A$AP Rocky’s one of a growing number of young rappers that have achieved success quickly through open-ended exploration of various styles and historical sources rather than through the rigid articulation of a single mode. He’s from New York, but one of the successful singles that earned him a record deal, “Purple Swag”, evoked a rap hit from Houston, Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’”. Houston in the middle of the aughts, no less. Rocky sometimes raps slowly and modulates his voice like the Memphis natives Eightball & MJG. Though Rocky’s rapping style and guests are often southern-leaning, his references are New York-centric — he mentions Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and Busta Rhymes “Woo-Hah!! (Got You All In Check)”, both spooky, scintillating New York rap tracks from the mid-90s. He careens through rat-a-tat rhyming patterns over old soul loops, drifts through a murky production from the youngster Clams Casino, puffs his chest on top of a track from Hit-Boy (the same producer responsible for the Kanye/ Jay-Z juggernaut “Niggas In Paris”), and states fondness for the drug that Lil Wayne popularized almost a decade ago or clothes that just came out yesterday.
On his official debut, LONGLIVEA$AP, Rocky confirmed his flexibility, working with seemingly everybody: New York rappers like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson, mainstream stars like Drake and 2 Chainz, the west-coasters Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, the electronic dance musician Skrillex, and the more indie-oriented Santigold. (Rocky’s on record expressing an interest in collaborating with Grimes, and he’s put out a remix with the English R&B singer Jessie Ware.)
Goldie is a rewind to pre-official-debut Rocky. Released in the middle of 2012, it’s a collection of tunes that served to mollify those eager fans rabid for the several-times-delayed release of Rocky’s major label release — which came out in January of 2013 — after his well-received 2011 mixtape, LIVELOVEA$AP.
Goldie includes its title track (a LONGLIVEA$AP single) and a few of its other songs had already been released, including “Leaf” and “Purple Swag”, remixed here to explicitly cement the track’s heritage by including verses from southern rap stalwarts Bun B, formerly one half of the rap duo UGK, and Paul Wall. The material that hadn’t already come out doesn’t present a new or previously unseen Rocky. It showcases all the sides of him that listeners encountered on LIVELOVE and again on LONGLIVE. The man loves designer clothing labels and expensive kicks, the women flock to him, and he ignores conventions and exceeds expectations, where drinking, driving, dressing, or doing some combination of the three: “A 40 ounce to chase it, that’s just a understatement/ I’m early to the party, but my ‘Rari is the latest.” What might be a question or lament for many is a firm statement for Rocky — “Life’s a mothafucka, ain’t it.” He casually rubs shoulders with the rich and famous, “Yeah I feel Rihanna and I understand Hov/ What you think I rap for, to push a fuckin’ Land Rove?”
Rocky suggests that he doesn’t care about people picking various bits of rap history from his style, but the quick rise to fame troubles him a bit — for his best articulation of this, check “Suddenly” from LONGLIVE, where he can’t escape “fake love, smiles,” and most dangerously, “overbites” (maybe hanging with Rihanna is bringing him down; Drake also got moodier in his post-Rihanna phase). Now Rocky feels pressure from critics, and he has choice words for them: “And these fucking critics do their best to offend you/ They don’t care about your dress or your veteran credentials/ Motherfuck ‘em all.” Looking to compare Rocky to other rappers? “They say I sound like Andre mixed with Kanye, little bit of Max/ Little bit of Wiz, little bit of that, little bit of this, get off my dick.” But then he brings it back to the three D’s (drink, dress, drugs): “take a hit with me.”
Goldie continues to illustrate Rocky’s willingness to rap over various types of beats, though the selection isn’t as wide-ranging as his dizzying series of collaborations on LONGLIVE. The title track rides a shrill symmetrical circle of synthesizer (“Make It Stack” follows in its footsteps), while “I Really Mean I’m A Goblin”, starts with a classicist-pleasing horn and squeaking soul sample before leaving that behind for a steadily percolating thump. “Yao Ming”, a reworking of a David Banner track (more of the south), sounds vaguely like Bauer’s “Harlem Shake”, but “Out Of This World” has the easy up and down melody and whooshing synthesizers that wouldn’t be out of place on something by Passion Pit. “Street Knock”, with the producer/rapper Swizz Beatz, tries for a harder drive, building around a quick, powerful sequence of electronic blurps, but Rocky usually land his punches better when he moves slower.
Goldie isn’t a breakout statement like the attention-grabbing LIVELOVE, but it achieves its purpose, throwing something to the fans while keeping them waiting. And if it failed to keep them happy, Rocky’s got an answer. “Your foolishness and rumors, I give two shits/ I only hear the money, save the bullshit for the Q-tips.”