It’s impossible not to talk about the direction of rap during the decade without mentioning A$AP Yams. Yams’ ability to connect the chasm between New York and the rest of Hip-Hop America relied on a voracious appetite of regional styles that only the Internet could facilitate. His omnivorous consumption dictated his vision for the A$AP Mob and the genre at large. Thus, Yams’ tragic death early in 2015 left a hole not only in the genre but in the position of spirit guide for the Mob. This void in the A$AP universe can be felt on At.Long.Last.A$AP (RCA), the sophomore effort of the Mob’s most visible star, A$AP Rocky.
The hazy cocktail of drug-influenced production that fueled Rocky’s proper debut, Long.Live.A$AP, returns, but it’s mostly not backed by anthemic bass drops or uplifting choirs. Instead, there are gospel-tinged organs and a doubled-down bet on the more smoked out atmospherics of his debut. The album would be considered a eulogy if not for the ghosts that haunt the whole procedure. Both Pimp C and Yams appear before the album clocks out at a little over an hour. The full product is not a wake but a drugged seance.
Despite the attempts to resurrect the dead, it does not possess the same occultist mood as the catacomb thump of A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord. Rocky has always been the pretty boy whose best mode has been his own braggadocio rather than that of his emotive fellow Mob member. That’s why there remain high fashion name drops (“Canal St.”), a casual attempt at singing in a song inspired by a Caligula-like fantasy (“L$D”), and, of course, getting money (“Wavybone”). It’s as if Rocky’s attempt to revive Yams’ spirit is through lighting prayer candles in the same manner as a young Tommy Bunz.
Rocky’s lyrical content on At.Long.Last.A$AP does veer away from his favorite subjects from time to time, refuting a small bit of the criticism that he’s more style than substance. On opener “Holy Ghost,” he throws skepticism towards organized religion by citing “the pastor had the thing for designer glasses” along with “ushers skimming the collection baskets.” There is also more consternation with a “nation that’s divided by gentrification” on “Pharsyde.” “Fine Whine” finds him collaborating with Future and M.I.A for a song that’s self-deprecating and questionable of his place in the here and now. It all suggests that Rocky’s had time to reflect, not only on his friend and business partner’s death, but on the material world that he inhabits.
For every minor stride Rocky hits on At.Long.Last.A$AP in his lyrical ability and dexterity, there’s also an equally notable fumble of corniness.
On “Better Things,” he recounts an experience with Rita Ora that seems more petty than any crime Drake, Future or Wiz Khalifa could commit together after a breakup. The same track also includes a repeated theme about his good looks negating someone’s sexual identity: “I take a dyke chick if she like dick/I kissed the dyke chick and I liked it.” Here, his interpolation of Katy Perry is not clever; it’s just some skeezy guy suggesting that a woman doesn’t know what she wants until she has him. There’s also the occasional boast that seems as dated as a Gateway computer. The most emblematic one is on “Electric Body”: “All I wanna see is green faces/All I wanna count is green numbers/Man, that shit is weird lookin’ like the Matrix”. Goofy lines like that are better suited for Ferg, a guy whose persona is the gothic Fresh Prince to Rocky’s cool, calm Jazzy Jeff. It would also help if these rough ends weren’t further weighed down by an amplification of the woozy, Sleepy Time tea variety of production that helped make Rocky a star.
Before his debut, mixtape tracks like “Peso” and “Purple Swag” were perfect in showcasing an ability for the rapper to play along with Houston screwed up beats while flexing a New York snarl. That aesthetic persists in abundance on this album but to diminishing returns. Most of the songs come complete with their own mini-lean suite, which takes away from the more uptempo numbers. “Max B” – a tribute to one of Hip-Hop’s most known unknowns – holds Rocky back from full-on assault with interpolations of reverberated whispers and a slow burning chorus by Joe Fox that sounds like it was sung through a soup can. What otherwise could have been an exciting moment on an album filled with meandering smoke clouds proves to be nothing but more fog.
One of the few highlights on the album is a Juicy J-produced track entitled “Wavybone”. It’s a trap retread of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s “Heaven and Hell” that features Juicy J and UGK. The track re-imagines RZA at his peak, but if RZA had voices of the South at his disposal. It’s an interesting experiment in much the same way that “1 Train” was a classic NY posse cut that included damn near every one of rap’s then-new Internet weirdos. If there’s anything on the album that suggests Yams’ spirit had a hand in the final cut, it’s this moment.
At.Long.Last.A$AP doesn’t have any ambitions beyond making a slower, more Yams-reverent Long.Live.A$AP. The stakes are really at their highest on the post-Kanye-Paul McCartney collaboration single “Everyday,” which features Mark Ronson, Miguel and Rod Stewart. It’s a track that looks like a complete disaster on paper but functions relatively well for what could’ve been. This may come as a nice surprise to casual fans, but for anyone who has been following Rocky’s ascent, it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s not like his deceased mentor never helped him put square pegs in round holes. It’s that the accomplishment of the same feat now, without Yams, leaves something to be desired.