Experimentation as Window Dressing: ASAP Rocky’s At Long Last ASAP, Reviewed

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While playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Dock Ellis claimed he was on LSD when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on Friday, June 12, 1970. Ellis said he used LSD “two or three times” while visiting a friend in Los Angeles. Things got a little weird. Time became irrelevant (thinking it was Thursday Ellis took a hit of the drug on Friday at noon). His vision was drastically impaired (Ellis threw the no-hitter despite being unable to feel the ball, see the batter or catcher clearly). Richard Nixon appeared to him as the home plate umpire. And Jimi Hendrix made a cameo as an opposing batter violently swinging his guitar. Many were skeptical about Ellis’ story, including Pirates beat reporter Bill Christine, who said he hadn’t noticed anything unusual with Ellis’ behavior or even the game itself. Although Ellis’ drug-induced no-hitter probably didn't happen—and probably not in the colorful way it was told—it doesn't really matter. He didn't need a no-hitter to be a cultural trailblazer. Dock Ellis didn't end up changing the world or “the system” but at least he was able to give it the finger.

In a way I suppose you can say ASAP Rocky’s recent psychedelic explorations should have given him an intense creative jolt. Or at the very least a sense of mental liberation. Instead what we have gathered from his psychedelic experiences—as documented on his long-awaited, interminably delayed, second studio album, At Long Last ASAP—is that they are filtered through Coachella vibes, where the psychedelia is phoned in via fashion, where the delirious idea of surrounding veteran Rod Stewart with skittering trap rap production exists, and where the whole thing just goes on for way too damn long.

Notably, ALLA is the first ASAP Rocky album to come out after ASAP Yams’ death. Yams, born Steven Rodriguez, died this January of a drug overdose, leaving Rocky missing his “truest, bestest friend”. While Yams’ presence in Rocky's career was mostly out of sight, his leadership and guidance led Rocky and the ASAP Mob to success. In doing so, he helped mold the palate of young hip hop fans living in the information age. But despite his executive producer credit in the album’s liner notes and vibrant guest appearance on album closer “Back Home” (he closes the album with a declaratory “ASAP, bitch!”), Yams’ presence on the album is still missed.

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There’s no other way to cut it: Everything about At Long Last ASAP is half-assed. From the bafflingly (albeit sweet gestured) album cover, to the often muddy mixing, ALLA is a mess. But this is not a mess you would want to get lost in, and expecting to leave with consolation prizes will only lead to further disappointment.

Although Rocky has always been a relatively straightforward rapper, his music has often toyed with the idea of experimentation. You can hear it in the New Age haziness and swaggering polemics of “Palace”, from his watershed Live Love ASAP mixtape. Or in the uneven and only slightly less calamitous Long Live ASAP, which in retrospect housed some of his more ambitious musical tendencies. On ALLA experimentation is co-opted by Rocky as mere window dressing. It’s a high fashion accessory to be added to his lavish collection.

Rocky mistakenly stuffs ALLA with eighteen tracks and forcibly pads the run time at over an hour. All eighteen of these songs feel lethargic, packed like sardines with nonfunctioning rhymes. Take this little nugget from “LSD” (a ridiculous acronym for Love, Sex, Dreams): “I look for ways to say, ‘I love you’/ But I ain’t into makin’ love songs/ Baby I’m just rappin’ to this LSD.” Or “JD”, a song which pays homage to James Dean (you know, the go-to cultural symbol of rebellion and disillusionment), where he raps: “I'm arguing with ‘em, I'm done talking with ‘em/ I order coffins for ‘em, call the coroner for ‘em/ Get a comforter for ‘em, I did all you niggas beds/ I want all you niggas dead.”

Even if we were to give ALLA’s abysmal lyrics a pass, the production doesn't help, either. “West Side Highway” is bloated and tuneless—death knells for rap music. “M'S” has the sort of desultory, nonspecific production that gives rappers today a bad name. Some tracks on ALLA could be decent for a bargain bin DatPiff mixtape, like “Electric Body”, the latest in a series of ASAP Rocky and ScHoolboy Q collaborations, which finds Q experimenting with flows. The variety on ALLA is scarce and dull. It’s lacking a much-needed percussive backbone. The music ebbs in and out like a cyclical current. It ultimately sweeps you far, far away when it should to pull you in.

Still, Rocky can, at times, be an engaging figure that radiates charisma when he wants. The Kanye co-produced “Jukebox Joints” is a lovesick cry. He raps: “Trippin’ on how I shifted pop culture/ Changed hip-hop on ya, smoking like a rasta was my pop’s culture/ I be damned if I die sober/ I’ll be sure to visit Pac for ya". It’s perhaps one of the few moments of growth on At Long Last ASAP. Even the simplistic “Canal St.” has spirit—even some uplift—in its sloganeering courtesy of underground rapper Bones. 

From the beginning it seemed as if Rocky’s songs had ideas and that those ideas had a vision, woven together smartly with a bookish, booming flow. However, as his profile grew and his endeavors shifted outside of music, his musical output faltered. Perhaps the apathy of At Long Last ASAP signals some sort of finality for Rocky as a bonafide threat within contemporary rap music.

C