Rec-Room Therapy #6: Long Live A$AP
BYT at large | Dec 28, 2012 | 11:30AM |
Allow us to reintroduce ourselves: Our name is Rec-Room Therapy.  Each week, we offer a spirited debate, discussion, and dissection of recent hip-hop tracks, albums, and mixtapes.  This fine Friday morning, we take a listen to a few cuts from A$AP Rocky’s major label debut, Long.Live.A$AP, which, coincidentally, recently fell off the back a truck en route to its official January 15th release.   The oft-delayed album – originally scheduled for September 11th – follows a little over a year after the mixtape that put A$SAP Rocky firmly on the map, Live.Love.A$AP.  Stepping into A$AP’s smoke-filled universe is our distinguished panel of Joshua Phelps, Marcus Dowling, Briana Younger, Steven “You Only Get Half a Bar” Place, and Phil R.
“Fuckin’ Problems”
Featuring: 2 Chainz, Drake, Kendrick Lamar
Production: Noah “40” Shebib with Drake
Marcus: Drake’s a magnanimous fellow to give this OVOXO gift to Rocky for Christmas. This feels like a sped-up version of all of our favorite moments on Take Care, a joyous take on the self-indulgent swag rap dirge-as-masterpieces that we came to love so much. 2 Chainz on the hook here feels like an A$AP Rocky episode of “My Super Sweet 16” and guess what?!?!?! His parents ponied up the extra dough and got him exactly that little something extra that he wanted! And all of his hypebeasting-ass friends called him the coolest kid in high school for the day! Drake and Kendrick are great here. Moreso than any other emcees in the game right now, they’re comfortable in their niche and entirely accepting of their places in rap’s pecking order. Giving A$AP a dap does nothing for them but everything for the Harlemite, giving him access to being song number four out of ten on the Forever 21 playlist, which is sadly one of the best places where rap – at the present moment – can aspire to reach.
Phelps:  Is it just me or is this beat a darker version of Jeezy’s “Trap Star?”  I’m not hatin’ – that was my official MySpace song back in the day!  As Marcus points out, A$AP is just extra average in the company of his peers, but he gets points for the guest and production curation, and for leaving most of his A$AP mob off this record in general.  Drake pretty much owns the song.   Is there even a radio edit for this?  Most of Long.Live.A$AP is pretty dark, but this seems like one of the few potential hits.
Phil:  This song represents a significant scientific breakthrough.  Whoever stitched it together stumbled upon the precise amount of time 2 Chainz should be allowed guest on any one song: half the chorus.  That’s it.  Let him season a track with his boneheaded machismo, then yank him off before he starts saying things like “Rain pourin’ /  All my cars is foreign.”  This a discovery on par with Kanye West’s realization that he could sample Jeezy’s ad-libs for “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” without having to let Jeezy actually rap on it.  I’m not utterly discrediting 2 Chainz though:  This hook is so ludicrous that few aside from him could probably pull it off with a straight face.   In fact, I’d be willing to bet that there’s a version of “Fuckin’ Problems” sitting on a computer somewhere with Drake attempting to carry the chorus on his own and failing miserably.
Bri:  I have no idea why everyone loves this song. Yes it’s catchy, but then again, most things with 2 Chainz are. It’s not necessarily bad; it’s just not as great as other stacked songs, like “1 Train” for example. It was obviously made to be the club banger of the album, and it certainly works in that regard, but perhaps they should have let 2 Chainz get a few bars in. Maybe then I would’ve cared to commit a verse to memory or actually listen to it between spins of “Love Sosa” and “All Gold Everything”.
Phil:  I think you’re giving 2 Chainz way too much credit.  The rest of the gang wanted to make something outright sleazy, and when you have typically straight guys Drake and Kendrick Lamar trying to harness their inner creep, sometimes you have cook it up with some 2 Chainz, someone who, even in a limited role, is incapable of not griming up a track.  But 2 Chainz is not a main ingredient in this dish. He’s just the duck fat.
Bri:  I hear you.  They just didn’t travel far enough down the “sleazy” path.  “Fuckin’ Problems” straddles the fence, and just a few 2 Chainz bars could have given them that extra push it needs. You see this lineup of artists on a bill and you expect your (musical) world to change, but they fall short. It’s like Rocky got Drake for the females, Kendrick for the fake-conscious people, and 2 Chainz as the extraneous one who ensures that all the bases are covered and the ratchet quota is met. The result is this song that doesn’t quite send me to the club, but doesn’t quite chill me out either.
“Wild for the Night”
Featuring: Skrillex
Production: Birdy Nam Nam and Skrillex
Steve:  Holy shit, this is good.
Marcus:  Nothing on this track is new, which, given A$AP Rocky’s absurdly lazy talent for finding supposedly #rare brands for narrow minded “urban” folks and hipsters not thinking far enough outside of the box and putting his laconically cool hip-hop stamp on them, should be unsurprising. Skrillex associate Birdy Nam Nam released “Wild For the Night” on the bass music living legend’s OWSLA earlier this year. Thus, A$AP’s bars are little more than a haphazard rap-on-dubstep freestyle freshened up in a post-production remix by Skrillex. Involving Skrillex on your rap project is now a top-tier industry thing – and a wonderful one at that – given that there’s not much left that he can do in “EDM” without becoming likely very bored and tired in that realm. Bowing out and letting folks like Alvin Risk, Porter Robinson and Dillon Francis have his spotlight space for a minute is a canny move. Paying for a Skrillex remix is one level of involvement. Paying for a Skrillex original track (which is what I suspect Kanye West has done) is another level, and while this seems cool now, just wait. This is merely the calm before the storm. “Wild For the Night” is terrific rap-pop confection, and more of a salute for OWSLA and Team Skrillex than any great accomplishment on A$AP’s behalf.
Phil:  I don’t know if I can ding A$AP too much for not shilling out for original Skrillex production: There’s still more going on here than, say, Drake’s appropriation of Jamie xx’s “I’ll Take Care of U” rework.  But speaking of the future, how soon can I hear Danny Brown on top of a Rustie beat?
“1 Train”
Featuring: Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson ,Big K.R.I.T.
Production: Hit-Boy
Phil:  “Goddammit, who the hell told Yelawolf we were hanging out?!?”
Steve:  The funniest part is that Yelawolf says he’s better than all other white rappers… and then Action Bronson tears shit up.
Bri:  This is up there with “Mercy” as far as posse cuts go.
Marcus:  When I was more active in pro wrestling, I made a career out of being a talent that was gifted at entertaining in the context of a wrestling show, but not very gifted at the nuts and bolts of actual grappling. What I brought to the show was a level of panache, an inimitable style, a certain something that accentuated the strengths and hid the weaknesses of the event. Outside of A$AP Rocky on this track, this song is a bar-for-bar lyrical massacre. It’s the kind of song that gets the underground’s dick hard and makes them want to fuck the ears of mainstream fanatics. Likely, at the time of this single’s recording, none of these dudes were likely considered by the industry to be hot enough to be considered a catch in the courtship of mainstream ears. Much like my wrestling career, by name alone, A$AP Rocky hides the then apparent “mainstream ugliness” of the production, to some industry executive somewhere making this track utterly perfect. If this album were to have been released when it was slated to – a week after Kendrick’s album – it would’ve been used as a great leverage point to get the thought-to-be-lackluster Mr. Lamar (241k was considered shocking by industry folks, remember), as well as thought to be poor album sellers Bronson, Yelawolf, KRIT, Danny Brown and Joey Bada$$, over the top. However, with mastering the art of narrative prose now ascending back to rap’s forefront, this track takes on a wildly different vibe. Amazing how things work out.
Phil:  Much was made of Live.Love.A$AP‘s lack of neatly defined geographical identity.  Critics couldn’t fit the Harlem native into the beloved “return of New York rap” thread (see: Action Bronson), mainly because his beats weren’t just informed by Rap-a-Lot Records, they felt inspired by another Houston attraction: NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  But here we get a classically New York banger, and it’s a good look for him.  Of course, it’s produced by a Californian, and A$AP fills it with dudes from Detroit, Alabama, Compton, and Mississippi.  (Lest any more hip-hop head blood vessels burst, Joey Bada$$ and Bronson show up to rep Brooklyn and Queens, respectively.)  Marcus is dead on about the end result: “1 Train” is absolutely a massacre.  Bri mentioned “Mercy”, but I’m getting a “Triumph” vibe:  This is the sound of a bunch dudes rapping their faces off, not giving a fuck about a hook, for six minutes.  Everyone brings it, but, Jesus, I don’t even know where to start with Danny Brown’s verse.  I’m tempted to quote the entire thing.  The man is entering another stratosphere right now.
Bri:  “Triumph” is the posse cut of all posse cuts, back when “posse” meant your actual group. But, I agree, it’s a much better comparison.  As far as “1 Train” goes: I’m biased, but I do have to say that I wish Eminem would’ve blessed the track. I’ll take what I can get though. Other than that, no need to keep restating what’s already been said. KRIT as the anchor was an interesting choice, but he definitely gets the job done. And Joey Bada$$ – and the fact that he’s only 17 – blows my mind every time. I just keep listening and it never stops being amazing. I want more of this to happen.
Phelps:  I think what Bri means is, “I’mma let you finish, but Wu Tang has one of the best posse cuts of all time.”  This song is good, but to me it sounds more like a haphazardly cut and paste mixtape track.  Yes, Hit-Boy’s approximation of a 90s Pete Rock banger is flattery in its purest form, but, none of the verses sound like they go together.  Does anyone believe these dudes were within 1000 miles of each other?  It’s not cohesive, and that doesn’t matter always, but if we’re going to discuss in context of “Triumph”, I think it does.  That was an event.  That track had me skipping school to grab the double album at Bottom Beat, where it was blaring from speakers setup on the cracked sidewalk.  You believed that Wu was a family, was forever.  This is more like a track off one those copycat mixtapes on Dat Piff that pairs verses from random tracks.  Is this Joey Bada$$’ “Live at the BBQ” moment a la Nas?  Not really, because, as Bri mentioned, he’s already made a name; same for Danny Brown, who is indeed on some otherwordly shit.  Bronson’s verse is solid, but compared to what he’s putting out on his own, it doesn’t stand out.  Maybe when A$AP gives interviews saying it’s his “posse cut,” he means it is more like  random mixtape track – well, then, that’s where it belongs.  It’s just not that impressive stuck on his debut full length.
Production: A$AP Rocky with Hector Delgado and A$AP Ty Beats
Marcus:  I couldn’t be less interested in the rags-to-riches story of Rakim Myers, even if the production reminds me of Scott Storch’s work on Boogiemonsters’ 1994 classic “Recognized Thresholds of Negative Stress“. That’s the huge problem with Rocky. The production of his tracks are incredible, then he starts to rhyme, and you begin to wonder if you’ve taken out your garbage or cleaned your gutters. He’s incredibly pedestrian as an emcee, telling stories with tired metaphors and comparing himself to rappers that, at his current pace of development as a performer, he will never actually become. But, wow, is this one helluva ponderous production: spooky, dark, and deep. I wish it had been saved for say, the Flatbush Zombies’ debut.
Phelps:  This beat is bananas, especially when the drums come in around 2:28.  A$AP Rocky himself had at least a hand in the production, which is impressive.  Unfortunately, it just makes me want to listen to Ghostface, the world champion of dropping vocals over entire soul songs.  A$AP is betting heavily on his cult of personality versus his talent, but I think he still kicks a decent flow here at 2:30.
Phil:  A$AP certainly isn’t the first rapper to rush through the typical “rags-to-riches” narrative arc in an effort to arrive prematurely at woe-is-me pathos, to let us know, yet again, that mo’ money means mo’ problems.  Drake, I’m looking at your sad face and that stupid fucking golden owl.  But something about A$AP going for it here, on his debut LP, bristles me.  “I swear this famous shit just happened overnight / For sho’ these hoes was so uptight but now they so polite / All I see is fake love, smiles, and overbites,” he opens on “Suddenly”.  And I’m having none of it.  A$AP essentially spends the entirety of the record up to this point as a conduit for the virtues of a certain luxury lifestyle, and now, on the album’s closing track, he wants to turn around and bitch about it?   With Drake, you get a sense that his narcissistic mopiness is rooted in feelings of inadequacy; on a song like “Marvin’s Room”, he’s willing to let himself sound utterly pathetic to get it across.  A$AP feels nothing akin to that.  He’s the embodiment of dead-behind-the-eyes swag.  He’s an empty vessel, filled up with what he thinks we want to hear.  So, here’s some perfunctory bitterness, because that’s what he thinks he’s supposed to do.  There’s nothing about A$AP that isn’t contrived. Watch his interview with Danny Brown.  Listen to the canned answers and look how he’s constantly fidgeting, repositioning himself for the camera.  The dude radiates self-consciousness on a level with Justin Beiber.  I’ve got no problem with A$AP when he’s rapping about “fuckin’ problems,” but I’m not going to listen when he acts like they’re not exactly what he wants.
Bri:  Beyond whether the story behind “Suddenly” comes from a sincere place, I really just like the song. As both Marcus and Josh mention, it’s definitely about the production here. I love the pace change midway through and Rocky handles it nicely. Though it’s true other rappers may do narrative/emo rap better, I can appreciate this.