The notion that hip-hop has, over time, become an old man’s game is only partially true. While many veteran MCs remain some of the most prominent figures in rap music, internet trends have quickly devolved much of the spotlight to newer generations. For a considerable stretch of time, New York hip-hop in particular had been devoid of a significant commercial force under the age of 30, so it’s no coincidence that a 23-year-old wunderkind from Harlem, New York named after hip-hop deity Rakim would be next up to bat. But while A$AP Rocky insists on pronouncing his allegiance to his hometown roots, his debut album, Live Love A$AP is sonically out of place, recasting the feel of East Coast hip-hop into a quintessential, albeit progressive southern aesthetic with its country funk and cosmic, syrupy backdrops.
The intricate lyrical concepts that evoke intense listening and the undeniable slang definitive of traditional East Coast rap music are noticeably displaced. What’s left is A$AP's sedate charisma and mannerisms leaning toward UGK-inspired bravado. The grandiose opening track, "Palace" sets the tone for the rest of the album, as A$AP makes his claim to fame -- "influenced by Houston/hear it in my music" -- over slow handclaps and bone-chilling choral progressions. Thus, disappointment ensues for those expecting to hear a derivative of A$AP's Harlem compatriots the Diplomats et al -- save for the apparent melodic stylings of Max B (even those are more indebted to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony). The elegantly produced tracks are A$AP's playground, as rhymes swiftly roll off his tongue and occasionally switch from a nonchalant delivery to striking double-time. From the the woozy "Keep It G" with its seductive sax riffs, to the twinkling synth-ridden "Pe$o" to the buoyant "Trilla," with its twangy guitar riffs, A$AP maneuvers through these soundscapes with keen agility. For the saints, Live Love A$AP is nothing short of a guilty pleasure; the antithesis of conscious rap. Subject matter boasts the very elements of commercial hip-hop that are often stigmatized -- misogyny, glorified promiscuity among males, and excessive drug use. But for the aesthetically inclined, Live Love A$AP is a marvel of contemporary rap music, despite its abounding moral decay. ~ Andre Barnes