The Year of A$AP

Jackson Leeds

It is hard to believe that it was more than a year ago that A$AP Rocky released his debut mixtape, “Live Love A$AP.” He shocked the rap world with a slow, woozy journey through the streets of New York, speaking from experience on the streets and in the projects. The sound was unique, at times an ode to Cleveland rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, with a consistent southern influence. Many songs featured the screwed and chopped vocals that rappers like Mike Jones and Paul Wall championed over the past two decades.

Now it’s 2013 and Rocky has released his major-label debut, a fascinating account of his life compiled during his journey to commercial hip hop supremacy. The album is an impressive sonic accomplishment, with top-notch production from notable producers like Skrillex, T-Minus, Hit-Boy, Rocky himself (Lord Flacko) and Clams Casino allow Rocky and his guests to shine through lyrically.

If you are looking for a thoughtful rapper, someone with a strong political or moral message or any sort of truthful reflection, I suggest you look elsewhere. Rocky sounds tough and raw on most every track on the album, which works well especially on tracks like “Long Live A$AP” and “Ghetto Symphony.” Sometimes his lyrics develop into a fluffy, swag-filled nothingness, but there is normally enough wordplay to make every track as amusing as the last. Rocky has essentially mapped out his life, using each track as a canvas for the tough realities he has witnessed as well as the luxuries that come with having the number one album in the country.

No review of this album would be complete without a mentioning “1 Train.” The song, which features Rocky, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Yelawolf, Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$, is an absolute masterpiece with Hit Boy on the production boards. In a perfect world, Yelawolf wouldn’t be on the track, but even he had a few good bars. Joey Bada$$’s verse was probably the most impressive, as he gave us a tour of the five boroughs through his youthful eyes. The Pro Era member has one of the more memorable lines on the entire album: “I’m on my convict, don’t drop bars, I drop prisons/Don’t sell rocks, seen the spectrum through the prisms.”

This album is an impressive debut, especially in light of recent hip-hop masterpieces from artists like Roc Maricano, Kendrick Lamar and Action Bronson. Rocky was a couple beats away from making the album of the year with “Long Live A$AP” and it’s clear he has tremendous potential as an enticing hybrid of swag rapper and clever wordsmith. It is unfortunate that this is another rap album about drugs, violence, crime and poverty, but it shows us that there is a certain beauty to the often hidden underbelly of America.

With this album, I think Rocky has made it clear that he is here to stay and that he has tremendous ability as a producer and tastemaker as well. “Wild for the Night,” the collaboration track with Skrillex, works perfectly. The heavy synths complemented Rocky’s hazy, slowed vocals that we hear throughout the track. I don’t think that the expensive, electronic production of this album can really compare with the sincere, low-key beats from Rocky’s mixtape, but he will appeal to a larger audience because has broadened his sound.

Even if you don’t normally listen to rap music, I’d say that it still might be worth giving this album a try. It is impressive, even if you don’t enjoy Rocky’s sharp lyrical imagery and aggressive vocal tone. In Rocky’s debut, we hear the kind of quality that we hope can be repeated again and again and, if he can stack up a few albums like this, he will be well on his way to the top of the mountain that is contemporary hip-hop.