I was sitting across from my grandmother when A$AP Rocky’s At. Long. Last. ASAP album leaked onto the internet, quickly followed by an official surprise release. We were watching a re-run of Golden State vs The Houston Rockets and I was trying to convince her that Steph Curry is a robot created to dominate the National Basketball Association. Between plays I caught her staring intensely at his back, trying to see any wires or a possible battery pack. As I press play on Rocky’s highly-anticipated sophomore effort, I’m filled with a similar thought, that this is the album that could signify Rocky’s domination in hip-hop, his Curry in the 2015 playoffs moment. If it stands up to the standards of the previously released projects that have emerged in 2015, it will be impossible to deny Pretty Flacko.
Per "1 Listen Review" rules, I'll be listening and writing in the moment with no pausing or rewinding, just my gut reaction thoughts as I listen to the album for the first time. [Read this if you want the full 1 Listen concept explained.] Let's do this.
"Holy Ghost" ft. Joe Fox
A deep, excited voice greets the ears. He sounds like a turnt up Pastor (no Troy). Next, I'm greeted by a strumming guitar, a new element that isn’t associated with the A$AP sound. The rapper finally appears, he sounds good, there’s some depth here, speaking on the Church and shady pastors. I’m loving the production, it’s full, very opulent. Loving the hook, the vocalist has soul. This must be Joe Fox that appears heavily on the album. A strong introduction, I'm in.
"Canal St" ft. Bones
Minimalistic production, piano driven, progressively becoming more glossy. Rocky’s flow hasn’t been updated to the latest iOS, he’s still in the same comfort zone, but he sounds good. The song is okay, it lacks the punch of the intro, feels like what will one day be considered “Vintage Rocky.” Maybe it would help if I cared at all about fashion.
"Fine Whine" ft. Future, Joe Fox & M.I.A.
Clams Casino production! This was one of my most anticipated collaborations when I saw the tracklist. Very psychedelic-esque, druggy, would catalog this as Acid Rap. Slowed down vocals over Clam’s signature moody sound. Holy shit the drums just dropped, it sounds like a thousand galloping horses. Future just appeared like a wild lean drinking Pikachu electrifying the track with his presence. And....it just returned back to its previous form. I’m hoping it returns to Super Saiyan. I guess not. Well...damn then. Almost.
I’m still recovering from the previous track, but the bassline is bringing me back into the present. I remember when the music video was released, I enjoyed the visuals more than Rocky’s singing. I do commend him for setting a mood that’s like tripping on shrooms while running through Paris with women wearing clothes I can’t pronounce. His sound has entered into a new realm, this song feels like the longest thus far. There isn’t any rapping, but rapping would’ve killed the atmosphere. This song looks better than it sounds.
Back to the bars but A$AP hasn’t elevated the subject matter, he's still engulfed in women, weed and woes. Woes as in emotional struggles, not as in Drake references. I’ll admit, he has a charisma that makes him entertaining. There’s a few lines, but I’m leaning toward the skip button with "Excuse Me." Wish I had more to write about, but just not getting sparked by this. Great A Tribe Called Quest reference though.
Another rap effort that is cool, strongly due to the production, seems like a small interlude that’s going to transition into something bigger. We'll see what happens on the next track, on its own there's just not much reason for "JD."
"Lord Pretty Flacko Joyde 2"
"JD" ends with a Lord Pretty Flacko Joyde reference, small example of the album sequencing I wrote about. If I remember correctly, this is the song that started A$AP’s resurgence. Also it's one of the best examples of how his bold charisma over boisterous production is his winning element. A short one but very effective. This is caffeine injected into your ear canal. I’m awake again.
"Electric Body" ft. ScHoolboy Q
Ever since “Brand New Guys” ScHoolboy and Rocky haven’t had a single disappointing collaboration. This song has a weird contrast, the verses are very hard, dirty, but the hook and production switch up to something perfect for the booty clubs. There’s a dozen rappers in Atlanta that wish they could have such an infectious hook, I don’t know if this is for hole in the wall rap concerts or Magic City. The breakdown at the end is another random switch, back on the drugs. I must say, I don’t know what just happened. More listens and I might love this...or completely forget about it. Need more time.
"Jukebox Joints" ft. Joe Fox & Kanye West
Soulful. Rocky is rapping but honestly, I’m awaiting the Kanye feature, Yeezus over a soul sample in 2015 is all I want in this life of mine. I like this, very smooth, one of Rocky’s strongest performances thus far. Not very fond of the hook, he just doesn’t have the vocal prowess to truly sell his hooks. Holy crap, another incredible production switch. Still soulful, even more than the previous instrumental. Kanye has entered the building! I’m currently levitating. Another production transition, Kanye sounds hungry, is old Kanye back from the depths of Kardashian hell?
"Max B" ft. Joe Fox
Free Max B! Rocky’s production alone gives this album more replay value than his previous effort. This is a highlight, Clams Casino delivered a monster, and these verses are full of vigor. A lot of transitions, seamless, all the samples must have been a hassle to clear. A current contender for my favorite track thus far, this is exactly the kind of trippy-meet-hard rap that only Rocky can really do.
"Pharsyde" ft. Joe Fox
An introduction that sounds very rock influenced, never would’ve expected this to be an A$AP Rocky track. Descriptive lyricism, reflective, you can hear his effort. I don’t know if I’m entirely sold on the production, he might have leaned too far left. Joe Fox is proving to be an interesting companion. Has a completely unknown artist ever had this much influence on a major album? Also, shout out to the Pharcyde. Can't keep running away.
"Wavybone" ft. Juicy J & UGK
Loving this, it’s straight up hip-hop, some of that real soul we got a taste of on "Jukebox." Ah, Pimp C, Sweet Jones, another rapper that had an undeniable charisma. A$AP Rocky has songs with Kanye West and UGK, he’s come a long way. I’ve noticed the highlights have been tremendous, this is certainly a highlight. Completely overshadowing the small shortcomings. Bun B closing out the strong posse cut, the Trill OG hasn’t changed a bit. More of this please.
"Westside Highway" ft. James Fauntleroy
Interesting, this one has grabbed my attention in a very subtle way. The first song that actually sounded like it had crossover appeal, seems like it's mostly about mood. James Fauntleroy delivered, he always does. Kind of a strange transition after "Wavybone," let's see how it moves into the next track.
Another record that I’ll have to revisit, it's intriguing, you kind of get sucked into the ambiance. So much of this album is about ambiance. Oh, this is the song with the crude lyrics toward Rita Ora. I’ve seen a bit of backlash over the comment. Again I’ll have to revisit this one. Didn’t love it, but I don’t loathe it.
"M'$'" ft. Lil Wayne
Wayne with the Yams shout out. The album tends to transition from feeling like cominb down from a drug binge to feeling like Rocky just hit the lottery. This is a banger, you might remember Rocky’s verse from the "L$D" video. A$AP Rocky has resurrected old Wayne and has him spitting like a madman. Where is the Free Wayne album!? If this is any indication of Weezy's forthcoming efforts I’ll PayPal him $10 today. Keeper. This album's bangers have really banged. You ain't got no Flocko in your Serrato?
We once again return to druggy Rocky. He sounds like he’s in a trance. The production has this eerie element to it and, ah, that ended too soon.
"Everyday" ft. Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson
Another soulful sound, Rocky’s style fits very well on this. Another keeper, loving the vibe. Oh man, another random transition. We went from heaven to a warzone, I have to admit, I love the surprise element. There’s no telling what will happen next. Yet everything is fluid. Every curveball seemed well timed. Very impressive
"Back Home" ft. Mos Def, Acyde & A$AP Yams
The grand finale. I’m not in love with the production, but Rocky is rapping like he wants to go out with the biggest of bangs. Ha, he called Mos Def Pretty Flacko Sr. [Editor's Note: Mos really did use the name first.] I don’t remember the last time I heard a new verse from Mos. That began and ended incredibly swiftly. Only fitting that Yam$ would close out the album with a Diddy-esque rant. R.I.P.
Did Rocky deliver? Will this album jump him into the elite hip-hop circle he's been just short of until now? That's the question that was running through my head as the songs would start and end. I was searching for the undeniable magic moment that would transcend him to the next plateau in his career. Sonically, he sought to create a unique experience and that was accomplished. The production is diverse and intricate, the many unexpected switches and transitions adds a level of flair that dispels any dullness. It’ll only take one listen to realize he’s broadened his soundscape.
Yet, the new foundation has been tweaked to fit his rap style, most of the album he feels at home, the braggadocios swagger that he entered the industry with is still his calling card. There seems to be a bit more substance scattered about but nothing that is overly thought provoking. He isn’t going to give us an album of lyrical miracles, but, he did deliver what sounds like his strongest most progressive project yet. I’m eager to revisit, really dig into the album, there’s plenty of highlights, incredible features, and good music. It might fall short of classic acclaim but still good enough to leave the fans and a few critics rejoicing. The album should come with a disclaimer, you might get a sudden urge to do drugs with Makonnen. Maybe that’s just me.
[By Yoh, aka A$AP As Soon As Possible, aka @Yoh31]