A$AP Rocky’s 'At.Long.Last.A$AP' Is the Perfect Experiment: Album Review
Two years after Beyonce's self-titled coup, the term "surprise album" has become a misnomer, especially in hip-hop. In the first three months of 2015, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt all dropped records with little to no warning. So it wasn't a shock when A$AP Rocky's AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, the solo follow-up to the rapper's 2013 Billboard 200-topping debut, arrived a week before its announced June 2 release date. But musically, A.L.L.A. is a surprise. Rocky, 26, and his Harlem-based A$AP Mob crew have made an unlikely mix of Houston lean and vintage rap from New York and the Midwest their signature, but this album is more expansive, more inclusive and much deeper, with a palette that dips into blues rock, Wu-Tang Clan, G-Funk, psychedelic folk and more. It’s the perfect experiment -- a confident, well-executed one -- for a format-less, niche-happy, streaming-playlist world.
The album has 16 guest appearances, including Kanye West, Lil Wayne and even Rod Stewart; Rocky, his recently deceased Svengali A$AP Yams, Danger Mouse and Juicy J are all listed as executive producers. But the LP incorporates the many sounds and voices in a smoother, more organic way than previous A$AP efforts. There’s no trippy song, no bounce song, no cruising song; instead, it’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds, making her booty clap while sipping on drank and listening to the Doors and Stax-era soul, on almost every track. "Electric Body," featuring ScHoolboy Q, is rooted in Baltimore club and New Orleans bounce, but they’re disrobed and stretched out — not quite chopped and screwed — into a languid cloud, and the result is something inherently new. On "Fine Whine," Rocky is joined by M.I.A., Future and his new protégé Joe Fox (who anchors almost a third of the album with sung hooks) over tribal drums pounding three different sets of rhythms. Amazingly, it still sounds like one song.
Like on his first album, Rocky's raps lean on speed-shifting and internal rhyme schemes to chronicle exquisite thuggery and luxury escapism. He's not saying much, but he says it well. Still, there's a huge helping of cognitive dissonance when an album so forward musically is so regressive lyrically. Rocky is incredibly dismissive of women throughout, saving extra disrespect for "Better Things," where he claims to have hooked up with Rita Ora. It's slut-shaming at its worst. And there's nary an acknowledgement of wider, real-life issues. On "Dreams," he observes in a daze that "Police brutality was on my TV screen," but stops there. It would be silly to expect socially conscious commentary from such a decidedly deviant rapper, but it’s nonetheless unsettling when, on "Jukebox Joints," he defiantly states "I be damned if I die sober." Yams tweeted that same line last October, three months before his death of a drug overdose (it’s unclear if Rocky was quoting him, or vice versa).
For all of the sonic pleasures, much of At.Long.Last.ASAP’s narrative is hard to swallow with a thinking mind -- which makes it hip-hop at its finest, and its worst. It's not overtly offensive in the manner of vintage Too $hort or even current-day Migos. But it's glaring when an album is so wide and deep and so narrow and shallow at the same time.