By: Julian Balboa
“I’m claiming ownership of my legacy. Look at it: At.Long.Last.A$AP. A-L-L-A. Like slang for ‘Allah.’ It’s the return of the god MC. I’m named after Rakim, and I’m finally facing what it means: I was born to do this s**t. And I hope I get to do it for a very long time.”
This was Brooklyn native A$AP Rocky in a recent interview with GQ magazine about the concept of his sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, which dropped Monday night, a week ahead of its release date. Unlike his debut, Long.Live.A$AP, there wasn’t an enormous amount of promotion for this album – so does his new release stand up on all fours, or does Rocky suffer from the infamous “sophomore slump?”
There’s no denying A$AP Rocky’s talent. He can fit the mold of almost any beat thrown at him. He is known to be very surreal with his selection of production, incorporating a lot of reverb, flanger, and delays with his signature pitched-down vocals. It’s an ethereal sound- a bit eerie and dark, like a voice in your dreams spitting rap lyrics. In this album however, the pitched-down effects are lacking and instead find Rocky crooning about hazy topics like having sex on LSD and dreams. They’re interesting trajectories, but are, for the most part, a bit snooze-worthy.
The album clocks in at 66-minutes over 18 songs. Some may find that a turn-off, and even those that do appreciate long track-listings may find the album to be off-paced and kind of boring when Rocky’s not rapping.
The opener, “Holy Ghost,” serves as a great introduction. The production is top-notch and Rocky’s flow marches with the drums and high hats. “Canal St.,” the next track, is another great song that stands tall in Rocky’s arsenal, with a great hook from California cloud rapper, BONES. (there is an even better version of the song on BONES’ rap collective, TEAMSesh’s soundcloud, featuring an entire verse from BONES which was scrapped at the lastminute. You can find it here.)
Unfortunately, the strong opening is quickly undermined by the next few tracks ebb and flow between good and forgettable. The best of the bunch is “Fine Whine,” which has features from Joe Fox, a British musician Rocky picked up off the street, M.I.A., and Future, who delivers a surprisingly refreshing verse. “Lord Pretty Flocko Jodye 2”, the lead single, is also a fantastic song and a strong contender for one of the best songs on the album. Once those synths start, you can’t stop him. He goes in and completely massacres the beat like a man on a mission. “Always been a stand up guy, I’d rather stand out,” He raps on LPFJ2, and boy, does this track stand out. The song that follows it, “Electric Body,.” has strong verses from both Rocky and featured artist, Schoolboy Q, helping make this track an even better collaboration by the two than their previous effort, “PMW (All I Really Need)”, off of Long.Live.A$AP.
The best track is also the album’s biggest surprise. Showing up late at track 11, is “M’$”, a banger that hits your eardrums hard and features Lil Wayne delivering the best verse he’s done in years. Yes, you read that last part correctly. “Kill you and your dog then go put on a shirt that say PETA for life”, Wayne raps as he slays the beat, using a slight autotune which gives him a unique identity on the track. It’s autotune the way it’s meant to be used: as an instrument rather than a musical handicap. Weezy’s high-pitched vocal delivery combined with his rapid fire lyrical assault easily make this the best track on the album. There’s just one thing: the fact that Wayne has the best verse on Rocky’s album is kind of sad. Rocky should be showing up his guest, but it seems that he let his guest overstay his welcome for a good minute and a half of rapping without pause or a hook in his path to stop him.
Alas, while there are some great tracks, there are more forgettable tracks than one would like or expect from Pretty Flocko and, in the end, they outnumber the good ones. The Clams Casino-produced song “Max B” is decent at best, but still just a name on a very long album. As are the songs “Wavybone”, “Back Home”, and “Everyday”, which have features from late artists (legendary southern rapper, Pimp C, A$AP Mob boss A$AP Yams), and big stars from across different genres (Rod Stewart, Miguel, and Mos Def) – all trying their best, but none of them worthwhile. The biggest let-down by far was “Jukebox Joints.” It features Kanye West, both in production and in verse, but everything about it screams “recycled and rehashed”, and one’s “Bound 2” figure it out after one listen. Rocky tries hard with some strong verses, but when you have a name like Kanye not only manning production, but also delivering a featured verse to boot, you have high expectations. So, why does Kanye West, the biggest name in hip-hop, and someone who doesn’t have the word “disappointing” in his vocabulary, have such a phoned-in verse and rehashed production in this song? We’ll probably never know, but one can guess that this is just ‘Ye being ‘Ye and not handing out his “Kanye Approved” beats for someone else’s album. For that, just give us another Clams Casino beat and leave Rocky alone in the spotlight.
Overall, the album does have its fair share of great songs that add to A$AP Rocky’s impressive catalog, but a sizable number of forgettable tracks and a dependence on unforgettably disappointing verses and hooks from outsiders account for why At.Long.Last.A$AP does not live up to its predecessor. Now, another question remains: Will A$AP Rocky break free of the sophomore slump? Or will he stay amongst the ranks of rappers with grade-A debuts and B-grade follow-ups?
Final Score: 3.5/5