A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP.

A$AP Rocky neglected one small thing when crafting his debut album: Himself. Words by DOUG WALLEN.

“This ain’t no conscious rap/Fuck the conscious crap,” declares A$AP Rocky towards the end of his first proper album. While not the best rhyme in the world, it’s a vital declaration: A$AP Rocky may be gushed over by Pitchfork and just as likely to collaborate with Lana Del Rey and Florence Welch as a string of fellow rappers, but he’s got his eye on the mainstream, not the underground. Thus his singing to Sony, his touring with Rihanna this year and his overall ambition. “It feel good waking up to money in the bank,” he very much understates on ‘Goldie’.

Make no mistake: A$AP Rocky isn’t shying away from ultra-familiar rap iconography. He’s grabbing it, exaggerating it and putting a fire under it with his radiation-strength charisma. Just listen to him wax affectionate on gold teeth (‘Goldie’), cars (‘1Train’) and other status symbols. There’s a half-jesting, half-worshiping quality to all those themes that can recall Spank Rock in his prime, and A$AP Rocky is definitely wanting to have it both ways. And why shouldn’t he be able to call out “purple drinks” and “pussy money weed” on ‘PMW (All I Really Need)’ as well as fashion labels on ‘Fashion Killa’? He’s whatever the hell you want him to be, whether Southern-minded drawler or self-aware sophisticate.

That becomes a problem here. A problem that didn’t trouble his career-making mixtape, 2011’s Live.Love.A$AP. The grab-bag quality of switching between focuses and piling up guests disrupts the purity and uniqueness of his voice – which he is still establishing – and the momentum of an album that’s by turns nimble and bloated. He spends so much time sharing the spotlight that we begin to miss the runs of just him rapping, as on the confidence-soaked opening title track. He can do fast nearly as well as slow, but he gets somewhat lost in the all too common revolving door of various – and uneven – producers and guests.

“Make no mistake: A$AP Rocky isn’t shying away from ultra-familiar rap iconography.”

The best production on the record, like Lord Flacko’s aforementioned title track and Clams Casino’s ‘LVL’ and ‘Hell’, grants him an unusual amount of space to let his drowsy delivery and pitched-down vocal interludes take over. It’s contagious to the point where Santigold sounds hypnotised as she slots into the latter’s heavy-lidded vibe. But it can get old, and by the time Danger Mouse is still maintaining that feel on ‘Phoenix’, its charm is waning. That’s when A$AP Rocky’s earnestness snaps us back to attention, whether on the spooky heart-on-sleeve reflection ‘Suddenly’ (featuring that “conscious rap” line) or the bawdy single ‘F**kin’ Problems’, with Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar in the mix.

As fun as it is to hear rap’s next generation hold forth in turn on ‘1Train’ – Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T. – that sits next to the Skrillex-assisted ‘Wild for the Night’, complete with a laser-beam hook that gasps for crossover appeal. The deluxe edition includes team-ups with Florence Welch (‘Like I’m Apart’) and Pharrell (‘Pretty Flaco’), but the last thing this record needs is more guests. It needs more A$AP, whoever that might be.