November 2, 2011

Like free lunches, Jonah Bromwich holds it down like steel.

Back in 2009, Ghostface Killah casually let the secret to making good rap slip. In an interview with TSS, Pretty Tone let the world know that the key to making phat shit was “to get the beats, make sure they official, and say fly shit on it.”

It must be a huge relief to whoever made the decision to give an untested twenty-three year old a deal worth three million dollars that A$AP Rocky seems to be familiar with the process, at least judging by his new mixtape, Live Love A$AP .

First come the official beats. And Rocky has an impressive ear for them. Faded out, screwed up spaceship music is provided by Lyle on “Brand New Guy,” (which features Schoolboy Q, a rapper who’s starting to gain a reputation for jumping on excellent songs and acquitting himself nicely). Blissed out minimalist synths come to us courtesy of Fat Tony on “Get Lit,” one of the many songs on the mixtape that owes something to Houston in both sound and content. Spaceghostprrp marries a lugubrious sax to finger snaps and rumbling bass on “Keep It G.” And Clams Casino solidifies his reputation as one of the best producers making beats right now, contributing five excellent tracks that exemplify Clammy Clam’s space and fuzz aesthetic.

So, that right there is already two thirds of the phat shit (Ghost’s words) formula. Beats are very important. But picking beats is an intuitive power, a purely visceral feeling of instant approval. Saying fly shit over those beats is more of a challenge. But Rocky’s taking his cues from two venerable influences, one of whom seems completely intuitive for a New York rapper to imitate and the other which comes totally out of left field. Along with the screwed up Houston sound that dominates a lot of the songs on the tape, Rocky imitates one of Nas’s ticks, one that the elder rapper has used throughout his career. Rocky takes the formulas that worked on his hit single “Peso” and repeats them, so that his most popular lines become foundations to build new songs on, allowing his persona to jut outward from beginnings that the world already approved.

“Wassup” features a couple bars from “Peso” as its chorus while the refrain of “I be that pretty motherfucka” echoes throughout the album. The other influence is an awesome surprise. We should have known with the all the late nineties tributes in rap today that we would hear someone try to resurrect the melodic, double-time Bone Thugs flow. But I think it’s safe to say that we didn’t expect to hear it from a Harlem rapper with a Houston
fetish. So it’s pleasantly surprising to hear that Cleveland is the other city being evoked in a flow from A$AP Ferg on the codeine ode “Kissin Pink.” And Rocky takes on the same sound several times, albeit with a little less melody, on the Clams Casino produced “Leaf” and the awesome duet “Purple Swag 2,” a collaboration between the man named after Rakim and (happily, inevitably) Spaceghost.

But Rocky also has a style all his own which shines through most of the mixtape. Though his sound is still rough, not showing the nimbleness or the lyrical dexterity of some of his peers, he has a knack for capturing mood with the simplest of lyrics. In other words, he knows how to say fly shit. Take “Trilla” on which he starts in with speed and menace, bragging on his swag, a knowing mix of gold teeth and boutique fashion. Or the skyward-gazing “Out of This World” on which Rocky pays tribute to Jay-Z lyrically while implying his potential as a successor to the New York throne. Then, of course, there’s “Peso” which has become truly anthemic, with its drugged out beat, insanely catchy lyrics and chant-along hook.

There really was very little to go on before Monday. We knew A$AP Rocky was capable of creating one excellent song and that was about it. But with Live Love A$AP he manages to recapture the lightning from the bottle and use that energy to create a potent Frankenstein that’s equal parts Harlem, Houston, Cleveland, and the brashness that comes with being young, cocky, and successful before you even try.

ZIP: A$AP Rocky – LIVELOVEA$AP (Left-Click)

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!