In a year that has seen a plethora of major releases already, the bar has been raised on what it takes to stand out as artists have begun to focus more on whole albums then single tracks. A$AP Rocky’s sophomore effort At.Long.Last.A$AP. is an achievement that does just that.
As it begins with a sample from the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou before dropping into a deep instrumental framed by guitar bells and a driving bass, the listener is quickly aware they are in unchartered territory. “Church bells and choir sounds tell ‘em, quiet down / Bow your head, the most high’s around” is the first time we hear Rocky and the introduction to 66 minutes and 15 seconds of his greatest art to date.
The album’s range is sometimes vast both sonically and thematically. It is a puzzle that fits due to soul-searching work by Rocky, Danger Mouse, and the newest name on the tongues of Hip Hop heads across the country, Joe Fox. Fox’s story is that of biopic foder. He literally bumped into Rocky on the streets of London while trying to get people to listen to his mixtape and found himself in the studio with the rapper later that night.
The work is aided with collaborations by a wide range of musicians who are wrangled and made fit almost seamlessly. Rod Stewart and Miguel trade hooks on the penultimate “Everyday.” Lil’ Wayne gives some of his best work in some time, and Yasiin Bey adds bars that fit into the mold of the album’s overall flavor. Kanye West contributes a soulful beat off-the-shelf and his own underwhelming verse, yet it does not de-escalate the album’s momentum. These diverse styles are carefully combined to create one psychedelic, freewheeling, strange yet beautifully complete product.
A sign of the album’s strength is a deep commitment to each individual track. Despite having 18 total records, there are stand out elements and work on each one. Consider the only interlude on the album, “Dreams,” which is no exception to the high quality of the project and features the alliteration of, “This is every heavy drug, that’s known at every level / This is assault with deadly metal bumpin’ heavy metal / Do this for myself, of course my hood and every ghetto.”
The aforementioned A$AP Yams and his recent passing was sure to figure into the album’s creation. First rumors swam upstream, and then theories finally emerged with validation when the cover art was released featuring Rocky’s face falling in his hands with Yams’ trademark tattoo and skin discoloration under his eyes. However, unlike other albums where grief and its accompanying records weigh down the vibe or cause an out of place track, Yams presence is felt throughout. With imagery dedicated to faith, life and death, Yams is ever present. When the final track “Back Home” comes on and does the most direct homage to Yams it feels organic with celebratory, mournful and artistic undertones all at once.
Throughout A.L.L.A, Rocky uses the skills we have seen in the past while flaunting his maturing abilities. His flow, tone and voice have always been strong but his lyrical ability this time around is the strongest of his career. The sound that got him here is shown on tracks like “Fine Whine” which is the classic A$AP Houston-meets-Harlem sound aided by M.I.A. and Future. New skills are abundant on “Pharsyde” with the maturity of a wordsmith, “My ears are ringing, my palms are shaking, my heart is racing / Somebody’s mama’s heart is aching, can’t take it, partly fainted / Found his body parts in awkward places, like apartments’ basements / Garbage, vacant lots, garages, spaces, Harlem’s far too spacious.”
This one has the distinction of being an album that will require time to unpack and grasp with more listens. It has such a diversity of sounds, vibes and subject matter that it sets itself apart from Rocky’s previous works. From a continued commitment to the heavy base and grandiose sound that has become synonymous with A$AP Mob, to a more melodic and psychedelic chord structure, this album moves through different paces and sounds with little to no issue.
Culture can often be a summation of things or, said another way, a kind of movement through the sludge of too many thoughts. At times A$AP’s sophomore effort feels like this, but this is not a knock against it. Such is the world we live in, where a word like “curation” has seemingly gone viral and is now an indigestible gum slathered to the side of our collective rib cages. But, its focus on breadth is also part of its charm, and although the project is 18 songs deep it does not feel rushed through, but rather lived through. And, as such, it becomes a gallery exhibition of a breadth of experiences not seen on walls all too white, but out in the streets, in the clubs, and in your dreams.