If there’s an avatar for what rappers will look like in the future, it’s probably New York City MC A$AP Rocky. He was born in Harlem as Rakim Mayers, namesake of one of the most famous rappers ever, but that’s where his traditionalism ends. Rocky is the high-profile spawn of a mutating rap world that acknowledges no barriers between regional sounds, or the worlds of hip-hop and high fashion or the streets and Tumblr. His intoxicated, slow-mo major-label debut album is descended directly from Houston’s screw scene and its omnipresent purplish-pink mixture of cough syrup and soda — a heady brew that serves as the perfect emblem for an album with so many influences that you can almost imagine it as iridescent.
Rocky spits with classic New York focus and ferocity, but that isn’t his main strength: You don’t listen to Rocky for quotables. This might seem like a problem, but the world of rap, now more than ever, often has little concern for how your lyrics read on the page. The game is now about branding and innovation — which, uncoincidentally, are the two things that really power Long.Live.A$AP. The album sticks to the cold, melted-down sound that helped push Rocky to prominence — a combination of screw music and the blown-out, haunted instrumentals of Internet stew-stirrer Clams Casino — while folding in productions from industry heavyweights like Hit-Boy (“Goldie”) and T-Minus (“PMW”). But even those beats are dunked into a double-cup and emerge steeped in Rocky’s aesthetic.
And at the center stands the man himself — icily cool, joined by a bunch of his famous friends and spouting off the names of fashion brands most of us can’t even spell. There’s often so much going on — from the ghostly, gasping vocals of “LVL” to Skrillex stomping through “Wild for the Night” — that it may seem like Long.Live.A$AP is about everything except A$AP Rocky. Yet, that’s the point — Rocky argues that there is virtue in being a magnet for the ephemeral world.