If you’ve heard any of A$AP Rocky’s music in the past, you’re probably aware that he is no stranger braggadocio. Just take a look at his extended rapper moniker, ‘Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye’. That’s a title, a compliment and then his name. And this kind of over the top narcissism has always worked in favour in my opinion, with his debut mixtape and debut album both being excellent examples of popular radio rap not being shit, for once. So when I heard that his second full length album, At. Long. Last. A$AP aka A.L.L.A. I was expecting everything I got from previous A$AP Rocky albums. I mean, he is basically going full Kanye West and calling himself God, so who wouldn’t be curious?
The opening track here actually provides the most distinct allusion to the provocative title, with the recurring lyric “Bow your head, the most High’s around”. It’s not the clumsy, straight up declaration of divinity that’s become so cliché in modern hip-hop, and the song sounds all the better for it. It’s not quite the all guns blazing opening you might expect given the title, but it’s by far the most lyrically coherent song he’s ever written.
But does the rest of the album hold up? The good news is, this is by far the most ambitious A$AP Rocky project yet. I often lament lack of experimentation in albums, but here I truly cannot fault him on that front. But the bad news is that experimentation is not a good thing in and of itself. The prime example here being the single ‘L$D’. It’s a huge change of pace, but not in a good way. The hazy, drugged up instrumental and totally vapid, lazily delivered lyrics could only sound interesting to someone who had smoked their own weight in psychedelics an hour in advance. And if you have to be high to enjoy it, it’s not good music.
And sadly a lot of the experiments on this record don’t go over so well. ‘Fine Whine’ boasts a mostly decent beat and a tolerable Future feature (which is pretty impressive by itself), but the sluggish pace and lack of any real lyrical ideas ultimately tars the song’s quality. Other tracks like ‘Pharsyde’, ‘West Side Highway’ and ‘Better Things’ are just too sluggish for their own good and end up being unexciting, lacking the interesting dynamics to make up for their flaws.
Speaking of dynamics, the album is terribly paced. The first 6 tracks are all borderline chopped and screwed or just marginally mid-paced, and despite tracks like ‘Canal St’ being quite atmospheric and well put together, it makes the album feel like much more of a slog than it had to have been. And the interludes. The never ending torrent of interludes. Don’t even get me started.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are plenty of things to like about this album, and most of those things are the more straight up, typical A$AP tracks. A major highlight is ‘M’$’ which is just as smooth and glossy as it was when it was released as a promo single, but now featuring Lil Wayne. Not the incoherent, sputtering Lil Wayne you always hear about, the fiery multi-flow veteran he’s promising with his next record. Rocky’s newfound singing voice works to album’s favour on a few tracks too, like the defiantly glossy ‘Excuse Me’.
This record manages to be disappointing and somehow promising at the same time, and it leaves me feeling decidedly confused every time I listen to it. It shows A$AP can step out of his comfort zone, but not that he can make it sound consistently worthwhile. On the bright side there are a slew of killer singles, but as a solid piece of work it just doesn’t hold itself together in all its ethereal, drugged up melodrama.
Highlights: ‘M’$’, ‘Canal St.’, ‘Holy Ghost’
Similar to: Schoolboy Q, Yung Lean, Denzel Curry