Pleasure is paramount on A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP

Realistically, if we think about impact and influence on a global scale, there are two figures in mainstream hip hop whose forays into fashion are impactful enough to label legitimate: Kanye West and A$AP Rocky. Between them they’ve managed to integrate a keen and sophisticated fashion sense into their respective personas that compliments their musical output, inspiring countless imitators. There is a fundamental difference between the two, however, a point which, when considered, also helps us understand their music and ideas much clearer in context.

Kanye West is interested in the construction of clothing and its cultural impact. All one has to do is hear him talk about his recent collaboration with Adidas and you can clearly hear the passion he has for positive change and the means by which he believes he can achieve it. A$AP Rocky on the other hand appears more fond of the aesthetic properties of the clothes with which he adorns his body, and while he is highly skilled at choosing his garments, his vision rarely extends beyond the superficial. Both care deeply about fashion, yet both have differing attitudes and approaches to its usage and implementation. If hip hop music today is more about curation than content than it makes sense that both of these artists hold a stature above most others; they’re both highly skilled at crafting a desirable image through their multi-platform mediums.

But the difference between the two is crucial, a point that is clearly displayed on A$AP Rocky’s newest record At.Long.Last.A$AP, an album that proves that selection and collaboration is only half the battle. Originality is of utmost importance, and while Kanye’s voice and vision clearly and powerfully shine through his curatorial process, A$AP Rocky’s appears scattershot, decadent and meandering.

As a summation of Rocky’s persona and ideals, At.Long.Last.A$AP gives in to surface pleasures and druggy indulgences much more than it should, and therefore exposes A$AP Rocky’s great flaw as a cultural mover and shaker. Keeping this in mind, it would be wrong to deny Rocky the props he deserves for his aesthetic eye/ear. Even though most of At.Long.Last.A$AP fails to streamline its intentions into a powerful, focused vision, there is much to admire when studying the album on a micro level.

Rocky has publicly claimed that his newest is more informed by drugs than ever before, particularly hallucinogenic drugs, and the results are as rewarding and distracting as an altered state gets. If pleasure is paramount, then much of At.Long.Last.A$AP should be considered a success. The record sits at the cusp of cloud rap’s dominance of mainstream trends, with its sounds highly focused on the haptic rather than the heady. One struggles to fault Rocky’s exploratory impulses here, with his attempts to source sounds outside of his cloud rap comfort zone resulting in experiments with EDM, psychedelic rock and even pop.

“Excuse Me” for instance is one of the most gloriously indulgent and dreamy beats laid down by a mainstream rap star in quite some time and Rocky responds in suit, invigorated by grandeur he delivers his best bars on the whole album (with a Tribe reference to boot). “Canal St.” lies firmly in the camp of New Atlanta minimalism but instead of the rough, DIY sounds of that localized collective it sparkles in HD like a major label rap record should. On the other end of the spectrum, “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2” is all extravagance all the time, with its wailing sirens commanding the body to pulsate and ripple out onto the first available dance floor. There are other examples of Rocky widening the sound scope across the entire record, with some more successful than others, but ultimately he must be commended for his attempts, even when they fail.

That doesn’t mean that they should necessarily be forgiven, however, as their collection together on a single disc (or ZIP file…) results in an intensely unfocused listen. A byproduct of drug abuse and misguided confidence, At.Long.Last.A$AP suffers from a lack of anchored ideas on more than one occasion. From song to song the album often fails to balance itself, but even within specific songs themselves Rocky just can’t seem to sit still.

Heralded as a keen purveyor of the “beat switch”, a point in any song whereby the beat stops dead in its tracks and is replaced by another, the examples that appear on At.Long.Last.A$AP are more frustrating than innovative and seem more a byproduct of a short, fried attention span rather than an artistic pursuit. Unlike someone like Lil Ugly Mane who uses the beat switch as an astute, effective commentary on the politics of sampling, Rocky switches up his beat for aesthetics alone, and as often as he can, to their point where its impact is nullified. Tracks such as “Fine Whine”, “Electric Body”, “Jukebox Joints” and “Max B” suffer immensely from their abrupt change in tone and timbre.

But perhaps the most baffling choice is Rocky’s (over)use of one Joe Fox, who appears on five of the album’s tracks. Literally a street busker who A$AP Rocky picked up off the streets of London, Joe Fox is the album’s most obviously stoned decision, a slip in judgment while in an altered state. More Bruno Mars than Frank Ocean, Joe Fox’s contributions disrupt the songs almost every time, except perhaps for his appearance on the album’s opener “Holy Ghost”, although the results are far from spectacular.

Other guest spots on At.Long.Last.A$AP are also frequently underused, proving that it’s the sonic elements of this record that reign supreme, and that’s including Rocky’s vocal role. Kayne’s verse on “Jukebox Joints” is so overtly phoned in that it’s painful, especially considering how much Rocky might have paid for such an appearance. M.I.A. and Future together sounds promising on paper, but their 20 second moments on “Fine Whine” are astoundingly superficial, a quality that might work for Future, but for M.I.A. just comes off as embarrassing. Mos Def’s appearance on the album’s closer “Back Home” is frustratingly short, with his usually provocative, socially conscious rhymes dampened for context. The real star of the guest spots is Lil Wayne on “M’$”, as he delivers the most energised, clever and hilariously devilish of the entire record. Free Wayne.

Unfortunately for A$AP, At.Long.Last.A$AP isn’t the culture-defining record he promised and we (sort of) hoped for. Most of that has to do with Rocky’s persona itself, which, if we think about it, is the byproduct of curation, having been raised and shaped in the late A$AP Yams’ own vision. It appears then that without Yams’ guiding hand Rocky can’t help but flail, trying on as many different suits as he can in an effort to expand his cultural presence and impact. Perhaps then we should consider At.Long.Last.A$AP a stepping-stone for Rocky, the metaphorical ashes from which a Yams-less phoenix will one day rise. Unfortunately however, considering the evidence presented, it feels like we may have already reached peak A$AP instead.

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