The hottest name in rap's long-delayed debut teems with a creative edge and an appeal that extends beyond the genre's core fan base.
If Macklemore (whose album The Heist received a rave review from us last month) is an ambassador of conscious rap, A$AP Rocky is, pure and simple, his antithesis. Born Rakim Mayers, the Harlem-based MC shot to fame when he self-released a mixtape called Live.Love.A$AP, in 2011. It was full of blatant promotion of self-aggrandisement, drug use and general moral decay. But despite that the breakout mixtape, containing his hit singles Peso and Purple Swag, generated a buzz in the rap/hip hop circuit. It was lauded by music critics as ''a marvel of contemporary rap music'', and a ''triumph of immaculate taste'' _ the latter is especially true considering the fact that he handpicked lesser known indie producers such as Clams Casino and SpaceGhostPurrp to work with rather than artists such as, say, Kanye West.
After failing to release a follow-up promised on several occasions last year, he finally comes out with Long.Live.A$AP, a major-label debut album that both expands on his discerning musical taste and stays firmly grounded in the traditional rap/hip hop territory. On one hand, there's a team of cutting-edge young producers and guest appearances that include Noah ''40'' Shebib, Skrillex, Santigold and Florence Welch, while on the other, we have established hip hop names such as Jim Jonsin, Danger Mouse, Hit-Boy and Kendrick Lamar.
The album opens with the sombre title track on which he muses ''I thought I'd probably die in prison, expensive taste in women/ Ain't had no pot to piss in, now my kitchen full of dishes.'' The highlight here is when he essentially sums up the entire record during the ethereal chorus, crooning ''Who said you can't live forever lied/ Of course I'm living forever I'll forever, I'll live long.''
The two previous singles Goldie and F****in' Problems are no doubt two of the record's standouts. Produced by Hit-Boy (Eminem, Mary J Blige), the former sees him flaunting his obsession with fame and wealth (''You could call me Billy Gates, got a crib in every state/Man on the moon, got a condo out in space'') whereas the latter focuses on his issue with bad women, and has help from hip hop heavyweights such as Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar.
On the Clams Casino-helmed LVL and, especially, Hell (featuring Santigold), we get the producer's chillwave and trip-hop influences which are further complemented by Santigold's solemn hook: ''Get my money, walk straight ahead now/They countin' every day down, waitin' on me long/You know your way? Where you headin' now?''
The most thrilling collaboration, however, is the Skrillex-aided Wild for the Night, which starts off innocently enough with subtle reggae beats before exploding in an epic brostep spectacle. Rocky concludes the album with Suddenly, an autobiographical number where, despite his warning: ''Don't view me as no conscious cat, this ain't no conscious rap,'' he fully embraces self-awareness and thanks God that he managed to rise ''from ugly to comfortably''.
Although the majority of Long.Live.A$AP doesn't have a lot to offer content-wise, the 24-year-old Harlem rapper's enviable good taste and flair for experimentation has more than made up for it. The album's eclectic roster of guests artists and producers also means that it will have no trouble appealing to even non-rap fans.
Katsue/ Cut and Run
It's been a while since we last heard an update from Katsue, a Thai electro-pop duo made up of Joni Anwar and Monton ''Jay'' Jira. Well, after keeping their fans waiting for a while, the twosome have finally emerged from the six-year hiatus to treat us with a new jam. Compared to their earlier material, Cut and Run leans more towards the bass-driven melody that almost veers into drum 'n' bass territory. As usual, Joni does most of the singing while Jay provides the beats.
The Strokes/ One Way Trigger
Everyone's favourite indie rock outfit are back, preceding the release of their forthcoming fifth studio album, Comedown Machine, with a new tune called One Way Trigger. Starting with a propulsive synth line that seems to take its cues from A-ha's pop classic Take on Me, the track then transforms into a falsetto throwdown as frontman Julian Casablancas maniacally goes in and out of the high notes like it's nothing. ''You asked me to stay, but there's a million reasons to leave,'' he croons over the relentless guitar chops and the ferocious melody. While hard-core fans may cringe at Casablancas' liberal serving of high-pitched vocals, we wholeheartedly embrace it.
Devendra Banhart/ Never Seen Such Good Things
Also poised to return this year is Venezuelan-American psych folk rocker Devendra Banhart who will be rolling out his eighth studio record, Mala, in March. Following up the first single Fur Hildegard von Bingen, Never Seen Such Good Things is a tender guitar-driven affair with the unorthodox pairing of some vintage synth effects along with tom-tom beats. ''Love, you're a strange fella,'' declares Banhart in the opening line before continuing to quip ''If we ever make sweet love again, I expect it'll be quite disgusting.'' It's a quirky, feel-good break-up tune that will most definitely make you grin.
Youth Lagoon/ Dropla
Youth Lagoon's debut album, The Year of Hibernation, successfully established 24-year-old Trevor Powers as one of the most exciting dream-pop acts to have emerged from 2011's bustling chillwave scene. Powers continues to ride the ambient wave into 2013 with his second studio effort, Wondrous Bughouse. The album's first single, Dropla, bursts with colours and optimistic zest as he repeatedly chants ''you'll never die'' over the dreamy sounds of piano and xylophone.
If you appreciate Sigur Ros' kind of inventive, epic pop, the work of this talented young gun is more than worth keeping your ears out for.
Kilo Kish (featuring Flatbush Zombies)/ Creepwave
Included on her latest collaborative audio-visual project, k+, Creepwave sees rising Brooklyn-based rapper and singer Kilo Kish joining forces with hip hop crew Flatbush Zombies to give us six minutes of chill-hop goodness. Built on her collaborator Cronos' unfinished production, the single gives off a dark, haunting vibe that is complemented by Kish's soft rapping style. In fact, she's like a more mature Kitty Pryde, another young female rapper recently featured on the Playlist.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai