There’s a contrived path to walk if you’re a contemporary performer wanting renewed credibility, and if you follow this recipe step-by-step, you may just become a pop-culture phenomenon. It all starts when an Artist shows creativity and uniqueness mixed with a bit of immaturity, and this gets them a little buzz in the underground and they make a little bit of money. After realising there’s a potential for selling to more people (and therefore making more green) they then completely sell-out for their second LP by making a few watered-down songs, and this in turn brings them even more cash. With their pockets full, they take a short sabbatical, they then denounce their selling-out and pop-up back on the scene all “grown” and more “mature”. It seems that A$AP Rocky has followed this method almost to the letter, and to the uninitiated, his latest album “At.Long.Last.A$AP” seems different to his last; it’s darker, more introspective, more personal… but look past this façade and you’ll realise that this change of pace is an exercise in distraction.
Kendrick Lamar recently fucked around and made a Funk-infused, cloaked Hip-Pop album, and because of that “unexpected” LP, everybody forgot about “Swimming Pools”. The album even got heavily overrated by every critic and their mother, so why not follow in Lamar’s footsteps and do the same thing with Soul and Folk music? At.Long.Last.A$AP is therefore, heaving with soul-ish, folk-esque, singing hooks, and fake-depressed sounds, all blended together to place A$AP Rocky at the “cultured” stage of his career.
We all get that Rocky is mourning the death of A$AP Yams (despite conspiracy theorists online saying the death of A$AP Yams was a blood sacrifice) but sounding depressed seems to me, like an aesthetic-afterthought for this album. Listen to it more than once, ignore the artwork, and it becomes obvious that this gloomy sound isn’t “growth” or “evolution”, it’s a clever disguise for a Rapper who faced a backlash for bringing corny Trap to the Middle-classes. Hey, let’s try to detract from the Dubstep, the GQ photoshoot, the Been Trill and the Pyrex Vision, look everyone, ASAP Rocky is different, he’s mature, he’s all grown-up.
To hit this point home, the opening track on the album (“Holy Ghost”) features some guitar twangs and some soulful singing during the chorus, Rocky even sings himself on “L$D”, and he even tinkers on a piano for “Dreams (Interlude)”. He’s even picked up a wannabe Bob Dylan busker like some rent-boy on the streets of London, and now Joe Fox features on five frigging songs! My oh my, this really is an original and refined sound… not.
For fans of Live.Love.A$AP, unfortunately there’s no Clams Casino on this album but there are a swath of other Producers trying to emulate his sound. There’s a lot of singing (and I mean a lot of singing) but while A$AP Rocky tries to be credible, referencing Cypress Hill and the like, he also name-drops Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry in his lyrics, he’s got a fucked-up lyric about Rita Ora, there’s Future on one of the songs, Kanye West on another, and there’s even a skit featuring James fucking Franco. Is all that shit real Hip-Hop? Not by any stretch of the imagination. There’s also the corny-as-fuck, Rod Stewart-sampling, Mark Ronson creation which sounds like something Eminem made in the early noughties, so for every step forward there seems to be two steps back.
Tracks like “Wavybone” do feature a nice soulful chorus, but the overall sentiment of the song ruins what it could potentially have been. In fact everywhere you turn there’s some wannabe-meaningful singing, but any cynic can see past this bullshit ingredient. Emotional or emotive singing is just the modern version of an auto-tuned chorus, it’s put there to appeal to the mainstream, and in a world of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, where everybody wishes they were a modern equivalent of Tracy Chapman or Joan Armatrading, this contemporary faux-Folk-slash-Soul begins to feel calculated, especially on a Hip-Hop album.
To be fair, A.L.L.A. is an okay listen (if I reviewed it on whatwentrightwith.com I’d have given it a 6/10) and tracks like “Back Home” showcases a better flow from Rocky than his usual, go-to, Trap delivery. There’s also an unexpectedly clever lyric about a musician-slash-slave owning his Masters in “Holy Ghost”…
The game is full of slaves and they mostly rappers
You sold your soul first, then your homies after
Let’s show these stupid field niggas they could own they masters
…But then again even this lyric is flawed; surely he meant “stupid house niggas”? If “field niggas” are so stupid, then what does that make Rocky… a “house nigga”, and which one is worse? A modern-day “slave” working hard in the “field” or a modern-day “slave” being accepted by their Record Company overseer?
It has to be said the album blends together pretty well, but that itself does become a problem; the songs blend together so much that there’s no replay value or any real stand-out track. And ironically for a supposed “dark” and “grown-up” album it’s the Hip-Pop-ish tracks like “Canal St.”, “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)” and “M’$” that are the memorable ones. Actually, that’s the other thing wrong with this album, there’s the aforementioned bleak-ish soundscape and the radio-friendly singing (which appeals to the mainstream) and then there’s the characteristic A$AP Mob sound (because we wouldn’t want to alienate his Trap fanboys). Together this flip-flopping results in a bit of a schizo feel to the album which could be interpreted as Rocky trying to satisfy everybody, but then again maybe this catering to all tastes is apt since the album cover depicts a two-faced A$AP Rocky… or maybe this photograph means something else entirely?
Most critics out there are already overrating this LP, and that isn’t surprising. After all the mainstream media’s effort in creating a poster boy for “credible” youth-oriented, product placement and marketing over the past few years, I guess they’re gonna milk their ca$h cow for as much as they can. But don’t be fooled into thinking this album is in any way sophisticated, it’s just wearing better camouflage.
At.Long.Last: Audience, Stardom, And Popularity