By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
If you have listened to mainstream hip-hop within the last year, chances are you have heard the name A$AP Rocky. After the success of his mixtape LiveLoveA$AP – featuring the hit single “Peso” – the Harlem native released his debut studio album, Long.Live.A$AP, early last week. Featuring notable guest appearances from artists such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and 2 Chainz and star producers like Hit-Boy, 40, Skrillex and T-Minus, Long.Live.A$AP strikes a balance between heavy-hitting party raps and trippy, wonky songs that will constantly have you guessing what comes next.
A$AP Rocky’s choice of instrumentals is truly extravagant. Every beat serves its purpose – the bass-heavy “Goldie” (produced by Hit-Boy) gives listeners the feeling that they are truly living life like King Midas, while the synths on “Hell” and “Pain” feel like something expected of Tyler, the Creator (in a good way). A$AP Rocky isn’t a rapper well known for his deep lyrics, but his personality on the mic is definitely noticeable on this album. He shines mostly on experimental tracks such as “Wild for the Night,” which features remixing by Skrillex; this loud, electronic instrumentation meshes well with his style of rapping. Despite this, his performance on posse cuts such as “F***in’ Problems” or “1Train” also stand out simply for his flow and cadence.
Rocky’s instrumental ear is complemented by his choice of featured artists; despite a diverse sampling, the album remains focused, and when featured artists – Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Joey Bada$$ – do appear, they remain a welcome surprise.
Unfortunately, his greatest assets on the album tend to be his greatest detriments as well. At times, tracks seem to drag on, or the instrumentals become too distracting, making it difficult to fully enjoy his performance. Also, by featuring so many artists, their vocals may become more memorable than Rocky’s at times. In fact, Rocky’s lyrics often play out as filler on some parts of the album: tracks such as “PMW (All I Really Need)” and “Fashion Killa” point out how repetitive some hooks can become. Even the current hit “F***in’ Problems” suffers from the issue.
Despite its shortcomings, Long.Live.A$AP is a welcome addition to the genre as the first major release of 2013. The production is top-notch, the pacing is enjoyable, and the features truly help to make gems out of some potentially skip-worthy tracks, even if they do take the spotlight off of the album artist. Give this album a listen if you enjoy hip-hop music.
By Brandon Kesselly, Staff Writer
In honor of the recent solo debuts of 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar and Meek Mill, as well as the coming debut of A$AP Rocky (2012’s four hip-hop heavy hitters), I wanted to list some of my favorite solo debut LPs of the genre:
Illmatic – Nas (February 1994): While it is not a very well-known fact, Nas actually debuted before Biggie. Nas’ debut—at the age of 20 – laid the groundwork for his later hit albums and his future beef with both Biggie and Jay-Z. The most notable feature of this album was that it lacked star guest features, focusing the attention on Nas from beginning to end.
Ready to Die – Notorious B.I.G. (September 1994): Biggie hit hard with this album, and—combined with his sophomore double-disc Life After Death—solidified himself as the most popular rapper of hip-hop’s “golden age” The storytelling and lyrical complexity on this album still make me shiver when I listen. “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” became major hits.
Reasonable Doubt – Jay Z (June 1996): The first of many great debuts for Jigga, this album has one of the rare moments where Jay Z and his friend, Biggie, traded verses in real life as opposed to recycled recordings (“Brooklyn’s Finest”). “Dead Presidents II” was also famous for sparking the beef between Jay and Nas.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ – 50 Cent (February 2003) – 50 Cent made his major label debut with this 2003 classic, featuring hit songs such as “In Da Club,” “21 Questions” and “P.I.M.P.” The album went on to go eight times platinum as of 2011.
The College Dropout – Kanye West (February 2004): Kanye West is a name as synonymous with hip-hop production as Jimmy Hendrix is synonymous to epic guitar playing. When the “Izzo” producer finally began to put out his own songs, his own rap legend soon began, combined with further production work on songs for Jay-Z, Ludacris, Twista, Alicia Keys and more. Dropout gave the genre classic songs like “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks” and “Through The Wire.”
The Documentary – The Game (January 2005): 50 Cent’s (former) lieutenant, The Game, had a strong debut with The Documentary. A mixture of gritty gangsta rap and heavy-hitting party songs, the West Coast native was helped by his energetic delivery and production work from 50, Kanye West, Timbaland and Dr. Dre. His tracks “How We Do” “Dreams” and “Hate It or Love It” became instant classics.
Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco (September 2006): Lupe Fiasco—a Chicago native—found an interesting niche in hip-hop, choosing to combine spoken word, nerdcore and skateboarding influences with the dark tales of the streets of his hometown. However, he balanced the tale of a slowly corrupted youth with fun stories and some of the most clever imagery and wordplay in the genre. “Kick, Push” and “Daydreamin’” became classics while songs like the Howard Zinn–inspired “American Terrorist” show Fiasco’s knack for historically driven raps.