This year so far has been glorious on the ears, a musical paradise for hip-hop listeners. In four months the quality outputted could carry us into December and 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 torch bearers 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 left an impact in 2015 that is making this a special time in hip-hop. I’m feeling spoiled by all this greatness, and mediocrity simply will not be accepted. Whether they've succeed 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 dropping an album during a phase when his peers are flourishing couldn’t be more perfect. He doesn’t have an immense catalog of music, but the rise of his fame and acclaim cuts him from the same cloth 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, in the meantime only a few features and recently two strong singles have hit our ears. This relatively brief hiatus is one reason why I’m excited for whatever is to come. To Pimp A Butterfly and 2014 Forest Hill 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 has proclaimed himself an artist over 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 always found compelling. He never seemed doubtful or unsure, full of confidence and gusto, a man that could command a fleet of hipsters. He charmed his fans by being unapologetically himself. The pretty motherfucker, he shouted it without worry, he never cared 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 is 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 many times in my generation, a critically acclaimed mixtape was followed up by a disappointing debut album. Simply put, LiveLongA$AP failed to deliver an experience on par with its predecessor. It did expand his audience by delivering a radio monster though, "Fuckin Problems" was in rotation everywhere. "Wild For The Night" took Rocky from the streets of Harlem to the fields of mollies, glow sticks and EDM music. He crossed over from the streets to yachts cruising mainstream waters, his lifestyle changed and the music lacked its previous potency. He confessed to Complex that he felt the album was rushed, an outlook I can agree with. It seems that this time around he’s being careful, treating this album like a surgeon would do a patient, taking the slow and steady approach. "Multiply" and "LPFJ2," his latest releases, answered any prayers for that authentic Rocky. He’s rapping with the boastful arrogance of a giant and production that knocks with his classic syrupy illustriousness. Rocky’s return disregarded the radio, he returned to reign with the same sound that has been desired since his 2011 introduction.
I haven’t experienced losing my best friend, but it’s a reality that A$AP Rocky has been facing since the death of Steven Rodriguez, better known as A$AP Yams. He was more than just the founder of A$AP Mob, more than just a buddy from home, Yams was a crucial partner in everything that went on. Take Rocky’s charisma with P. Diddy’s hustle, fuse it with Method Man’s humor and you got a mogul in the making. Reading stories about him, he seemed to have touched and impacted everyone that he came in contact with. Just an overall good spirit that cared about creating greatness. Rocky is now in the trenches without his most trusted comrade. We’ve seen in hip-hop how rappers are affected when having to push forward and create after the loss of an irreplaceable loved one; Eminem losing Proof, Ab-Soul after Alori Joh, Kanye and his mother. It changes you.
Can A$AP Rocky follow the footsteps of his peers and release his best album yet? I’m hopeful. He's speaking excitedly about a change in sound, completely unlike anything we’ve heard from him before. Juicy J is Executive Producing the LP, he even revealed he's working with Danger Mouse on production and touching the boards himself. This is his 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 that we’ve received thus far. He’ll once again join the pack, and be seen as a torch bearer for the future. 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 have confidence 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, crossing my fingers that we will get another "Brand New Guys." If he could give me ten of those, I'll call it a classic.
[By Yoh, aka Yohchella, aka @Yoh31]