In 1986, hip-hop legends Eric B & Rakim recorded their first track, and manifested into NYC’s most beloved DJ/MC duo overnight. Eric B supplied the beats, while Rakim displayed his metaphoric lyrical mastery with ease. Two years later, NYC welcomed a fresh set of lungs and wide eyes to its gritty streets — a baby boy aptly named after the city’s poetic genius himself, Rakim — destined to break free of the concrete jungle confines one day.
Rakim Mayers, aka A$AP Rocky, grew up wanting — dreaming — for more. As a teenager, he watched his drug-selling father get sent to jail, only to have his older brother murdered a year later. In 2007, he fell into a band of brothers known as the A$AP Mob, from which he was given his A$AP Rocky moniker. This crew became his support system — a rap project that allowed Rocky to perfect his craft with high hopes of returning hip-hop honors back to NYC.
In 2011, Rocky quickly gained attention for his eclectic style — both in delivery and fashion. In the blink of an eye, he was signed to a multimillion-dollar deal and thrown into recording his debut album, “Long.Live.A$AP.” On this album, Rocky pulls inspiration from every corner of the hip-hop nation, and blends styles into a collection of tracks that places him above the competition.
Claps of thunder open the album and set the tone, as Rocky spits the perfect storm of lyrics drenched in sex, drugs and violence — made acceptable only by the promise of eternal life in the halls of hip-hop. This theme finds a home on most tracks, which are overloaded with imagery of a luxe life, with endless supplies of money, drugs and women. While Rocky’s spectrum of story seems limited, he raps effortlessly overtop a diverse stream of beats and samples laid by some of the industry’s best producers like Hit-Boy, Clams Casino, Drake and Dangermouse.
Rocky is at home on the microphone no matter the style, which lends to the album’s success. “Goldie,” “Pain” and “Wild for the Night,” pay tribute to pitch-down style of Houston’s late DJ Screw and Memphis natives Three 6 Mafia, leaving listeners feeling like they’ve been sippin’ on the sizzurp. “Hell” features M.I.A-esque vocals with new wave reggae undertones from Santigold, while “1 Train” is a freestyle throwback to days of Wu-Tang Clan, when rap crews reigned supreme. The continuum of sound is vast, but Rocky finds his sweet spot on each track.
On the platinum single, “F***kin’ Problems,” Rocky calls on Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar to up the ante over a tight drum beat laced with bass drops. The ear-catching audio gains even more mass appeal with a sexed-up video reminiscent of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear-Remix.” Rocky ends the album with “Suddenly” — a slow-motion chronicle of everyday happenings on the block from childhood struggles to present-day fame. “Suddenly” rises to the top as the best track, because it highlights Rocky’s storytelling ability. Beneath explicit lyrics like “You my brother/You my kin/F**k the color of your skin” lies an important message — Rocky is making music to bring people together.
Overall, “Long.Live.A$AP” succeeds by introducing a new wrinkle in the current era of hip-hop — one that feeds off the strengths and intricacies of collaboration. The meat of the album is sandwiched between its two best tracks, where Rocky shines as a storyteller — much like his namesake. Whether he lives on in the hip-hop history books alongside his predecessor has yet to be determined.