A$AP Rocky At.Long.Last.A$AP

[RCA; 2015]

Styles: East Coast hip-hop, seduction theory, trap rap, awkward neo-soul
Others: A$AP Mob, ScHoolboy Q, Drake, early Lupe Fiasco

Although A$AP Rocky has tried to avoid referencing brands for fear of an onslaught of “fuccbois” copping his style, he didn’t do so well in name-checking designers on A.L.L.A.: Cartier. Rick Owens. Raf Simons Stan Smith. Jeremy Scott. Hermès. Audemars. Issey Miyake. Kanye West. M.I.A. Future. A$AP. The wearability of music is nothing to be ashamed of; hell, it makes a lot of sense given the performer’s curse dreamt up by the demands of the 20th century — a pop tide that engulfed otherwise disparate music. While we all occasionally “wear” music to slip into character — to feel larger, different, powerful — popular music, and popular hip-hop, often outwear their own iconography to the extent of the creation of static idolatry, where the clothes just aren’t working to capture what you’re going for. I mean, in 2015 what are you wearing? Do you drop $600 on a Margiela shirt? Do you drop $400 on a sheet of acid?

Rocky and his whole crew grew to popularity by expanding upon this wearability of music. He has a look that’s just magnetic. Call it “baby-face,” call it “the look” — he’s got a handsomeness that captures both the roughness of a Harlem upbringing and marble fashion runways through his iridescent hood-by-sartorialist chic. It’s true that his music often commands a sense of atmosphere that can cloud an otherwise ugly room in a glorious purple — a fluorescent smoke — similar to how you might adorn your feeble body in the charged, magnificent garments of the world. We can approach the bold, emblazoned, futurist branding that is vogue in 2015 as being a sort of evolving piece of science-fiction in the market of desire — the desire being the simple human demand for appearance and leisure in a police state. Interestingly enough, A$AP’s virtuosic understanding of dressing himself in these charged garments sees to a beautiful escape from harsher realities: escapism never seemed more enticing, more glamorous, more good looking. As such, his flirtation with psychedelics throughout At.Long.Last.A$AP continually emphasizes escape through the visualization of the alter — metaphysical, capitalistic, or otherwise.

At the start, there’s a palpable magnetism surrounding At.Long.Last.A$AP that’s a product of Rocky’s undeniable attractiveness; his personality demands attention, and it contains a nonchalant ambition that can speak candidly about great struggles despite often shrugging them off. Whereas his generational peers — Kendrick and Drake, specifically — have taken to making directly psychedelic protest music or the complete ownership of self-mythologization, Rocky’s chosen the path of simple tastemaking. Although his new record, and perhaps even elements of high fashion altogether, can be seen as simple sedatives to un-ignorable American cultural/political issues, it can and should be argued that the desire for appearance as a grand icon — the model, the image, the desired — walks in stride with our upbringing in an often orphaned American dream. As Rihanna says on “American Oxygen”: “We sweat for a nickel and a dime, turn it into an empire.”

So, we have At.Long.Last.A$AP, a record that doesn’t shirk away from the ambition of the big, behemoth, classic hip-hop record. At 18 tracks, it sweats out ambition. Yet Rocky chooses to forgo elements of that very aspiration altogether through a careful attention paid to not taking himself too seriously, a feature that serves to be one of record’s few saving graces. This can be seen in the inclusion of huge, big-budget features (Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Future, M.I.A.) seemingly disrupted by the inclusion of a random street performer, Joe Fox, idly contributing a totally un-interesting, extremely normal voice throughout the album. His randomly inserted acoustic guitar strumming perhaps serves to humbly foil similar efforts to include McCartney’s intrusive, loaded strumming throughout Kanye’s new cuts. Whatever, right? At most, At.Long.Last.A$AP conjures a weird Coachella vibe, where psychedelics and casual misogyny (such as his despicable slut shaming of Rita Orta) are correlated to certain fashion brands with Instagrammable laxity, where the dude brags about chill after-party orgies spurred on by Makonnen’s acid pushing, where cheeky soul samples mix awkwardly with inflated swag beats nearly dead with their own weight. Rod Stewart headlines on the main stage; there’s a fedora-clad guy vaguely present in the background offering some banal commentary; there are expensive clothes everywhere. The psychedelic atmosphere is obviously not musical, where the vision of mental freedom is captured by something transcendently weird; rather, the record merely references the act of taking the drugs; as Rocky says, “I introduce her to this hippy life.” “LSD” is the most difficult application of this, nearly coming off as some kind of disturbing, early MGMT track.

Despite Rocky’s claims that he’s driving in his own lane, each track seems to in some manner nod at the highly aestheticized work of his peers. My favorite tracks, “Canal St.,” “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2,” and “Electric Body” are essentially Drake beats, with the latter containing a hook with the vocal modulation of a sedated Kendrick. With that said, there are some strong features strung throughout: ScHoolboy Q’s verse is particularly solid; Wayne gives the best late-career performance; Kanye does his… thing (?); and oddly enough, there is a strange emotionalism within the duet between M.I.A. and Future on “Fine Whine,” even though the driving point is a laughable repetition of “Tell your new bitch she can suck a dick.” Perhaps Rocky’s magnetism functions as a mechanism for our collective sedation through his carefree mediocrity. Perhaps it’s just some music, plain and simple. The mythology being pushed throughout At.Long.Last.A$AP consistently recognizes coming to terms with chill self-deprecation, that escapism, where even the death of the album’s executive producer, A$AP Yams, isn’t mentioned obliquely, but kept as a tense fact until the album’s final moments, where Yams reacts to the very culture Rocky seems to be “curating” throughout the record. He states: “We from Harlem, we gave y’all motherfucker this wave/ Grab y’all surfboards, cause y’all got your boogie boards right now, fucker/ Ya’ll just gon’ keep watching us at the beach show with your motherfuckin’ khakis rolled up.”

This all somehow combines to be more than the sum of its parts. The attempt here speaks to a particular generational laissez faire that’s romantic, albeit occasionally irresponsible — not in the parental wagging-a-finger sense, but in regards to misplaced ambition. At the very least, it’s important for Rocky to at least recognize that his project is referential, as are the majority of curatorial gestures in general, and that the artist does well to recognize the insubstantiality of the gesture in the first place as a means to create more versatile, perhaps even more visionary art. Hell, there are moments when At.Long.Last.A$AP sounds nearly indistinguishable from Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 record, Food & Liquor, a reference that’s perhaps a bit too recently deceased to romanticize. The recyclability of trends being consistently re-interpreted for modular use is an important feature of the share-ability of track and image in 2015, yet Rocky seems to be invigorated with the idea that his “brand” stands alone as a unique object in and of itself, a fact he would do well to abandon to fit well with his actual brand, the brand of nonchalance. You ain’t got no Flocka on your Serato?…it shouldn’t matter.

One of the few truly psychedelic moments on the record comes from Yasiin Bey, f.k.a. Mos Def, who delivers a sublime, far-out verse: “Magnum spectacular, black man megalas /Shine amethyst, fly champion, it’s like that again /What’s happening? Mathematics master blin’.” He goes on, bringing forth a necessary illegibility, a unique vision that’s… artistic. It stands in stark contrast to A$AP’s sultry, business-as-usual flow that seems forever focused on maintaining appearances. As such, At.Long.Last.A$AP is a means toward this appearance — it’s a clarification — leveraging an assemblage of evocation, of presentation, perhaps of curation, but one that’s built from the fragments of the most beautifully uninteresting bits of what’s contemporary.

Links: A$AP Rocky

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