Review written by Brad W. (@Brad_C_Williams).

Two years ago, Rakim Mayers, known to us as A$AP Rocky, was just another young, up-and-coming emcee out of Harlem hidden from the rapidly moving hip-hop community. Murmurs of his $3 million deal with RCA and his influence on Drake’s sophomore album Take Care not only created great anticipation for him as an artist but also brought great skepticism for Live.Love.A$AP. However, A$AP Rocky’s brash, braggadocios style of lyricism joined with the ethereal production of A$AP Ty Beats and Clams Casino launched Rakim’s career to unbelievable heights, pushing Live.Love.A$AP to well-deserved critical acclaim. Although 2012 was an astronomically successful year for him, A$AP Rocky and his future as a mainstream artist lingered in uncertainty due to the ever-delayed release of his debut album (moved from July 4th  September 24th, October 31st, to an unknown time in early 2013). After much scrutiny and criticism, though, Long.Live.A$AP is finally going to be unveiled to all January 15th, 2013 and silence those who questioned A$AP Rocky’s ability to be anything more than a style icon.

Like most successful debut albums, Long.Live.A$AP evolves from Rakim’s previously successful work while enriching on the Houston-influenced style that lead us to initially love A$AP Rocky. The opening title track of the album powerfully introduces Rocky and indicates that he does intend to retreat from his ghetto assertiveness, boldly stating that “who said that you can’t live forever lied.” Clams Casino returns from Live.Love.A$AP with his characteristically hypnotic and ambient production, appearing on two successive tracks, acting as an momentary break from the initial high energy of “Long.Live.A$AP.” On “LVL,” the disjointed, soothing melody blends well with Rocky’s boisterous statements of youthful, triumphant dominance, concluding with a soft and lulling whisper that is both chilling and permanent. Driven by boom-bap snare drums and buzzy synthesizer, Santigold naturally aids on the chorus of Clam’s produced “Hell,” one of the truly standout tracks from the album.

The instrumentation and lyricism throughout Long.Live.A$AP stays true to A$AP Rocky yet elevates his music and craft to a new level. Although I was unsure whether he would assimilate his sound to appeal to larger mainstream fan base, Rakim pleasantly surprised me with the singles from the album. Released early in the spring of 2012, “Goldie” embodies both Rocky’s persona as an emcee as well as Hit-Boy’s captivating talent on the boards to create a catchy yet A$AP-esque sound. Pushing the boundaries of traditional hip-hop, the addition of Skrillex on “Wild For The Night” builds a grandiloquent melodic progression of lazers and glitches to seamlessly fuse their two genres into one. Already reaching gold, “Fuckin’ Promblem” calls upon the Club Paradise crew (2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar) for an anthem that exemplifies 2012. Even in unfamiliar territory, A$AP Rocky sounds, feels, and flows naturally.

Although there are brief moments of witty wordplay and irony dispersed throughout the numerous artists on Long.Live.A$AP, Rocky tends to stay within his traditional M.O., neither over-embellishing nor underwhelming the listener. The more complex and thought-provoking moments on this record heavily rely on guest features. The ending of the album takes a tough turn in “Jodye” and “Ghetto Symphony” that demonstrates Rakim as much more than a beat-surfing artist. Specifically, “1 Train” is a posse-like cut Hit-Boy produced, with a barrage of competitive verses between many heavy-hitters, including Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, and Big K.R.I.T., that does not fail to impress. While it is an extraordinary display of lyrical precision, A$AP Rocky does not step out of his characteristically unpretentious identity.

Furthermore, some tracks are distracting and do not add as much to Long.Live.A$AP holistically. “Phoenix,” “Suddenly,” and “Angels” are almost too predictable, sounding very much like relics from Live.Love.A$AP. That mixtape made A$AP Rocky notable but does not fit well within Long.Live.A$AP.

Those who expect Rocky to be a conscious profit of wisdom in this debut are not only disillusioned about the type of artist Rocky is but will be sorely disappointed. Conversely, for those who refuse to go forward from Live.Love.A$AP and deny him room for development, the same applies. What makes A$AP Rocky endearing to most emanates from his progressive sense of Harlem world hip-hop, his ability to navigate any beat with ease, and his impetuous disregard for conventionality. For those reasons, Long.Live.A$AP positions itself as a creative and successful debut, setting a relatively high standard for subsequent albums from Rocky in the future.

Purchase A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP via iTunes and let us know what you think in the comments!