A$AP Rocky wants to push hip hop in “revolutionary” new directions: starting with respecting women. “I’m quite the gentleman type, you know,” he said during an interview with Red Bull Music Academy in London this spring. But, wait. Lana Del Rey-hating Eminem, and his sympathisers, are unlikely to change their attitude upon hearing Rocky’s new album. Because it’s clear the jiggy poster boy of A$AP Mob is finding this whole respect shtick tough on the tongue.
Unsurprisingly, this one hasn’t changed his spots when it comes to women (“I swear that bitch Rita Ora got a big mouth / Next time I see her might curse the bitch out”). What may surprise you, however, is how much At.Long.Last.A$AP differs from Rocky’s previous soundtracks for those that like to ball hard and ball often – or at least when payday arrives. A.L.L.A is a milder, deliberately less club-friendly album. The musicianship is sharper, the songs more experimental, but at the cost of coherence and, at times, drama.
Rocky has a knack for spectacle. On stage he exhibits a larger-than-life character who lives for girls, guns, drugs and all-nighters. He’s an egotistical prankster with a serious case of PMW addiction. Still, you can’t help but like A$AP Mob’s millionaire mogul for his smarmy cheek, his flow and his admirable creative drive. That drive is all over the surreal psychedelic soundscapes and pensive verses that permeate A.L.L.A. Guitar-playing newcomer, Joe Fox, lends his talent for Pink Floyd-esque soft rock to several tracks (LSD), which feel closer to the psych-rap of Rocky’s early mixtapes than the earth-shaking trap beats of Long Live A$AP.
A.L.L.A. lacks the insta-thrill that the previous album so readily dished out. As Rocky himself says on Excuse Me: “I guess the new me is gonna take some getting used to”. Yet fans of The Weeknd will likely warm to this sober affair. And beats from the likes of Danger Mouse, Clams Casino, Nez & Rio, Kanye West and Mark Ronson are satisfying even when Rocky hasn’t the agency to do them justice.
There’s the Tame Impala-like echoes on the outro of Electric Body. The Kanye-produced Jukebox Joints reels you in with its hypnotic soul group harmony, while Rocky spits “mood music make me bob slower”. Wavybone, which features Juicy J and rap group UGK is the album’s dark horse, deftly employing a sample of Syl Johnson’s Could I Be Falling in Love (used by Raekwon on Heaven & Hell) for its beat, as Rocky and the rappers holler an energetic ode to money. Blues ballad Everyday and reconciliation track Back Home, both tributes to the late A$AP Yams, are the album’s final one-two punch, delivering the kind of adventurous vocals and production we’ve come to expect from Rocky.
It’s a pity these moments appear irregularly on an album that could have done with a stricter edit. Instrumentals fit for a lifetime of afterparties are the stars here, but they only inject so much life into a record that’s, understandably, engrossed with the afterlife. Part psych, part trap, half sincere hombre, half ride-or-die baller: At.Long.Last.A$AP feels like more of an exploratory mixtape than a polished second album.
Instances of hyperactive lyrical flourish from Rocky are disappointingly infrequent, and fatigue sets in before the record is over. Never mind besting the likes of Ghostface Killah, Earl Sweatshirt or Kendrick Lamar. It would’ve been a start for Rocky to make good on his newfound “respect” for women. Instead we find him bragging about doing “Azalea from Australia”, with the belief that this mediocrity is a masterpiece.
At.Long.Last.A$AP by A$AP Rocky can be ordered here.