It is becoming more commonplace in Hip-Hop for rappers to make music that isn’t particularly about all that much topically, but has a very distinct style. Especially since the release of ‘Yeezus’ – an album which I don’t particularly care for but can appreciate the doors it has opened up in mainstream Hip-Hop (yes I know he’s ripping Death Grips) – there has been an increasing number of artists who will focus solely on curating a sound which is individual to them. This is often a dark sound which can go one of two ways; you either get a hot-mess like the reasonably well produced but terribly delivered ‘Dark Sky Paradise’ by Big Sean or you get what A$AP Rocky has made which is at-times fantastic.
‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’ is easily A$AP Rocky’s most cohesive and well thought-out project to date. There aren’t any tracks on this album that are designed to be played on the radio like ‘Fuckin Problems’. Along with the late A$AP Yams, Rocky has created an album that takes the style he’s known for in writing decent cloud-rap songs that sound like they’ve been created on a drug-binge and created an album filled with a massive pallet of textures. This album sounds like someone getting so much higher on a much harder drug than on his previous albums. On one of the singles for this album ‘L$D’, we have Rocky literally singing about a drug fuelled relationship with a woman and it’s one of the highlights of the album, yet it’s a move that nobody could have ever predicted.
The first six tracks on this album really don’t aim for the radio whatsoever. The opening song ‘Holy Ghost’ has Rocky rhyming over some dark guitar-lines before it goes into an anthemic chorus. ‘Canal Street’ has Rocky talking about the hustle and other people’s legitimacy over a very dark and minimalistic beat that builds into much more cloudy territory towards the end of the track. ‘Fine Wine’ and ‘Excuse Me’ use Rocky’s down-pitched vocals to create some interesting results especially when the vocals introduce the particularly dreamy latter song.
At this point nobody comes to A$AP Rocky for lyrical prowess and a lot of these tracks are no different. The way in which he delivers his lyrics have improved though as he showcases his ability to adapt to his environment. After the first six tracks Rocky turns up the heat and goes for a wider variety of styles and considering the amount of different ways he’ll curate a track they always sound coherent and consistent, even if the length of the tracklist (18 tracks and 66 minutes) is a tad too long. He utilises his guests to coincide with his delivery and production seamlessly, especially with the artist he found of the streets of London, Joe Fox who lends his vocals to this album on four tracks. He brings a well needed balance to the tracks where he sings against Rocky’s extremely laid-back flow.
Elsewhere he somehow manages to make Mark Ronson, Miguel and Rod Stewart collaborate fantastically with Miguel and Stewart singing the hook side by side over the top of reverb drenched organs. The production adapts for each guest verse that Rocky brings to the table like the fiery ‘M$’s’ with Lil Wayne, which arguably has the best feature on the entire album with not only Lil Wayne’s punchlines not being cringe-inducing, but the fact that they’re genuinely funny again especially with his quips against Birdman which has Wayne looking more in control of than ever. The song with Kanye West ‘Jukebox Joints’ has appropriately ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’-esque production with an illustrious soul sample in the background and Rocky’s laid back flow over the top. Kanye himself tries to adapt to a more fitting flow for an A$AP Rocky track with him sounding very sporadic. It doesn’t quite land all the time but he does throw some decent Kanye-isms in there like ‘They wanna throw me in a white jail, because I’m a black man with white confidence’.
Fans of Rocky’s old style may find a whole lot less to come back to compared to his debut album. Outside of a few tracks including Schoolboy Q’s incredibly energetic verse on ‘Electric Body’, this is an album that sees Rocky trying to push past the sounds of trap-rap that have dominated the mainstream for a while now. He succeeds for the most part and creates an album that actually feels like a body of work rather than a collection of singles. He doesn’t always hit the mark like on ‘Pharsyde’ which has him falling too far into the dream scapes he’s created, but nearly every track has Rocky putting his all into it. As a tribute to his late friend Yams this is completely appropriate, as Yams has helped Rocky make an album that will probably push him further in the future to experiment with his sound than ever before. This is a turning point in Rocky’s career.
Best Tracks: L$D, Holy Ghost, Electric Body, M$’s