Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A$AP Rocky - At Long Last A$AP Review

A$AP Rocky is in quite the peculiar place in Hip-Hop. As the restrictive walls dividing genres begin to tumble, artists, especially in Hip-Hop, have openly accepted free range over their product, allowing for a divisive palate to cater to listeners likings. A$AP Rocky, especially with his latest release, AtLongLastA$AP, seems to be the embodiment of it all. During the promotional roll-out for the album Rocky made statements regarding the inspiration, namely, psychedelics and Trip-Hop. Add this to his already expansive base, which includes Southern Rap, Cloud Rap, Bangers, and Boom-Bap, and you're in for an artist who defines style without actually adhering to one. For all that it is, A.L.L.A. is not representative. Without a specific style or sound, Rocky's latest suffers hiccups due to its lack of concentrated focus as the remnants of his tendency to overindulge are clear, starting with its exhausting 18 tracks. In fact, his debut mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, is more concise and singular than this, as A.L.L.A. fairs far better as a collection of tracks, not a succinct mindset. And yet, here we are. Taken in the right context, Rocky's latest presents a litany of enjoyable ear-worms, gratifying for their content simplicity, ripe with production detail.

One thing few can't deny about A$AP continues here; his track record for stellar introductions. As priest hollers crack the fabric of 'Holy Ghost,' with live drums and electric guitars swaying in the background, A.L.L.A. kicks off on its intended religious roots. The topic of 'selling your soul to the devil' immediately arises, as Rocky sends listeners into his radio mainstay regression. A quick trip through A.L.L.A. and you'll fail to see anything as worldwide as 'Goldie' or 'Fucking Problems.' Whether he used the priests' quote to mask his failure to match previous success, or to accept his transformation into a radio adversary remains to be seen. With two lead singles, 'L$D' and 'Everyday,' supporting a nearly drum less background and a Rod Stewart sample respectively, it's clear why his music may reside just beneath the radio surface. Just glance at iTunes. As of this writing (5/27/15), L$D is #41, Everyday is #99, and yet the album resides atop the totem pole. The appeal for Rocky's style is clear, the need for those all-encompassing catchy necessities is not. This isn't to say A.L.L.A. is devoid of bangers though, littered throughout are sensationalized joints, emphasizing bass whilst downplaying subtitles, 'JD,' 'Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2' and 'M'$' are just some examples of these.

Riding through the casualty of 'Holy Ghost' I, foolishly, got my hopes up to an improved Rocky lyrically and conceptually. Nothing from that point on comes remotely close to the intro's centralized look at capitalized religion and selling out. In fact, many tracks here needlessly, I suppose in typical Rocky fashion, contradict his initial messages. If he isn't talking about pussy, money, or weed he's spouting verbosity to maximize flow appeal. There's entire songs here, like 'Canal St.' and 'Max B,' that live off this banality, satisfied with their regurgitated braggadocios nature. While I never expected more from Rocky, hearing 'Holy Ghost's' concentrated focus showed me that he's capable. This brings me to A.L.L.A's features, entirely representative of the tracks themselves. Rocky takes a distinct turn in his feature selection, going from the new age stars of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Big K.R.I.T. to old school heroes like Kanye West, Mos Def, and Lil Wayne. In all cases, the production falls flawlessly in line with the artist's sound. 'Wavybone' with Pimp C, Bun B, and Juicy J is highly reminiscent of the southern roots in which they rose, while 'Back Home' sees a welcomed Mos Def verse tear through a beat influenced strongly by Black Star.

On the other side, while 'Jukebox Joints' poses itself stylistically towards Kanye his verse is one of the worst of the year, coming off like an off-the-top freestyle from someone who can't rap. Elsewhere, M.I.A. and Bones are severely underrepresented on their tracks, missing opportunities to include artists who care to be fierce. Once again though, in both these songs and others, Rocky's production is near top notch, only faulting in its substantial length. The influences are palpable and fulfilled, with minor instrumentation changes taken from Trip-Hop and Psychedelic Rock. Songs like 'L$D' and 'Pharcyde' help elevate Rocky's chill side to extreme levels. The former is one of the best tracks off A.L.L.A., progressing with a pace unmatched in the rest of Rocky's catalogue where, even his singing falls in line with the songs evolution. 'Dreams' too uses a minimalistic beat to echo through its chambers, making it one of the best on the album. In fact, nearly every beat here is enjoyable in some facet, largely because of how often beat switches happen. The switches though work against Rocky's intended use, as they appear ad nauseam throughout the record, limiting each track's identity.

Possibly the biggest problem of A.L.L.A. resides in its excess, a classic example of quantity over quality in where a strict diet would have faired much better. With the totality on hand here there's bound to be filler. Tracks like 'West Side Highway' and 'Better Things' are as mundane and unimpressive as they get, entirely forgettable when throwing out a multitude of tracks like this. Another issue with A.L.L.A. that contradicts Rocky's previous affair is the narrowness of the tracks, i.e. the distancing between excellent tracks and subpar ones on LongLiveA$AP were much greater. Nothing here is as good as the title track or '1 Train,' but nothing is as bad as 'Pain' or 'Hell.' As shuffle-worthy an artist A$AP is it may hinder A.L.L.A's replay value with nothing to stand out. Regardless of the inherent pitfalls the album has, A.L.L.A. still shows a sonic evolution for Rocky, despite a partial lacking in improvement. The samples are more engrained in the sound, the scope is grander, the features complementary, but the output remains your classic Rocky; songs that are easily mimicked lyrically, audibly digestible, whilst head nodding to the bass riding in your car. 

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