In a year that has already spewed out an arsenal of albums from artists including Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt, and Drake, and with more highly anticipated releases set to come, 2015 has already become one of the most productive years for hip-hop in recent times. The latest surprise addition to that armoury of heavyweight offerings is A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP (A.L.L.A), the second studio album for the rapper come luxury fashion enthusiast.
The A$AP mob figurehead, who two years ago swore to take to ‘conscious’ rappers with his machine gun, endeavours to summon substantial statements from the muddy haze of this colossal 18-track marathon, starting with Holy Ghost’s self-acknowledgement, and condemnation, of corrupt and egotistical soul selling in the search for material success. In Canal St. he makes the audacious declaration that “Your favourite rappers’ corpses couldn’t measure my importance” and offers a sexually explicit Rita Ora diss on Better Things.
Elsewhere, A.L.L.A offers the disorientating introspection you would expect from an extended drug-induced trip, partly triggered by the death of A$AP Yams, a friend instrumental to Rocky’s success. L$D is a cloudy ode to the proverbial rabbit hole; a tapestry of shimmering guitar licks and sluggish bass sewn together by Pretty Flacko’s lethargic, and at times beautiful, singing voice.
This stronger melodic focus forms only part of the LP’s eclectic musical palette as A$AP Rocky becomes the latest in the new wave of young rappers piloting the palpable stylistic progression and musical growth of the genre. In the Rod Stwart-sampling Everyday he delivers organ-driven blues rock, while Jukebox Joints indulges in stratospheric soul, under the instantly recognisable thumb of Kanye West.
A.L.L.A is a carefully curated work that suffers as much as it benefits, however, from the myriad producers and collaborators. The impressive line-up of guest spots, which includes Kanye, Lil’ Wayne, Miguel, Mos Def, M.I.A and Future among countless other artists and producers (the executives were Danger Mouse, A$AP Yams and Rocky himself), needed a single, stronger navigator to reel in the hour-long epic. With five features, London street busker Joe Fox, for example, transforms from endearing rags-to-riches protégé to a hard-to-listen-to distraction, particularly on Max B. The otherwise uncompromising, banging tribute to the New York hip-hop legend, fuelled by an immortal Bob James sample is frustratingly interrupted by Fox’s increasingly irritating wails.