Due for release on June 2, anticipation has rightly built up around A$AP Rocky‘s long-awaited new album At. Long. Last. A$AP.
FACT’s Andrew Friedman attended a special advance listening session last night in New York City – here are his initial thoughts after hearing a 10-track selection.
A$AP Rocky is a singular talent with the charisma and star power to match. 2011’s Live. Love. A$AP remains a certified classic, a cohesive album that relied on a patchwork of similarly minded (and largely underground) rappers and producers from across the country. And while 2013’s Long. Live. A$AP didn’t reach its predecessor’s heights, it was solid and creative, making room both for a Skrillex-produced universal party anthem and a posse cut full of rappin’-ass rappin’.
But Rocky’s secret weapon was A$AP Yams, one of the most brilliant (and universally respected) industry strategists of our generation. By hand-picking collaborators for both aesthetic quality and cool points, Yams directed Pretty Flacko’s career and boosted his cred with a steady stream of hidden gems and signifiers. This guidance allowed Rocky to contain multitudes while still sounding like himself.
Knowing all this, it’s impossible for the informed nerd to listen to A$AP Rocky without triangulating Yams’s influence. Given that Yams tragically passed in January, it’s also impossible to listen to At. Long. Last. A$AP, Rocky’s upcoming third album, without triangulating Yams’ absence. The powers that be tapped Danger Mouse to oversee the completion of the album, which seems like a questionable decision at best. I know it’s easy for me to sit on the sidelines and talk shit, but how do you replace an Uptown lifer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of street rap from across the country (and the world!) who regularly texted his friends Ja Rule gifs with a frequent Black Keys collaborator whose rap bona fides include the worst MF Doom album?
“As Rocky crooned his way through ‘LSD’ I kept thinking of Soul Coughing.”
So that was my mindstate while we previewed 10 tracks from A.L.L.A. last night. And not surprisingly, I was overwhelmed by the amount of mournful rock vocals and live-ish drums with vintage compression. Rocky led off ‘Holy Ghost’ and it immediately reminded me of ‘Clint Eastwood’ by Gorillaz (who worked with Danger Mouse in 2005 on Demon Days). ‘Electric Body’ (which I otherwise loved) closed with bootleg Radiohead atmospherics. Later, as Rocky crooned his way through ‘LSD’, I kept thinking of Soul Coughing.
Part of the problem with bringing in Danger Mouse is I’m not sure what Danger Mouse sounds like. Rocky credited him as the producer on a number of the tracks he played last night, including a lot of boilerplate post-Clams Casino haziness, so it’s possible his marching orders were just to make an A$AP Rocky album. But if that was the case, there’s a long list of qualified producers ready and willing to do the job. Were Friendzone too hard to track down?
But there was also a lot to like. The previously mentioned ‘Electric Body’ is a dirty, Xan’d-out banger featuring Schoolboy Q rapping kind of like MJG and an old Detroit house chant in the chorus. On ‘Jukebox Joint’, Rocky expertly flows over a Kanye-produced drumless soul loop akin to ‘Bound 2’. There is ‘JD’, an extremely hard track that is also apparently a skit that features James Franco, and the uptempo old drum machine funk of ‘Westside Highway’ with James Fauntleroy. Most of the aforementioned haunting vocals on the album are handled by British newcomer Joe Fox, whom Rocky coaxed out of the crowd for his deserved props.
I don’t know how much of A.L.L.A. was in the can by January. I don’t know how much Danger Mouse was involved with the project. This is all basically uninformed critique about how an artist and his team coped with a great personal and professional loss, and I’m aware I’m speculating with all the precision of a Beyoncé pregnancy truther. But it’s hard to hear Rocky and not think about Yams’ absence. With the totally bonkers leaks ‘Lord Flacko 2’ and ‘Multiply’ already in the chamber, the album should be far from hot garbage. But we didn’t hear either of those songs last night.