ASAP Rocky wears many hats. He’s been the Harlem-based Tumblr rap prodigy, the luxury fashion name-dropper, the de facto face of ASAP Mob, and a guy who loves rapping about all things purple. Now, he’s added another facet to his repertoire: dude who really likes taking and talking about taking acid. At.Long.Last.ASAP would be my new favorite album if I had taken LSD for the first time last week, but seeing as that isn’t the case, it’s pretty easy to identify the album’s flaws, of which there are a fair number, while still basking in the moments of greatness that Rocky managed to create out of a bad situation, of which there are also plenty.
One of the creative forces behind Rocky’s music, ASAP Yams, passed away in January while A.L.L.A was still in the works. Though Yams gets an executive producer credit, it’s difficult to quantify how much of his vision for the album made it to the final cut. Another executive producer here, Danger Mouse, can be heard in the boilerplate beats, which mesh well with Rocky’s aesthetic but never push the envelope or make any revelatory alterations to the formula. “Pharsyde” feels like a leftover beat from Demon Days and doesn’t offer Rocky a chance to do anything exciting.
While his flow works over downtrodden melodies, “Pharsyde” is just depressing. Mentions of chartering spaceships to escape Earth, smoking until his iron lung doesn’t work, and the effect gentrification has had on his home paint a bleak picture for Rocky, who, just lines later, proclaims that LSD has inspired him. “West Side Highway”, meanwhile, might be the worst song on the album, with James Fauntleroy’s vocals going to waste over a terribly boring Danger Mouse beat.
The guest list for this album is huge, and while some could argue that it means Rocky can’t carry this record by himself, that’s not the case. One of Yams’ defining qualities was his ear for talent. The features he’d pick out would suit the overall aesthetic and not only make the song great, but make Rocky look great by proxy. That’s still true on A.L.L.A; Rocky never appears washed or overshadowed by a feature. Bringing M.I.A. and Future together on “Fine Whine” feels like a watershed moment and something Yams might’ve had a hand in. The track manages to fit in one of today’s most controversial and exciting pop stars and one of the planet’s hottest rappers, and there’s still room for Rocky to make it all his own. Similarly, “Jukebox Joints” remains firmly an ASAP Rocky song, even with production and a first-rate verse from Kanye West.
On that song, Rocky acknowledges the transitions in his life, holding a conversation with someone in his first verse: “Heard you done with fashion/ Now yo ass is actin’/ I’m trippin’ off the acid/ Now yo ass is lookin’ massive.” It’s difficult to tell how much Rocky is pumping the brakes on being one of the foremost authorities on fashion in hip-hop, but the shift in focus is clear. While this record certainly echoes the who’s who of designer brands name-dropped on Long.Live.ASAP, A.L.L.A is Rocky’s “locked in the studio with a sheet of acid” record.
Of course, it wouldn’t be ASAP Rocky if there weren’t some questionable content sprinkled into the proceedings. Certainly his Rita Ora diss on “Better Things” has caught the attention of listeners. It’s undoubtedly in poor taste, but this isn’t the first time Rocky has flirted with controversy, and the Ora lyrics lean more toward bullying for the sake of seeming hard than actual hate speech. Less problematic but still confusing is the inclusion of Joe Fox on nearly half of these tracks. Fox’s background singing isn’t offensive by any means, and the story of the London busker meeting Rocky and earning a spot on his album is admirable, but it’s difficult to listen to his vocals and think he earned a spot on this many songs.
There’s a noticeable lack of bangers on this album, but that’s not to say there isn’t some fire. The Rod Stewart-sampling “Everyday” is a hazy, meandering song that should find its way onto some summer blunt cruise soundtracks. “M’s” features one of the best Lil Wayne verses of the last half decade, and “Electric Body” sees Schoolboy Q experimenting with a more hyperactive flow that suits him well. “Excuse Me”, an ode to stunting on haters, is another highlight. A subdued swagger emanates from the beat, produced by Rocky, Hector Delgado, and Vulkan the Krusader, with a middle section that sounds like an orchestra hidden behind a brick wall and just barely coming through. “Wavybone” is a Juicy J-produced posse cut with an unearthed Pimp C verse partly about getting head from Sheryl Crow, which may actually be the best thing on the album. “Back Home” is incontestably East Coast, with a fantastic Mos Def/Yasiin Bey verse and what seems to be an old firehouse alarm accompanying the beat.
A.L.L.A flows well from track to track; it’s well sequenced but long at 18 songs and more than an hour. While none of the songs on this record have the immediacy of Long.Live.ASAP cuts like “Fuckin’ Problems” or “Goldie”, the cohesiveness of A.L.L.A is a huge selling point. Maybe acid helped Rocky see the big picture. Maybe he stepped back and saw that a better album does more for an artist than a couple big songs on a decent album. Perhaps the loss of Yams thrust Rocky into a position where he’s making the big decisions in maintaining the ASAP brand, knowing all eyes would be on him following the loss of his friend and collaborator. Whatever the case, ASAP Rocky is a mercurial young rapper in a transitional period of his life, and it seems like his best bet would be to trust himself above all others. Yams drew up the blueprint; now it’s Rocky’s time to build it.
Essential Tracks: “M’s”, “Excuse Me”, and “Wavybone”