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Review: A$AP Rocky Stays Too High to Die on ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: May 25, 2015
Label: RCA

There are a whole lotta cooks in A$AP Rocky’s kitchen: five executive producers (including himself), plus a couple handfuls of other producers. So the fact that At.Long.Last.A$AP is so unmistakably streaked, chopped, screwed, swirled, and stamped with Rocky’s own personal aesthetic is impressive.

Then again, they’re following a proven recipe. Some spooky Three 6 Mafia sparseness here, a shock of hyperactive electronic music there. Sprinkle a bit of shimmery psychedelia over the whole damn thing, then slather on Rocky’s self-assured, effortless flow (which is in better shape than ever, probably because he plays with it so often — one minute, he’s bobbing on the beat; the next, he’s lullabying a chorus). Voila.

Rocky — or perhaps more accurately A$AP Yams, his recently deceased friend and guru whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the rapper’s ascent and career was inspired, if not genius — is really good at this, cherry-picking teams who help progress his sound while also retain its essence.

But everybody needs an editor, and with all of those executive producers, you’d think one would’ve snipped the tracks that make A.L.L.A. seem overlong. Kanye grounds this gloriously hazy, opiate-fueled trip right in the middle with “Jukebox Joints,” and not even Rocky’s soothing crooning can send it swinging again. Awash in golden-era energy, “Back Home,” (the New York City ode/“1 Train” of A.L.L.A.), feels dated once the beat to “Dream” re-emerges and a posthumous Yams begins his outro. “Wavybone,” this album’s “Houston Old Head,” is an instant cruising classic, but followed by the sleek “Westside Highway,” that candy-painted Caddy seems like a clunker.

Brush those lowlights aside and what remains is a glossy, surprising album, albeit one without the obvious radio hits of 2013’s studio debut Long.Live.A$AP. Rocky has always brimmed with fashion-crowd charisma, and on A.L.L.A., his life seems impossibly glamorous even when he’s blurry-eyed and dissing Rita Ora.

Clearly, it’s also a druggy album, and the highs are high — noticeably on “L$D,” whose stunning production turns from submerged to soaring, the jiggy “Excuse Me,” and the sexy, aforementioned “Westside Highway,” which has A.L.L.A.’s only hummable hook. Despite those peaks, the overall tone is more despondent. After all, this album was recorded during a year of rampant police brutality and completed in the shadow of Yams’ death. No wonder Rocky’s high all the time.

If you ride that Max B wave (update “All My Life” with a tweak or two and it would fit in here just fine), you can float on Rocky’s waterbed. Yet he’s getting weird and dabbling in ‘70s rock (the freewheeling “Holy Ghost,” the appearance of Rod fucking Stewart on “Everyday”), which makes one think he might drift away from rap-druggy beats to rock-druggy ones. Considering this might be his own Tonight’s the Night-style elegy for A$AP Yams, he may well tap Neil Young the next time out. That guy knows something about drugs — and loss.