and deserves all the attention it will inevitably receive.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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