A$AP Rocky’s stylish debut Long. Live. A$AP backed up the hype
Original release date: 15 January, 2013
In late 2012, every kid on the subway’s favourite rapper had Fuckin’ Problems. There was Kendrick Lamar, basking in the critical glory of good kid, m.A.A.d City. Drake’s chart-topping melodrama was still a good time. And 2 Chainz’s evolution from Tity Boi to a dredger of star collaborations had been sealed. These were the rappers of the day heard rattling out of thunderously loud headphones on public transport. But over the rumbling synth bass of Fuckin’ Problems, none could successfully out-stunt Harlem’s rising prince of haute couture hijinx, A$AP Rocky. A star vehicle of Ocean’s Eleven proportions, the lead single from Rocky’s debut album, Long. Live. A$AP, had actually been rejected by Drake and Kendrick as unsuitable for their own projects. In Lord Flacko’s hands, its cultural potential was realised. Fuckin’ Problems infiltrated the radio, inviting the masses to consider whether their own sexcapades were actually a predicament.
This was the juice Rocky had when he first swaggered out of Uptown via the ever-widening portal of the internet. His 2011 debut mixtape, Live. Love. A$AP, made an eerie online subgenre like cloud rap extremely fashionable. Mixing in southern chopped ‘n’ screwed with his own New York origins, Live. Love. A$AP hinted at a future for rap where physical distances and far-flung styles were bridged by the worldwide web. The project’s artwork instantly joined the pantheon of classic depictions of the American flag, with Rocky in his buttoned-up plaid shirt, addressing the nation with a single puff of weed smoke. There’s rarely any scholarly agreement on who sits on the much-discussed New York hip-hop throne, apart from that one glorious period when The Notorious B.I.G. ruled unchallenged. Rocky, though, looked poised to seize the crown. Off the back of Fuckin’ Problems, Long. Live. A$AP dropped in early 2013 and shot to the top of the Billboard charts.
“That was a big deal,” Clams Casino, who produced much of Live. Love. A$AP before contributing two beats on Long. Live. A$AP, tells me. “The mixtape was free and there was a lot of [critical acclaim]. But when it came to the album, it was like, ‘Alright, that’s an internet artist transitioning to a different level.’ To see that go No. 1 was big.”
It’s funny to look back now and consider that Rocky was under pressure to deliver a hit. RCA had invested $3 million in him on the strength of just a couple of early videos, and the album suffered numerous delays. “The expectations for me are almost unfair, and unrealistic,” Rocky said in 2012 when discussing Fuckin’ Problems, adding, “I just wanted something to really back up that hype.” Accordingly, Long. Live. A$AP has a less unified aesthetic than the swirled purple haze of Live. Love. A$AP, and is more a bundle of great songs with many potential singles. The title is tweaked from the hippy-dippy mantra of the mixtape to an assertion that Rocky and his A$AP crew are eternal. The cover sees the American flag now draped around his body, seen through the filter of VHS tape glitch. The beat for the title track that opens Long. Live. A$AP feels equally skewered, prodding with its bassline and synths that sound like they’re bouncing around a metal room. “I thought I’d probably die in prison/ Expensive taste in women,” he raps, casting a familiar rags to riches story over the music’s crisp chill.
“When it came to the album, it was like, ‘Alright, that’s an internet artist transitioning to a different level.’ To see that go No. 1 was big” – Clams Casino
Rocky is a charismatic rapper, but his voice is not exactly distinct. His style has a translucent quality, which makes him one of the greatest to rap over hazy cloud rap beats (you only have to look as far as the Clams Casino-produced LVL). It’s not an insult to say that there have been times when I’ve heard Rocky on a track and not been able to put a name to the voice – his spotless flow barely leaves a trace. This ability to move discreetly through beats is why Rocky can successfully appear on wildly opposing tracks, such as the Skrillex-helmed Wild for the Night or the more old school 1 Train. The former is a miracle of a song – nobody has ever bobbed and weaved over Skrillex’s siren synth explosions as effectively as Rocky. Wild for the Night should belong in the fading memories of early 2010s brostep, but in the right settings, it can still trigger an endorphin rush. Conversely, 1 Train is a street rap classic and a superior crew joint to Fuckin’ Problems. Over a beat that sounds summoned from the 36 Chambers, Rocky shares six minutes with a geographically diverse cast: Kendrick, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. – one nation under Rocky’s cool.
The record’s original closer was the stunning Suddenly, which sees Rocky kicking back over a drum-free soul vocal sample, no trace of the weight of expectations pressing on his soul. But one edition of Long. Live. A$AP ends with a remix of 2011 song Purple Swag. Featuring Southern heroes Bun B, Paul Wall and Killa Kyleon, it solidified Rocky’s allyship with the region. In 2023, “swag” can feel as antiquated a hip-hop term as “phat” or “flossy.” But nevermind that – Long. Live. A$AP proves what swag really means.