ASAP Rocky's latest album is "Long Live ASAP." (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Wealthy, impatient and not without a few rough edges, ASAP Rocky comes by his rap handle honestly.
In late 2011 this young Harlem MC (born Rakim Mayers in a nod to the New York hip-hop icon) announced his arrival with an impressive mixtape, "Live Love ASAP," that married a streetwise lyrical sensibility to plush, pop-savvy beats. Now, less than 18 months later, he's releasing his feverishly anticipated major-label debut, "Long Live ASAP."
It's similarly titled but considerably splashier than its predecessor, with input from A-list producers such as Danger Mouse and Skrillex and guest appearances by Drake and Florence Welch. And it reportedly earned ASAP Rocky a multi-million-dollar record deal — the kind, he boasted to Pitchfork, that hasn't been handed out since 50 Cent's heyday a decade ago.
"It feel good waking up to money in the bank," he admits in the album's lead single, "Goldie," and you can hear in his unhurried swagger that he knows the security of which he speaks.
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His rise was fast, but its speed was matched by action. Last spring the rapper made headlines during the South by Southwest music festival when he jumped into the crowd at a gig after being pelted with a beer can. In September he performed on the MTV Video Music Awards with Rihanna, who recently invited ASAP Rocky to open her upcoming arena tour. And throughout he's steadily racked up tens of millions of YouTube views with a series of provocative music videos, including an extravagantly stylized collaboration with Lana Del Rey in which he portrays President Kennedy.
Perhaps it's that concentrated rush of experience that accounts for how preternaturally assured ASAP Rocky sounds on "Long Live ASAP." At 24, he's seen it all before many MCs have seen much of anything.
He appears to have heard everything too. Though his videos for early songs like "Peso" and "Purple Swag" made purposeful use of his uptown stamping grounds, ASAP Rocky hardly limits himself to a New York state of mind here. Instead he pulls from a number of regional hip-hop variants: Houston's woozy chopped-and-screwed sound, the fleet vocal gymnastics associated with Cleveland's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Atlanta's obsession with the future of funk.
Working with Skrillex in "Wild for the Night," he leaves behind rap's boom-bap beat, rhyming over a spacey reggae groove punctuated by the dubstep king's laser-like synth bursts. Two tracks produced by Clams Casino venture further still: In "Hell" Santigold embeds her sweet vocal hook in a wall of computer noise, and the gorgeously fractured "LVL" wouldn't feel out of place on a record by Brian Eno or Aphex Twin.
Even when the album returns to his home turf, as in the gritty Wu-Tang Clan homage "1 Train," he packs the track with cameos by a rogues gallery of non-New Yorkers, including Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Big K.R.I.T. and L.A.'s Kendrick Lamar. It's localism gone global.
In his lyrics ASAP Rocky mirrors the music's worldly vibe with a nonchalant bravado, coolly outlining an ultra-high-end lifestyle populated by beautiful women and draped in designer clothes. (No rapper has embraced fashion more enthusiastically since the mid-'00s, when Cam'ron — another Harlem native — was often photographed wearing a hot-pink fur coat.)
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Yet if the stakes on "Long Live ASAP" can sometimes seem perilously low — the disc's opening couplet puts "expensive taste in women" and "probably die in prison" on equal footing — ASAP Rocky's songs don't lack for emotion.
In the scratchy, slow-rolling "Suddenly" he recounts the indignities of a tough childhood ("Roaches on the wall, roaches on the dresser / Everybody had roaches, but our roaches ain't respect us") but projects the relief that he's moved beyond them. Elsewhere he summons a disarming tenderness in "Fashion Killa" as he lays out a lover's top-dollar wardrobe: "She got a lot of Prada, that Dolce & Gabbana," he marvels over a sparkly electro-pop production, "I can't forget Escada and that Balenciaga."
Does the bewitching result live up to the price ASAP Rocky's label paid for it? In an age of escalating music-business meltdown, who even knows what that means anymore? What's clear is that ASAP Rocky thinks — indeed, he knows — he's worth the cost. "Long Live ASAP" won't take long to convince you he's right.