What the f*ck is it about New York City and defining the voice of the millennial generation–or “a generation”? Lena Dunham’s made it a point on her breakout HBO show, Girls, to speak for disaffected twenty-somethings, and in a recent clip with Life + Times, Harlem’s A$AP Rocky’s jumped onto the bandwagon.
When speaking about “Long Live A$AP,” the first track off his debut studio album of the same name, Rocky mentions, “I’m basically talking to my generation. I’m pretty much just a product of my environment…. That’s just what we do. Straight up.” Now, for as well-spoken as the A$AP Mob leader is–and for how solid a project Long.Live.A$AP is–it’s hard to see what exactly his first album’s saying about his generation, which is anyone between 18 and 28.
Long.Live.A$AP paints a world defined by narcissism, populated strictly by cool, zero-fucks-given kids in Maison Martin Margiela kicks and Hood by Air jerseys. That’s great, but nothing defining or new. Bret Easton Ellis and Tom Wolfe summarized the same thing about boomers in the 1980s: Masters of the Universe! But Rocky’s success–and Long.Live.A$AP–calls to mind a 2010 New York Times article about this generation’s use of sampling and how they–we–cannot see what’s wrong in taking something that’s come before and assimilating it to their own needs. Now, Rocky’s not plagiarizing (depending on whom you chat with), but he is this generation in how he takes from seemingly everything (Southern chopped-and-screwed morass, Midwestern double-time, etc.) and piles it into his product.
There are plenty of think pieces already out about the use of Rocky’s myriad of influences, so no need to re-examine. Long.Live.A$AP builds on that same concept, watching Rocky’s flow alternate between an army march and double-time syllable splitting. The album’s versatility is its best part, how Rocky can go from menacing, bomb-dropping lines on “Long Live A$AP” to catchy radio-ready plays on “Goldie” and “Fuckin’ Problem” to mega-star posse cuts like “1 Train” to Master P-like Southern stomp on “Suddenly.”
His chemistry with both TDE’s ScHoolboy Q and Clams Casino bubbles into some of the album’s best work. “PMW” cements why Q might as well be a member of the Mob, trading boasts and barbs with Rocky like, “now bounce that ass on my bungy cord/uh, yeah, whoopsie daisy, put a good kid in your section 80, turn a baby into a lady.” And for all the magic Hit-Boy, Noah “40” Shebib and A$AP Ty Beat$ contribute production-wise (because Rocky again benefits from prime beat selection), the “LVL” and “Hell” sequence exemplifies why Rocky’s best work comes with Clams Casino.
But here’s the problem with spitting out so many different influences: glaring missteps will occur. “Fashion Killa,” for all its celebration of Rocky’s influence within couture fashion, sucks–from the saccharine house production to the bars. “Wild For the Night” (with Skrillex) and “Pain” aren’t as insufferable as “Fashion Killa,” but throw off Long.Live.A$AP’s tracking in the long run with the now-dying fad of dubstep in “Wild…” and too-syrupy drip in “Pain.”
While tracks like “Fashion Killa” are obvious missteps, critics of Rocky will still petition that he hasn’t grown as a MC, and they wouldn’t be far off the mark. He still–like Kanye before him–has awkward moments, garbling lines and forcing round rhymes through square pegs. And he clearly mentions that “this ain’t no conscious rap,” so the album’s themes don’t betray his love of b*tches, bud and boutiques; then again, this isn’t a mark against Rocky. He’s clearly found his lane and not everyone in his generation of rappers can make Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City.
But that’s the thing with being the voice of or speaking to your generation: something about your work has to be enduring, accurate and honest. Long.Live.A$AP is a great listen, but is it anything other than ephemeral? Probably not. That’s not Rocky’s fault–it was never his designated position to take up the millenial mantel in Hip-Hop. He does, however, embody millenials’ taste for anything and everything, and Long.Live.A$AP is testament, in that regard, to that generation. Or a generation. Or something.
Label: A$AP Worldwide, Polo Grounds, RCA | Producers: Jim Jonsin, Rico Love, Finatik & Zac, Frank Romano, Hit-Boy, T-Minus, Nikhil Seetharam, Clams Casino, Soufien3000, Noah “40” Shebib, C. Papi, Birdy Nam Nam, Skrillex, Hector Delgado, LORD FLACKO, Friendzone, Danger Mouse, A$AP Ty Beats, Joey Fatts, V Don, Jonathan “MP” Williams, Emile Haynie, Amanda Ghost