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A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP – ALBUM REVIEW

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It all began on a cold night in October, when A$AP Rocky dropped the “Multiply” video. There was a looming synth riff punctuated with shrill tinkling percussion. There was mad shit-talking from Rocky and Juicy J. There was a patented triplet flow. There were plentiful threats of reckless swaggin on inferior MCs. Yung Gleesh made a cameo.

The stage was set for a return to classic A$AP form: smoked out, loc’ed out, swagged out.

In the interim from the “Multiply” drop and the actual record release, A$AP Yams (government name: Steven Rodriguez) passed away due to acute mixed drug intoxication. There was heartbreak. There was outreach. There was widespread memoriam.

The cover of At.Long.Last.A$AP depicts Rocky concealing his face with his hands, his fingers adorned with the jewelled treasures of his fame and success. Above him, the face of Yams hovers, distorted and blurred. The title of the album suggests an unveiling of a hard-won discovery and achievement. Does At.Long.Last.A$AP follow through on this suggestion?

The first track, “Holy Ghost,” opens the record. The down-tempo musical palette is spiced with a twanging, mournful guitar riff. This deployment of the guitar appears throughout the entire At.Long.Last.A$AP record to varying degrees of effectiveness. The sonic tone of the guitar is consistently psychedelic and dreamy.

In a self-conscious twist, Rocky spits that “the game is filled with slaves, and they’re mostly rappers.” This is a departure from his typical trope of speaking on rappers; other MCs are not just technically inferior, but they are pitifully dominated by the hidden masters that own their careers.

Rocky’s following lines “the pastor had a thing for designer glasses / yeah I’m talkin fancy plates and diamond glasses / the ushers keep skimmin’ the collection baskets / and they tryna dine us with some damn wine and crackers” is my favorite set of bars on the whole record. The employment of dense internal rhyming is completed smoothly and impressively, and Rocky is rapping about something truly substantial for once. Rocky’s flow has oftentimes been the best thing about him, but his delivery and subject matter on this track lyrics truly takes it to a deeper level of enjoyment.

“L$D” is the most egregious mis-fire on the album. The guitar on this track is even more dreamy than “Holy Ghost”; it seems to hover above the track like curling tendrils of smoke. The bassline slurs like molasses and doesn’t ever evolve into anything more interesting.

Straight-up, I am not a fan of Rocky’s singing. It is plain, tuneless, and just not enjoyable to listen to. I don’t think it complements the track’s goal of desiring “love, sex, and dreams.” While Rocky has sang on-track before, it’s never been as aimless as “L$D.” The track does bloom open on the chorus, but it’s not a substantial improvement. I’m surprised that this track made the album cut.

Things pick back up again with “Excuse Me.” Rocky amusingly raps about not being able to pay his bills because of the reckless stunting he’s been doing lately. He later threatens to put the paws on whoever touches his tailored garments, which is a typical twist of his personality.

A most chilling line is “who run it, my niggas, fuck the fussin, they buckin and bussin / now niggas slump over Robitussin in public / cup full of purple substance or somethin.” While Rocky doesn’t return to this topic during the track’s runtime, his musing upon the harsh reality of rampant drug abuse in hip-hop is in stark contrast to his standard tropes of narcotic excess and general debauchery.

Another highlight is “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2.” The synth line sears. The drums knock. The bass surges like magma. It’s like Nez & Rio combined the Chicago drill sound with Houston trill, Memphis throw’d, Harlem attitude, and Miami bass. Rocky’s lyrics return to 2011 form: reckless shit-talking on importing, exporting, being that pretty muthafucka, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, gold grills, handing out that work to those who are broke enough to deserve it. Short, straightforward, to the point.

Question: why couldn’t Rocky put my dude Yung Gleesh on? Gleesh was in the video for “Multiply,” so why no verse here? That track off of Cleansides Finest 3, “Who Ridin,” is one of my favorites from last year; Gleesh’s verses are hot, his hook is aggressively confident, the track bangs… the Gleesh pedigree for dopeness is there. Hopefully “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” sees a remix in the future, like the original “Pretty Flacko.”

“JD” falls flat for me. The instrumental sounds hollow and Rocky’s done better before. Again, I’m left wondering why it was included in the tracklist.

“Jukebox Joints” retains the ghostly musical vibes. There is a beat switch halfway through, with Kanye West production reporting in. Rocky endears to drop all the nonsense of “swag, trapping, and fashion talking” and then proceeds to break his promise, spitting about “it’s not just model bitches on my genitalia” and the like. I wasn’t too impressed with this verse, because who truly cares about who Rocky is smashing? At the end of the track, Kanye comes through with an absolutely terrible guest feature. Not one to forego recently forged tradition, Kanye slowly “becomes Kanye” over the duration of the verse. There’s some off-key singing, and some throwaway bars about refusing advice. There is a single “AUGH!” ad-lib that is amusingly over-the-top and out-of-place. Kanye spits towards a nameless female with seemingly genuine anger over a decades-old curve, does a little more off-key singing and then he concludes the verse with a patented serving of “Kanyefidence.” Then the track just ends. What were Rocky and Kanye thinking?

“Wavybone” is fire on the production front. It’s the prototypical A$AP sound: an updated dirty, bassy South style mixed with an East Coast vocal pitch shift… grimy and smooth all at once. The verses ride well enough. This Pimp C verse sounds like it was recorded just the other day. That being said, I don’t think that this verse is anything to write home about. Near the end of Pimp’s verse, there is a moment worthy of all the “pause” ad-libs Cam’ron ever recorded. Both Bun B and Juicy hold it down and do their thing too.

“Everyday” bangs hard, and the sonic transition to the more laid-back chorus is a successful one. I am loving the organ sounds on the chorus. Miguel sounds great, but I’m a little bamboozled by the Rod Stewart sample / “feature.” How can it be that Rod is “featured” on the track when he’s really only been sampled? Rocky is suffering from the same perplexing syndrome that afflicted Kanye and Jay-Z on Watch the Throne. And where is Mark Ronson? I get that he produced the track, but why does he get a feature credit as well? Furthermore, Miguel is singing the exact same hook that Rod sang so many years ago, so there is a little musical redundancy already built-in here. Miguel can clearly write hooks; why didn’t they utilize his talent? Rocky’s flow is impressive and convincingly confident; this is really what he does best. The beat-change at the beginning of Rocky’s second verse is dope too. Overall, “Everyday” sounds great, but if you dig into the details of its production and feature list, the lake gets muddied rather quickly.

I love “M'$.” This is the hardest, grimiest track on the album, and Rocky sounds right at home. There's another self-conscious drop of “it's like lately I'm ain't myself / I'd rather hang myself before I play myself.” Rocky's employment of singing works here, and contributes to the track's sound of bassy, trapped-out explosions. Lil Wayne snaps. There's some 2008-sounding AutoTune on his voice, and he raps at a faster tempo than he typically does these days. Wayne approaches a Jay-Z “cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake” technique with his “I got pink, I got pints, I got lean, I got ice” bars, but he never sinks to that “Pound Cake” nadir. Wayne's rapid flow and confident inflection sells the sonic repetition of narcotics, intoxicants, vices. There's a quick Cash Money diss too, which makes me continue to wonder when Wayne will finally drop Tha Carter V..

Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def — the original “Pretty Flaco”) makes a surprise appearance on “Back Home,” but doesn’t stick around for long. He sounds great over the track’s stuttering piano beat, but he doesn’t contribute anything of substance to “Back Home”’s theme of realization and triumph. His short verse is fairly surreal / psychedelic, which is a plus, but again, it’s not as if this quality redeems the entire feature by itself. A$AP Yams himself speaks on the outro of the album, telling Rocky to “let em know what it is out this muthafucka” before disappearing into the ether of audio gain distortion. It’s a respectful and endearing send-off.

The most apt comparison that I can make for Rocky to the hip-hop of yesteryear is Cam’ron. Both MCs rep Harlem, lead hip-hop collectives, rap about designer clothes and moving weight, but Rocky mostly lacks the hilarious personality and dense internal rhyming that characterized Cam’s best verses. Another profound influence that might become more widely appreciated with the release of this album is Max B, although I'm unsure just how far this newfound wavy appreciation will reach.

Overall, At.Long.Last.A$AP is a mostly enjoyable record that falls below Rocky’s established standards of quality. There are several successes to write home about: “Holy Ghost,” “Canal St.,” “Pretty Flacko 2,” and “M'$” among them. However, the bloated tracklisting doesn’t do enough to justify its long runtime, and the psychedelic sprinklings prove to be less fulfilling than intended. Despite new lyrical twists and surprises, Rocky’s subject matter is becoming more and more redundant with each release. The feature list, while impressive on paper, doesn’t always translate to successful and enjoyable contributions. The best features are Bones, Lil Wayne, and ScHoolboy Q.

In my opinion, the definitive A$AP experience is still found within Live.Love.A$AP

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