Long.Live.A$AP

A$AP Rocky is proof of how much rap careers have accelerated: The 24-year-old Harlem MC is just making his major-label debut, but he's already facing the expectations and challenges once associated with second or third albums. Blame it on 2011's strikingly confident Live. Love.A$AP mixtape, whose pan-regional charm – a blend of syrup-slow Houston hooks, double-quick Midwest flows and Big Apple arrogance – made him a star. Now he just has to do it again, and better. Piece of cake, right?

Actually, yes – or so he makes it seem on Long.Live.A$AP. Like all great sequels, the album ups the ante without losing what made the original compelling. The mixtape's influential sound remains in place, polished to a brighter shine: Top production guns (Danger Mouse, Hit-Boy) and old hands (Clams Casino) layer pillowy synths and artfully distressed samples to the sky, building grand halls for Rocky to race down. There's also a brief foray into shrieky EDM, courtesy of Skrillex; Rocky strolls through the minefield unfazed.

"I thought I'd prolly die in prison," he says in the disc's dramatic opening moments. Instead, he's young and rich, spinning lavish boasts in slippery cadences, with unexpected flashes of humility beneath the bluster. "My idols say, 'What's up' to me," Rocky marvels on the lush soul trip "Suddenly." "From ugly to comfortably – suddenly."