Houston’s in Texas, not Harlem. But try telling that to A$AP Rocky. Founder and leader of the A$AP crew, Rocky has been on the come-up for a few months now, due to the massive success of “Purple Swag,” a song that both features the prettiest white girl in gold fronts ever and enough chop/screw aesthetic to resurrect and kill DJ Screw AND Pimp C all over again. He’s caught shade from a few others due to the collective nature of his crew, most notably from Hodgy Beats of Odd Future, who put him on gangsta blast (via Twitter) calling him “A$AP Copy.” But hip-hop is a put up or shut up medium, and Rocky’s sure as hell put up. His latest release, the semi-compilation LIVELOVEA$AP is proof that while the framework (young kids doing rapping, the usage of “swag”) is similar, the A$ap crew stands on its own.
First things first: the rapping. Rocky is probably the most talented on the record, but even then, he’s not God’s gift to lyricism. He has a nice flow and he certainly encapsulates the Texas style he’s so fond of, but he occasionally drops a clever turn, like on “Palace”: “We bout it bout it/ We rowdy rowdy/ That Percy Miller.” His delivery is nice though, easily adapting to the beat as necessary, which is called for on this record. “Palace” is a bombastic and grandiose opener, with an enveloping and menacing Clams Casino beat. Clams’ style is rich throughout the record and the four cuts he threw down on.
The production is where LIVELOVEA$AP is where this album really makes its mark- to call these beats ferocious is a massive understatement. “Peso,” produced by ASAP Ty Beats, is a slick and laid back, with its digital chimes and Rocky’s easy flow being nothing less than hypnotic. Clams Casino goes in on this album for real- he’s produced for a few other sensations (Mac Miller, Lil B), but he might be doing the work of his career on this tape. “Wassup” is a monster, with its devouring bass line and ominous synth drops. When it came on in my car I literally thought it was going to fall apart. At the risk of sounding too colloquial, this beat goes HAM (Hard As a Motherfucker, for the uninitiated.)
“Purple Swag,” the lead single, is included with new verses from ASAP Nast and the hilariously named Spaceghost Purrp, and it’s easy to see why this song blew up. The video helped, surely, with its pretty blonde in fronts lip-synching the song while A$AP smokes blunts on camera, gets his Three 6 on and wears a shirt that proudly proclaims “FUCK SWAG.” The beat is insane, so sizzurpy and thick and with a stretchy synth refrain that was made to sip lean to. It is exemplary in terms of providing a mission statement for this record- ASAP Ty Beats has the ear for modern flourishes and the regard for the screw scene that this crew seems to hold in high regard. The important distinction is that on LIVELOVEA$AP, it never feels like a copy or a homage, but rather an implementation of a style as a tool.
The real beast though is “Brand New Guy,” produced by Lyle. This track is absolutely bonkers, with its screw voice hook and refrain of, “Brand new clip/ Brand new nine,” and one of Rocky’s most clever lyrical twists: “Banana clip on that chopper/ I hold heat/ Bangers bang/ Let Chiquita speak.” With its stabbing, stark digital strings, this song sounds like a nightmare that Pusha T might have had while recording “Chinese New Year.” It’s pretty much a perfect storm of elements that makes a song a banger.
As dope as this record is, it has its issues- the A$AP make a little too much use of that screw voice, when it’s like sizzurp- a little goes a long way. It works when it does, such as on “Brand New Guy,” but by the last half you start expecting it, and the album’s steam suffers a touch because of it. Rocky and his team also do really well with laid back beats, like “Get Lit,” but the order of these songs could be a bit more stretched out. Coming off the hardcore goonery of “Brand New Guy” into this spacey track is jarring, but not in the way that it should be.
LIVELOVEA$AP is a tight and consistent record, with some spectacular tracks that more than make up for any missteps. Rocky himself is a more than competent rapper, but with clear room for improvement, and his grind is never in question. He also has an uncanny ear for beats and production, as evidenced by the severity of the tracks assembled here- these beats are a problem. A$AP Rocky is doing his own thing, and this album proves it’s a steez that others will probably be jockeying soon enough.
by Rafael Gaitan