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Surprised That We Made It: A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP

A$AP Rocky
RCA / A$AP Worldwide

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The post-Dark Fantasy Kanye West we’ve had to deal with for the past few years now has been no stranger to muddled, off-putting verses. One of the most disquieting of them all (and that’s really saying something) comes with the feature he contributed to “Clique” off G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer compilation. For some unfathomable reason, Kanye punctuates his verse on the track – up to that point a potent piece of trap triumphalism ready-made for radio and club play – by referencing the deep, suicidal depression his mother’s passing sent him into. It goes without saying that Yeezy has every right to express these thoughts — he just picked the wrong time and place to do so, ending a fun, breezy banger on an undeniable sour note.

A$AP Rocky pulls a similar move on the “M’$” remix. As he starts his verse, he dives into a dense internal rhyme scheme, seemingly in an effort to brag about as many things in as short an amount of time as possible. He references all the bottles of Clicquot he drinks, the models he parties with, the fact that he apparently owns a penthouse and a beach house, and his rapidly growing chain collection. He continues his boasts on the latter half of the verse, but not before he slips in this couplet: “It’s like lately I ain’t myself / I’d rather hang myself before I play myself.” After that it’s back to models and money as if nothing just happened, but it’s hard to give the ensuing bars much thought considering the moment preceding them goes over like getting blindsided by a freight train.

But Rocky curates the tone of his latest LP, At.Long.Last.A$AP, such that this sort of moment — disconcerting though it may still be — naturally fits the overall stylings of the album rather than stick out as a buzz-killing distraction. On his sophomore major label release, Harlem’s Pretty Motherfucker completely eschews clearly delineated album structure. While most rappers carefully separate their introspective cuts, their braggodocious bangers, their mopey, post-Drake love songs, and so on, Rocky spends much of A.L.L.A. mixing and matching concepts and tones as it suits him.

Though this lack of clearly defined structure could have easily ended in disaster, the result is quite powerful. Make no mistake, Flacko still spends much of his time rapping about the subjects he’s always dwelled on — drugs, women, fashion, money, etc. — but he consistently and cleverly inserts unexpected gut punches of heavy, difficult reality into the proceedings.

Rocky doesn’t separate his success and misfortunes, and so too do his past and present seem to exist as one. On one of the record’s best cuts, the brooding “Canal St.,” he channels a Reasonable Doubt-era Jay Z, mixing images of his current success with the harshness of his past dealing drugs. But even as the song picks up from the slow, defeated piano loop it starts off on and his lyrics get more braggodocious, a wistful lilt remains in Rocky’s delivery. Even while flexing, he still retains a stark awareness of the pathos of things, somberly rapping “Take a pic, be sure to frame this shit / Forever me, was always G / Way before this famous shit.”


The song “Excuse Me,” co-produced by Rocky himself, is a marked continuation of the mindfuck mash-up of moods and narratives. Despite initially proclaiming the song to be a boon for his “broke jiggy n****s,” and starting his first verse with “Excuse me, mister bill collector, I got problems / My check arrive manana, I’ma pay my debt, I promise,” he soon delves into the reasons behind his lack of funds: “I spent 20,000 dollars with my partners in Bahamas / Another 20,000 on Rick Owens out in Barneys.” So who, then, is this song really for? People who actually struggle to make ends meet from day to day or people like Rocky who can drop $3000 on drape-front cardigans without a second thought? Both, of course. Why wouldn’t it be?

On some level, it’s tempting to assume that the vibe running through At.Long.Last.A$AP is all just a fluke, and that Rocky is really rapping about whatever the hell he wants with no care for cohesion. If Flacko had dropped this record just after his first mixtape, I might’ve been inclined to feel that way, but it’s vital to note just how dramatically he’s improved as an MC in the last couple years. It’s telling that his weakest verses on A.L.L.A. match some of the most memorable material from his debut. And truth be told, lackluster verses are few an far in between; Rocky seems to constantly push himself to tackle new flows and cadences, and he brings his affinity for dense, early-Eminem style rhyme schemes to impressive new heights. Though the degree to which Rocky has developed his craft in just a few years is certainly surprising, his improvement is evident from the record’s first thirty seconds. It seems only natural, then, that his conceptual ambition would follow suit.

The excellent collaborative cut, “Fine Whine,” featuring the unlikely combo of M.I.A. and Future is another stellar embodiment of the A.L.L.A.‘s alternately focused and free-associative M.O.. Rocky’s part on the track, all pitched-down vocals drenched in murky beat, finds him relishing in imagining a heartbroken ex spending her night sorrowfully drinking, though he admits the blade cuts both ways: “For your pain and suffering / My karma’s waiting for me.” The track picks up as a thunderous drum beat begins looping, with M.I.A. emerging to embody the woman Rocky objectifies, vengefully proclaiming “How the fuck am I supposed to feel? / Treated like a bell, cut the check and split / Tell your new bitch she can suck a dick.” Lastly, Future arrives with an incredibly catchy verse that seems to cut through Rocky’s spiteful facade to reflect on the break-up the song revolves around with actual human emotion, beginning his verse with “You was the one putting up with me / You see how these streets they corrupted me,” and ending with “I know that look that you’re giving me / It’s killin’ me softly mentally.”

To be sure, there are songs that are a little more straightforward. The track “Electric Body” is a simple, fun club smash in the making that sees A$AP Rocky and Schoolboy Q continue their streak of impressive collaborations. And the hulking trap anthem “LPFJ2” still retains a visceral energy despite being released months before any other song on the project; a lot of that staying power is no doubt due to the monster Nez & Rio-produced beat, whose crisp, clear synths and 808s carve a distinct place in the relative grit and grime of the rest of A.L.L.A. with the precision of a diamond cutter.


Meanwhile, the album’s immense opener, “Holy Ghost,” (produced by Danger Mouse, who serves as the LP’s executive producer) delves into some pointed social commentary, as Rocky expresses his views on priests who manipulate their congregations into allowing them excessive wealth under the threat of eternal damnation. “Holy smokes, I think my pastor was the only folk / To own the Rollie, Ghost, and Rolls Royce with no Holy Ghost,” he quips. The cathedral-filling gospel hook provided by Joe Fox (a singer-songwriter Rocky discovered) is a particularly nice touch.

The record features plenty of guest vocalists beyond the collaborations already mentioned, but two deserve particular note. First is Lil Wayne, who continues to kill every guest verse he’s done this year with a dizzying thirty-two bars on the “M’$” remix. Tunechi latches onto Rocky’s penchant for schemes heavy with internal rhymes and builds a breathless pattern of his own, dropping some soon-to-be-classic Weezy-isms along the way: “N****s D up, I slide to the right, throw a three up in time / Put a B up, let’s fight, don’t get beat up tonight / Feet up in my European, I ride with my heater inside / Kill you and your dog, then go put on a shirt that says PETA for life.” Wayne’s built himself back up quite a ways from being the kind of MC desperate enough to drop lines like “I had a phone in jail / That’s a cell phone” in hopes that twelve year-olds find them clever; I’m genuinely excited to see what he has in store for Tha Carter V, and that’s not a sentiment I’ve held about a Lil Wayne project in a long, long time.

Pimp C’s feature on the lavishly produced, classically Southern “Wavybone” is also excellent, showing off the exact bravado that’s rightfully earned the late MC his legendary reputation. Considering the fact that Rocky has discussed to no end the impact Southern hip-hop, particularly UGK (and in turn, Pimp C), has had on him, this song serves as A.L.L.A.‘s To Pimp A Butterfly moment — an impossible, yet no less appropriate meeting of the minds between one artist who’s passed and another who has emerged as a product of their legacy. Rocky stunts and brags all over the first verse, then hands it off to Pimp C, who simply picks up where he left off; past, present, triumph, and sadness — all exist in this moment as they do through most of A.L.L.A.‘s running time, and though the track may inspire a million different emotions (perhaps all at once), it’d be difficult indeed to not feel, above all else, impressed.

Oh, and Kanye West shows up on the otherwise great “Jukebox Joints” to deliver another one of his now-signature terrible verses, wasting another one of his free passes on making bad music that every superstar gets a few of. But let’s just move on.

The album is long, consisting of a whopping eighteen tracks. And like most albums that stretch on past the hour mark, At.Long.Last.A$AP has a couple of filler tracks that it could do without. And by a couple, I mean exactly two, though they are unmercifully positioned right next to each other. “Westside Highway” features a nice chorus courtesy of James Fauntleroy, but Danger Mouse’s spacey beat is done in by a poor, absurdly bass-heavy mix, while Rocky’s lyrics about relationship drama retread ground he’s already covered by this point in the album in vastly more interesting ways. “Better Things” has some decent moments as well — Rocky does Drake better than Drake with his crooning at the song’s start, and the beat overall is urgent and infectious. Still, once he starts describing in detail his sex life with ex Rita Ora, it’s hard not to move for the skip button; unless you feed on People Magazine and must know who in Hollywood is sleeping with whom at all times, you’ll probably find these lyrics incredibly boring.

Luckily, the ferocious “M’$” is there to get things back on track in no time. A few tracks later (including “Everyday,” which manages to be great despite its confounding feature list of Mark Ronson, Miguel, and Rod Stewart), we arrive at the album’s final cut, “Back Home.” Even on an album full of excellent instrumentals, the beat Rocky and Thelonius Martin cook up here stands out as the best of them all. A strained, choppy sample of what sounds like a guitar pushes pounding drums and a heavy bass lick like a powerful, leashed dog dragging its owner. Rocky performs two killer verses before handing the reigns to Mos Def, who went by Pretty Flacko long before the A$AP Mob co-founder ever laid claim to the moniker.

Right as Mos Def wraps up his verse, we’re hit with a few seconds of complete silence before an expansive, pitch black beat emerges. And Yams, the A$AP Mob’s de facto leader who passed away in January, soon chimes in to address his movement’s detractors. He ends his shit-talking on an emphatic “A$AP, bitch!” that’s left to ring out for nearly thirty seconds. There’s an uncanniness to this moment that’s not unlike Tupac’s declaration at the end of The Don Killuminati that he’s “ready to go to war,” even though he was murdered two months before the record’s release.

Strange, melancholic moments abound on At.Long.Last.A$AP. Conceptually and sonically Flacko’s latest is a consistently dark, if not downright eerie, project that still leaves plenty of room for the chest-thumping braggodocio we all expect from the young Harlem spitter. The result is a remarkably weird mash-up of emotional appeals that drags you in innumerable different directions, often simultaneously. But wherever the album seems poised to take you, you should be ready to go.

A few months ago, when A$AP Rocky dropped the one-off single, “Multiply,” I remarked on my uncertainty as to whether or not A$AP Rocky was the real deal, both as an MC and an artist overall. Now, I think the answer is obvious.