So far, this year has been glorious on the ears; a musical paradise for hip-hop listeners. In just four months, the quality outputted could carry us into December. Only a bitter few would complain. It feels like an album renaissance; full bodies of work that exhibit the highest level of rap artistry. It feels like observing the torchbearers elevate to their highest potential, finding their sounds, leaving critics with words of praise and fans equally as impressed.
Big Sean, Lupe Fiasco, J. Cole, Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Bada$$, Wale, Action Bronson, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar all have made an impact in 2015, which has made it a special time in hip-hop. I’m feeling spoiled by all this greatness. Mediocrity simply will not be accepted. Whether they've succeeded or not, everyone seems to be striving to make albums—collective, cohesive, often conceptual works, not just collections of singles. The spirit of competition is in the air; no one wants to be sub-par, adding a layer of pressure to each release. And with A$AP Rocky recently announcing the title of his upcoming album, At. Long. Last. A$AP., all eyes are now on the young Harlemite.
Rocky's decision to release an album at a time when his peers are flourishing couldn’t be more perfect. He doesn’t have an immense catalog of music, but his rise is one in the same as Kendrick, Cole, and K.R.I.T. From the moment "Peso" went viral in 2011, Rocky entered the big leagues. His widely praised and commercially successful 2013 debut album, Long. Live. ASAP, seemingly cemented his position in the leaders of tomorrow, but his extended silence since then has caused him to fall behind the pack.
It’s been two years since we received an album from Rocky. This relatively brief hiatus is one reason why I’m excited for whatever is to come. To Pimp A Butterfly and 2014 Forest Hills Drive were products of secrecy, created in seclusion without outside interference. Rocky didn’t adopt the starving artist beard and unruly haircut, but I’m confident that he’s been diligently working on his craft in the cave.
In a recent interview with Complex, Rocky proclaimed to be an artist over a rapper, a mindset that could be deemed pessimistic, or foreshadowing an evolution.
"This is more free than I’ve ever been. I’ve never been this free making music, ever. I’m experimenting, listening, and looking for different sounds." —Complex
Rocky’s bravado is what I've always found most compelling about him. He never seems doubtful or unsure. He's full of confidence and gusto, a man that could command a fleet of hipsters. He charmed his fans by being unapologetically himself. He's the pretty motherfucker. He never cared for how the world would perceive him. He never cared to be accepted. His boastfulness attracted an audience of kids that were fascinated by his personality and livelihood. Being a trendsetter came naturally. The very same swagger and style that made him alluring are what he poured into his music—lifestyle rap. He juxtaposed Houston’s rap aesthetic and Harlem’s debonair, high fashion and Slick Rick-esque jewelry, all under fluorescent purple lights. His debut mixtape, Live. Love. ASAP, showcased a rapper that lacked technical prowess, but had the kind of production and approach that created an ambiance to be lost in. It felt like swimming in a promethazine pool, with marijuana clouds raining Xanax and ecstasy.
Like we’ve seen countless times, a critically acclaimed mixtape was followed up by a disappointing debut album. Simply put: LiveLongA$AP failed to deliver an experience on par with its predecessor. Rocky confessed to Complex that he felt the album was rushed, an outlook I can agree with. This time around he’s being careful, though, treating his next album like a surgeon would a patient. He's taking the slow and steady approach. "Multiply" and "LPFJ2," his latest singles, answered any prayers for that authentic Rocky. He’s rapping with the boastful arrogance of a giant and production that knocks with his classic syrupy illustriousness. Rocky returned to reign with the same sound that has been desired since his 2011 introduction.
I haven’t experienced losing my best friend, but it’s a reality that A$AP Rocky has been facing since the death of Steven Rodriguez, a.k.a. A$AP Yams. Rodriguez was more than just the founder of A$AP Mob; he was more than just a buddy from home. Yams was a crucial partner in everything that went on. Take Rocky’s charisma with Diddy’s hustle, fuse it with Method Man’s humor and you've got a mogul in the making. Rocky is now in the trenches without his most trusted comrade.
Juicy J is set to executive produce the album, while Danger Mouse is slated to chip in behind the boards. This is Rocky's moment to join in a historic movement, to establish himself as a true leader of this new generation of hip-hop artists. If the album is great, it will live on with the many we've already been gifted this year. There's no room for average and ordinariness; we are moving forward as a proud culture that only accepts the best from our leaders.
I am confident that Rocky has the zeal to deliver something worthy of critical acclaim; he has to. For his career, for his fans, and for his best friend. I'm saving my pesos, doubling my cups, and glistening my grills. I'm even crossing my fingers that we'll get another "Brand New Guys." If he could give me 10 of those, I'll call it a classic.
By Yoh, aka Yohchella, aka @Yoh31