Today Long.Live.A$AP, the debut album from A$AP Rocky, is in stores nationwide. There is a very, very, very good chance you have already heard it, because that’s just the way things work these days. Even if you haven’t, the album’s release represents something very important for Hip-Hop as a genre, New York as a hub of that genre, the role of the Internet in breaking artists, and why certain rappers even get talked about at all. A$AP Rocky made an album that manages to essentially say nothing, while doing all of the things that a good rap debut does—namely, remain singular while producing singles that align with what could realistically get play on the radio, as well as feature enough high-profile guest rappers and producers as to imply a sense of inclusion into the fold.
There are several lenses through which we can view A$AP Rocky and Long.Live.A$AP that can help us understand the nature of mainstream rap, Internet buzz, and our own souls. Well, not the last one, unless you happen to be reading this and are yourself A$AP Rocky.
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE, BUT NOT IN THE WAY THAT YOU’RE THINKING
The main critique of A$AP Rocky as a rapper is that he’s not really a lyricist when stacked up against his contemporaries—he lacks Kendrick Lamar’s acumen for narrative, or Danny Brown’s ability to sell a punchline, or Gunplay’s innate sense of both the intense and absurd. What Rocky has over all of those guys, though, is that he’s smooth. He understands how to use his voice as if it were another instrument, writing to the beat rather than simply existing in conjunction with it, which is in every single way as valuable a skill as writing lyrics that stick to the listener’s ribs.
The phrase “The medium is the message” is an often-used one, frequently in ways that its creator Marshall McLuhan probably didn’t intend for it to be. If you apply this phrase to A$AP Rocky, well, he became popular largely in part because of the Internet, so that must mean he’s an Internet rapper, right? Nah, A$AP Rocky’s just a rapper who used the modern ways of becoming popular to his advantage. The actual “medium” at play here is Rocky himself.
It’s no coincidence that A$AP Yams—the Puffy to Rocky’s Biggie, if you will—used to be the proprietor of the now-defunct blog REALNIGGATUMBLR, which was essentially a collection of really cool hip-hop imagery as well as a bunch of old A$AP Rocky songs. In many ways, A$AP Rocky is a human Tumblr, effectively reblogging what’s cool from both the past and present, from his Geto Boys-indebted flow on the bonus cut “Jodye” to the left-field choice to get Friendzone to do the beat for “Fashion Killa,” down to how he says the word, “Right” on “Angels” with nearly the exact same inflection as Puff used to employ. It's hard to emphasize the influence of the Diplomats on Rocky and the rest of A$AP's style and aesthetics—the bike shots from the "Peso" video are lifted from this video, and stylistically Rocky started out as a hybrid of Max B and oh, I don't know, Bone Thugz. I don’t point out where Rocky's cribbing from to discount his artistry—curation is a meaningful aesthetic act and often just as valid and entertaining as innovation. Besides, do you really want to do the cool thing first, or do the cool thing better than everyone else who’s doing it?
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