A$AP Rocky has made a career for himself by defying expectations. The pretty muthafucka reppin’ Harlem heavy has always resisted the patented sound of his New York City hometown in favor of trippier, more Southern-inspired beats and melodies, leading some to accuse him of rejecting the East Coast by embracing outside influences. And rather than stick to the genre that built him into a leader of the new school of hip-hop, Rocky eschewed the music game for much of the past two years as he rode his fashion buzz to international celebrity status. But on his long-awaited sophomore album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, Rocky flips the script again on anyone trying to wrap him up neatly into a box.
At first listen, the LP sounds nothing like a rap album in 2015 would typically sound; Rocky crafted together his own team of advisors and producers—artists like Danger Mouse, Juicy J, Joe Fox and his in-house engineer Hector Delgado—to pour in the psychedelia. Album opener “Holy Ghost” sets the tone with a cut that might sound more at home on a late-1970s British Invasion acid-pop record, but its dark tones (supported by the second cut “Canal St.”) and dripping, trippy vibe mean that his lean-soaked hallmark hasn’t been totally left behind. Instead, he leaves behind the high-profile radio bait of a “Fuckin’ Problems”-type track for sounds like “Fine Whine”—an absolutely perfect vehicle for the brooding, 2015 version of Future’s career—and “Max B,” which keeps things, at least lyrically, rooted in New York.
At.Long.Last.A$AP is self-referential in ways that make it fun to pick apart rather than boring in any way. After two great tracks on their previous projects, ScHoolboy Q returns to revisit the two MCs’ chemistry, while “LPFJ2″ goes back even further to his “Pretty Flacko” single from 2012. But it’s in his new collaborations that this A$AP Rocky album really shines. Joe Fox is all over the place on this project and serves as the understated complement to Rocky’s brooding rhymes. Kanye West’s spot on “Jukebox Joints” is instantly memorable for its infectiousness, while getting a Lil Wayne verse on “M’$” was an inspired choice. But it’s “Wavybone” featuring Juicy J, Bun B and an unearthed Pimp C verse that feels like the apex of everything that Rocky’s tried to do over his career. Both lyrically and sonically, it’s hard to point to two more influential artists for the Harlem rhymer than UGK and Three 6 Mafia, so to have Bun and Pimp reunited over a Juice Man beat feels like a triumph. That song on loop will remain in rotation.
The album wraps up with “Back Home” and an outro from A$AP Yams, Rocky’s fallen friend who died earlier this year. It’s a poignant reminder that even though this album stretches the limits of the musical landscape, Rocky’s thoughts continue to return to where he came from. Regionalism in hip-hop has often proved limiting for artists; A$AP Rocky has always broken that mould. On At.Long.Last.A$AP., he takes a creative risk and lets the fans reap the rewards. At long last. —Dan Rys