Album Review: A$AP Rocky—“At.Long.Last.A$AP”

By James Li

There’s a purple port-wine stain splashed on A$AP Rocky’s face on the cover of his sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP. It’s a tribute to Rocky’s mentor A$AP Yams, who died at 26 from a drug overdose earlier this year. He wasn’t a rapper or a producer, but an impresario crucial to Rocky’s breakout success. Yams extensively listened to music beyond the A$AP Mob’s native New York, and Rocky’s sound is like the culmination of his knowledge. Rocky combined Houston screw, Memphis murk, Midwestern double-time flows, dreamy Soundcloud beats, Parisian couture, and Harlem swagger into something irresistibly unique.

Rocky looks for his own sound on A.L.L.A., bringing Danger Mouse and Juicy J on as executive producers. It’s fitting, then, that Rocky’s main influences on A.L.L.A. are trip hop and psychedelic rock – in an interview with Billboard, he praised Portishead and Massive Attack, as well as “old 60s psychedelic shit.” He also talked about experimenting with LSD (and having acid-fuelled orgies). Drugs have always inspired Rocky’s music – after all, his earliest songs, like “Purple Swag” and “Get Lit,” are paeans to codeine and weed. But if his previous projects are a purple haze, then A.L.L.A. is a movie in vivid technicolour.

Album art for At.Long.Last.A$AP

Album art for At.Long.Last.A$AP

Rocky’s drug stories (“I went back to my mansion and fucked nine chicks. It was pretty rad. That’s a true story.”) sound a little sophomoric, but some of the beats on A.L.L.A. do an excellent job of creating a psychedelic vibe. “L$D” really does feel like an acid trip, as Rocky’s auto-tuned crooning drifts over watery guitars and chiming keys. Meanwhile, “Excuse Me” flips a retro Christmas jingle and “Holy Ghost” is driven by a spaghetti western guitar riff. But it seems like the psychedelic influences are overstated. A lot of the songs sound like the constituent parts of Rocky’s earlier sound, whether it’s the melancholic cloud rap of “Canal St.,” the slasher-flick synth on “Lord Pretty Flacko Joyde 2,” or the syrupy screwed beat on “Fine Whine.”

The staggering amount of collaborations on A.L.L.A. also adds to the album’s scope. Right off the bat, the two biggest names – Danger Mouse and Kanye West – are the least exciting. Other than “Holy Ghost,” tracks produced by Danger Mouse are the least memorable, and Kanye delivers the weakest verse on the album.

But Rocky is still an expert at choosing and riffing off his collaborators. He teams up M.I.A. and Future on “Fine Whine,” and puts Rod Stewart and Miguel on the hook for “Everyday.” Rocky dug up a decade-old beat from the obscure producer Vulkan the Krusader for “Excuse Me,” teamed up with Soundcloud rapper Bones on “Canal St.,” and most impressively, he discovered Jon Fox, who sings and plays guitar on five tracks, as a homeless busker on the streets of London. The best lineup is on “Wavybone,” a Southern banger with Juicy J and UGK, which is worth a listen if only to hear the late Pimp C boast about “touching on a cock.”

A.L.L.A. shows that Rocky’s a blank slate, which is both his best and his worst quality. It lets him change between musical styles effortlessly and collaborate with seemingly anyone. But it also means that little of his personality comes through on the album. Even if his sound matured, Rocky’s lyricism hasn’t progressed much. He’s a skilled rapper, but not a substantial one. You’d think that his overnight fame and the passing of his best friend would give him plenty to write about, but his persona is still the guy who likes drugs and fashion. He has his share of clever lines (“Some boys don’t dance, but I left them Harlem shakin’ on the pavement”), but also some thoughtless ones (“Type of hate that make you feel worse than a rape victim”).

A.L.L.A. ends with a monologue from A$AP Yams: “We from Harlem, we gave y’all motherfuckers this wave,” alluding to the A$AP Mob’s trendsetting reputation, “and we just gon’ keep surfing on this motherfucker.” Even without Yams’ guidance, Rocky is continuing to try out new sounds, even if he hasn’t completely settled into a niche yet. A.L.L.A. is proof that he can create his own path one day, but he has a rocky road ahead of him. (RCA)

Listen: “L$D”

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