A$AP Rocky is on a constant quest for evolution with "At.Long.Last.A$AP (A.L.L.A.)."
A$AP Rocky’s relatively short career in the rap game has been one filled with high praise. His debut mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP, received exponential buzz solely off the strength of “Purple Swag,” and it was more so off the strength of the visual, which went viral (visuals have become a key component to Rocky’s career). Live.Love.A$AP ushered a change, or at least, an open acceptance, that hip-hop artists don’t need to rep the sound from where they’re from—it’s an issue that’s been discussed ad naseum, though, so we won’t touch on it here. After bringing the South up North for Live.Love.A$AP, Rocky went on to release his debut album, another successful, albeit more commercial, notch on his belt.
During A$AP Rocky’s press run for the new album, he expressed dissatisfaction with his debut album, specifically, the over-played singles. There was the certified radio hit with mega star power attached, (“Fuckin Problems”), there was the EDM head banger that would launch Rocky into a different genre stratosphere but was generally detested by hip-hop heads ( “Wild For The Night”), and then there was the rappity-rap lover's anthem (“1 Train”). There could have very well been a check list that Rocky (read: label) went through for his debut album— not for the sophomore album though. If A$AP Rocky carefully colored inside the lines for Long.Live.A$AP, then he does the exact opposite for At.Long.Last.A$AP, coloring wherever the fuck he pleases. There are no lines, and (no label or otherwise) compromise.
A$AP Rocky’s highly anticipated sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, feels fresh and new, obviously because a lot of it is (unlike his first album which leaked a month early, A.L.L.A. leaked the day before it was released and very few records dropped beforehand). Even that is a task in our day and age— in addition to attempting to avoid album leaks, often rappers overshare from their albums, causing the first listen of the project itself to fall flat simply because “we’ve heard all this shit before.” Rocky avoids this dilemma. It is new music, literally, but it also feels extremely new— an evolution in sound and in content has Rocky navigating a different terrain than Long.Live.A$AP. Of course, Rocky didn’t just cook this album up all by himself. There are some important figures who play a part in the project, and likewise, artists who may not have contributed to the project outright but were important influencers in shaping the sound and style. Some are obvious and some require you to dig a little deeper. Among the key figures: Danger Mouse and Hector Delgado. Delgado, the lesser-known name out of the two, acts as a co-executive producer, producer, engineer, and composer, among other things, while Danger Mouse was on board as executive producer and had production on several tracks. It’s hard to say whether or not the album would be so polished down to the most finite mixing level without the assistance of these two.
The album is varied and intense, like a trip in and of itself. Although the executive producers/co-executive producers listed are many (full list of executive and co-executive reads: Danger Mouse, A$AP Yams, A$AP Rocky, Hector Delgado, Juicy J, Chance Johnson, Bryan Leach and AWGE) , it sort of makes sense after you’ve run through the project. This is probably the one time the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” actually equals dopeness (insert wrist reference), rather than a completely confused mess of sounds. As Rocky detailed leading up to the album, psychedelic drugs also played a part in the direction and the content — “Before it was all about the slowdown. Promethazine. Codeine flow. Now it’s like that, but on another level to the max,” he said during his Complex interview. Drug trips are turned into musical offerings, down to the beat and the lyrics. While that Southern influence is still present, another influence becomes abundant this go-around: dreamy, psychedelic rock.
The album kicks off with something that leans this way, “Holy Ghost.” A guitar riff, taken from country-rock band Lucero, plays a key part here, and backs up Rocky’s previous claims in interviews that he listens to “country shit, rock shit, psychedelic shit” (all of which pop up in the many, many sounds on A.L.L.A.). “Holy Ghost” is a mesh of all that, with our first introduction to the formerly-unknown (it’s possible he won’t ever be called “unknown” again), Joe Fox. “Holy Ghost,” with its religious undertones, and opening skit, finds Rocky in a venting mode of sorts, as he broaches some rather serious subject matter which pops up intermittently in the rest of the album. “Satan givin' out deals, finna own these rappers/The game is full of slaves and they mostly rappers/You sold your soul first, then your homies after/Let's show these stupid field niggas they could own they masters,” he raps, referencing religion, societal issues, and the troubles of the music industry in just four bars. From a larger scope, the song explores the strings often attached to fame—something else which becomes a recurring theme on the album, as one might expect given Rocky’s rather quick rise to super stardom.
And so that fickle fame theme is picked up again on the next track, “Canal St.,” which introduces us to another relatively unknown figure that Rocky’s (and perhaps A$AP Yams’?) keen ear picked up— Bones. A sample from “Dirt,” turned into the hook, really carries the eerie and dark feeling of this record which puts Rocky’s 24/7 hustle on wax, comparing the rap game to the crack game— Rocky may be in the upper echelon of celebrities, but he abandon street life antics on this album, often boasting what he’s packing. Still, he's looking for a constant evolution, something that's obvious just by listening to this album but it's also addressed in his lyrics. Flacko sheds who he was on his last album; “Fuck jiggy, I’m flawless, fuck pretty, I’m gorgeous” he raps on "Canal St.," and later, on "Excuse Me," he spits, "That's when the new you becomin' different since they knew you/I guess the new me is just gon' take some gettin' used to."
As the album continues, it’s almost like the drugs (we didn’t actually take) are taking effect— “Fine Whine” has you slowing down and feeling slurred up, transitioning you to “L$D.” Surprisingly enough, there’s another country-rock sample found on the record (Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”). Here, we are introduced to another recurring theme which is often entangled with the pros/cons of fame: women. However, for Rocky, it’s not really about saying “I love you” (in fact, Rocky seems to be scared of those three words outright, “only one word I’m afraid of is the ‘love’ word,” he raps later on “Jukebox Joints”), instead, it’s more about making a “love song” and by that we mean “song to have sex to.”
At 18 tracks long, the length of the album could be a detractor. There are definitely parts that could be trimmed, however, with a smattering of shorter records like “JD,” “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” and “Dreams (Interlude),” plus a constant progress and change of sound, the 66 minutes and 15 seconds isn't hard to get through. The album doesn’t have drawn-out skits either, making the entire listening session as smooth as possible. “Lord Pretty Flacko” takes you to the West Coast with its hint of g-funk synths, but it still somehow fits in the grand scheme of things, perhaps simply because of the tracks it’s juxtaposed beside; as you’ll see, this is often the case. "LPFJ2" brings us further into the West Coast, sliding into “Electric Body” featuring L.A.’s resident gangsta rappa ScHoolboy Q. This is one to bang in your whip and blast at a party— Hector Delgado’s decidedly heavy production, complete with clapping for the twerking fiends, makes it one of the funnest records on the album. It’s also one we may soon hear in the clubs, but it still doesn’t sound as acutely or forcedly radio-friendly as his past feature-heavy “Fuckin Problems.”
The slowed down outro on “Electric Body” serves as the perfect segue into another style, the one found on “Jukebox Joints,” and another example of how the juxtaposition of records is so essential on this album. It’s easily the most (if not the only) soulful record on the project, but once again, it doesn’t sound out of place. It’s like a new age version of Kanye West’s old days of sampling soul music. It goes through a few different phases in just over five minutes, almost acting as two different songs entirely, and successfully bringing you into the latter half of the album and setting the tone for it too. Just when you start thinking “where is Ye?” he pops up with a dose of real life isms, rapping, “with friends like you, who need friends?/Sometimes the best advice is no advice/Especially when it’s your advice.” Although Rocky basically carries the whole song, Kanye’s closing verse almost steals the show, in one of the few instances where Rocky’s featured artist gets away from him. For the most part, the featured artists do not overtake That Pretty Motherfucker, his charisma is too strong for that.
The more sombre records that follow, “Max B” and “Pharsyde” all the way until “Better Things,” may get you in a bit of downer after all the excitement in the first half of the album. Perhaps it’s purposeful; you can only get so high before experiencing some lows. If there were any place to cut out records, it might be here. In particular, “West Side Highway” with James Fauntleroy, is easily the dullest song on the album. On to “Better Things,” though, which finds a scathing reference to Rita Ora and at the same time sums up a lot of Rocky’s interactions with the females— short-lived relationships/one-night stands. An earlier reference to Katy Perry in the same song supports this, as Rocky is really all about sexual acts and appreciating a woman’s beauty, but not necessarily any emotional investment. The album picks up pace again in time for closing, ensuring we end on a hopeful note—not the same high we started with, but it’s definitely hopeful. The previously-released “M’$” feels all new and tingly again thanks to the addition Lil Wayne. Weezy’s auto-tuned verse, sounding dipped in lean, pairs perfectly with the aesthetic, and that feeling spirals into the hazy “Dreams (Interlude).”
Both Rocky and the listener come full circle by the end of the album. The A$AP Mob leader not only brings back the rock vibe we started with on “Every Day” but literally takes us “Back Home.” The album was actually recorded around the world, from Florida to Hollywood to London to New York, so it’s appropriate to close the album with a record that is also the most “New York” of the batch (and that’s saying something when it comes to the Southern enthusiast). “Back Home,” although the last record, is possibly the most important if not for only what is attached to it. It features an almost otherworldly outro from A$AP Yams, on the level of Birdman. It sounds so good, it could literally be a rap verse, but it’s just Yamborghini talking his shit. It’s the perfect way to end the crazy trip that is A.L.L.A. Let the praise begin.