There are a few things you should know about A$AP Rocky. He's a pretty motherfucker. His new album, Long.Live.A$AP, is at the top of the charts. And it might turn out to be the biggest Houston rap album of the year.
Except that it's not really a Houston rap record at all, of course. A$AP Rocky is from Harlem, and as far as I can tell, none of the producers or guest stars on Long.Live.A$AP are from Texas, either. In fact, the closest Lone Star connection on the album might be British singer Florence Welch, whose mother's family lived in Galveston.
Still, A$AP ain't exactly hiding his influences, either. Long.Live.A$AP is positively steeped in Screw. Purple drank, gold teeth and trill fashions are all discussed at great length on the record, and the man certainly knows his way around a chopped-up, pitch-shifted hook. Lil Flip even gets a shout-out.
Basically, A$AP Rocky is doing a filthier job of recreating the woozy, psychedelic feel of an honest-to-God Screw tape than nearly everybody who didn't grow up 16 states away from the nearest Timmy Chan's. Without openly acknowledging it, Rocky has taken up the syrupy mantle of Houston hip-hop to at least some extent, and he's managed to take it to the very top of the charts.
Is that sad? Are our young local rappers dropping the ball in letting this East Coaster become the primary slowed-and-thowed voice of 2013?
It would be sort of sad, if Long.Live.A$AP was just a straight rip of classic grey-tape fodder. But A$AP isn't paying tribute to anybody, and Houston rap is only one of a lot of influences on this album. Rocky has crafted his own sound and his own myth, effortlessly wrapping screwed-up psychedelia around different flows and different locales than we're used to.
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The result is pretty fresh, even when it gets silly. If anybody's ever rhymed "trillest" with "Skrillex" on a major-label release before, it hasn't reached these ears. The superstar dubstep DJ appears on the album along with Welch, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Santigold and a gang of others.
For my money, the best track on the album is "1Train," an epic pass-the-mike session that offers up spacious bars to Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T. That's a tough collection of young talent to top, and somehow K.R.I.T. steals the show.
There's a lot of sounds crammed into this album, but it rarely bogs down. Long.Live.A$AP is eclectic by design -- Rocky isn't aiming to be the king of New York, or even Houston, for that matter. He's clearly got his sights set on full-blown pop stardom, and this record may get him there.
That's what we're really dealing with here: a pop crossover record dripping in cough syrup and Texas slang. Perhaps the day has finally come when Screw's legacy has outgrown his hometown, able now to be claimed by any true hip-hop disciple as his or her own, regionalism be damned.
Soon, rap fans worldwide might hear a new slowed-down sample or a chopped-up mix without being reminded of Houston at all, but of a skinny kid from Harlem instead. Or somebody else from God knows where.
It's kind of a strange thought. But then, we've already gotten used to Texas hip-hop sounds and swag being appropriated across the South. The East Coast might be a bit behind the curve, but Rocky's catching them up quick.
So, no, Long.Live.A$AP won't ultimately be the year's biggest Houston rap album, because it's not a Houston rap album at all. But it is the coolest take on Screw music that's been done anywhere so far this year. It raises some pretty interesting questions about the future influence of Houston hip-hop culture, and it'll totally fuck your trunk up, to boot.
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Now the chopped-not-slopped mix by OG Ron C that's practically certain to follow? Yeah. That's one's getting full consideration for Houston rap record of the year -- I don't care where he's from.