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A$AP Rocky
At.Long.Last.A$AP Steve Mallon , June 5th, 2015 12:53

A$AP Rocky's propensity to make uninformed comments has played both a positive and negative factor in his success, pitting his off-stage geniality against his tendency to come out with some impressively dumb things. In a recent Red Bull Music Academy lecture, journalist Hattie Collins asked Rocky what collaborator Joe Fox brought to his new record, to which he replied: "He's a singer and he brings you that British energy; that Bob Dylan, that Bob Marley, fucking John Lennon and Kurt Cobain feel… he's just so influenced by rock, it's crazy [sic]." Casual viewers might have been left wondering if he's ever actually heard music or knows where - or what - Britain is, however those more familiar with his work will know that instinct has always been Rocky's biggest guiding force - and, so far, it has rarely let him down.

Take even a brief look through his discography and it's not hard to see where Rocky's appeal lies. Underneath all the perpetually-grinning, hedonistic charm, there's his preternatural knack for penning infectious, curveball hooks, and his cut-and-paste sensibilities that have seen him deftly repackage cloud rap and Southern hip hop influences to widespread critical acclaim. By contrast though, his biggest Achilles' heel has always been his lyricism, which is - by general consensus, and probably his own admission - mediocre at best. On his most accomplished tracks though, this isn't really a problem - his poised flow still manages to be captivating over the heady, ethereal production that's become synonymous with his music. His subject matter has never really been an obstacle either - definable as lifestyle rap, his music never begged for, nor portended to supply much depth beyond designer name-drops and par-for-course hood braggadocio. Fast-forward to his latest offering At.Long.Last.A$AP however, and it's a whole other story: "Sometimes I wish I could get away and charter spaceships/ to get away from my inhuman race with hearts of Satans" and "Very trippy pages in my diary/ It's the irony how LSD inspired me to reach the high in me" are among the lyrics that sound like they were written on the inside of a pencil case during after-school detention.

It's not just his lyrical content that calls Rocky's instincts to account though - there's also his decision to feature Joe Fox, a previously unknown British singer-songwriter, on no less than seven of the album's eighteen tracks. Much like the majority of the guest spots on the album (M.I.A, Juicy J, Rod Stewart and James Fauntleroy to name a few), it feels like Fox is just there to provide cross-genre soundbites that aim to tick boxes but don't quite fit with the rest of the ideas. Even the monologue that precedes opener 'Holy Ghost'- a slightly tweaked reconstruction of a scene from Coen Brother's film Oh Brother Where Art Thou - feels incongruent. Over studio-added crackle and hiss, a southern voice announces: "I have a message from the most high that says: "This n*gga kept his soul from the Devil!"" provoking a chorus of boos from a surrounding crowd. Bearing in mind that in the Coen Brother's scene the voice belongs to a KKK Grand Wizard, the clip seems like a strange way to preface an album with no discernible racial themes other than the track itself- which feels like a calculated - yet hastily executed- lunge at garnering comparisons to Kendrick Lamar's recent and much lauded To Pimp A Butterfly.

Akin to scrolling down a Tumblr dashboard, A.L.L.A as a whole lacks coherence but features some impressive displays of aestheticism. 'L$D' and 'Excuse Me' tip a hat to Frank Ocean and take a swipe at woozy, high-altitude R&B, featuring blissed-out guitar licks and gauzy, celestial voices under Rocky's languorous auto-tuned vocals. Sonically if not lyrically, these two tracks might present the most lucid statement about where the rapper is at right now. When he came to record his major label debut Long.Live.A$AP back in 2012 he was still on the way up, in the midst of a sudden, violent exaltation into stardom. Three years on, the dust has finally settled and his ascension has peaked and levelled out, leaving him cruising with his head in the clouds, unsure of which direction to take next.