A$AP Rocky or Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye or PMF or whatever name you feel like entertaining, there’s been an inconsistency in the Harlem rapper’s career thus far: his sound. He’s worked with Clams Casino, Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse, Skrillex, Santigold, Gunplay, OverDoz, ScHoolboy Q and more. He’s brought so many different sounds and flavors around him without exactly having his own.
In 2011, when rap music had started to move from another genre I listened to to the main genre I enjoyed, there were a couple albums from young artists, among others, that helped me make that transition. One was Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, the other was A$AP Rocky’s Live.Love.A$AP. Combing Southern hip-hop sounds with the ambiance of Clams Casino production, Live.Love.A$AP helped Rocky rise to larger fame. We knew A$AP Rocky could make bangers – “Brand New Guy” with Schoolboy Q and “Peso,” to name a few – and he was good at it. Like, really good. His record-label debut’s first single was “Goldie,” a continuation of the chopped-and-screwed vocals over banging bass drums and Southern influence that Rocky thrives on. But once the album, Long.Live.A$AP was finally released, it felt a bit incomplete and inconsistent. The album took consistent 180-degree turns as if it kept missing the only entrance to a shopping center. “Fuckin’ Problems” and the completely unnecessary “Wild for the Night” didn’t feel right after “LVL,” “Hell” and “Pain,” which all took a step back from the drugged-out vibe Rocky thrived with on Live.Love.A$AP.
Where Rocky excelled on At.Long.Last.A$AP was expanding on the sounds he’s good at. “Excuse Me” and “Electric Body” with ScHoolboy Q (they never make a bad song together) are some of the album’s best works, and they’re extensions of the ambience and bangers he’s associated with. With the help of Danger Mouse and Hector Delgado, among others, A$AP Rocky created an album full of sounds that didn’t feel generic. “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2),” which is the follow-up to “Pretty Flacko,” and “Wavybone” with Juicy J and UGK paid homage to some of his older sounds and influences. Joe Fox, an English street performer-turned-contributor to a major artist’s vision, was scattered to add a poetic and thoughtful aspect to the verses and hooks. Outside of “Everyday,” nothing has the made-for-radio feel many rappers are bashed for.
This album feels like Blake Griffin’s ’13-’14 season.
Let me explain:
Previous to Grffin’s season, he may have been getting a bit boring. He dunked a lot. Dunking isn’t only his thing, he didn’t invent or popularize it, but he got really good at it. He rebounded well, but so do a lot of other people at his height. He shot at a high percentage. So do a lot of people his height because they play so close to the basket. But he added a mid-range jump shot to his game. He started scoring more, spread the defense out slightly, had a really good supporting cast. He started doing things other than just basketball, like television. He was doing stuff that everyone his height and athleticism and fame had done before pretty well, but then he became more effective by adding another layer to his game.
Where many rappers seem to struggle to succeed is in accepting what he or she can do best, perfect that, then try and dabble in other areas and get better at other techniques, sounds, whatever he or she needs to improve on. There are few better than Kendrick Lamar at rapping. It allows him to try new sounds like what we heard on To Pimp A Butterfly with open arms knowing there’s a skill and sound we can fall back on, just in case the experiment fails. A$AP Rocky is nowhere near the rapper, but he’s good at making Southern-influenced, hard-hitting, spacious rap music. Long.Live.A$AP was a generally poor experiment with sounds we weren’t familiar hearing from Rocky. At.Long.Last.A$AP is not. Rocky has added new sounds, harmonies and depth. Rocky developed his mid-range jump shot.
“Fine Whine” and “L$D” were steps out of Rocky’s wheelhouse, but he succeeded with the right elements: A beat change for an aggressive M.I.A. and a heartbroken Future to croon over. Softer, trippy, drug-laced production for him to sing about drug use (just months after his best friend, A$AP Yams, died of an overdose) over. A return “Back Home” with mean production straight out of a New York alleyway for him, Mos Def and his late friend to rap over.
These are all elements we weren’t used to hearing Rocky dabble with. He sang, he had someone like Joe Fox all over the album to sing hooks summarizing Rocky’s feelings on drugs, women and life, features that add to the major themes of the album. They’re elements that show an advance in Rocky’s ability to make whole records and not just hot singles. He became more consistent it making a wholesome record with a swagger and feel that is his own, not one developed in Houston or on the radio. He’s not done rapping to move onto fashion and movies. As he says on “Jukebox Joints,” “Let’s get past all the swag trappin’ and fashion talkin’.” He wants to rap. “If I ain’t the greatest, bitch, I’m one of ‘em.” A$AP Rocky is aware of who he is and his talents. He’s not going to be the greatest rapper at any one time, but with every facet he adds to his game, he’ll be able to hang with the best for longer and longer.