By Joshua Jackson
There are many hurdles an artist has to jump over in the music industry—two of them being breaking into it and staying there. The first can easily be classified as a fluke victory in today’s society thanks to a few catchy hooks, but the second usually requires a little more depth for an artist to be taken seriously. This is why the sophomore album is so important.
For New York’s A$AP Rocky his second effort, At. Long. Last. A$AP, serves as the final hurdle before he takes his spot as a member of rap’s current elite.
It’s been a little over two years since Rocky released his debut album Long. Live. A$AP. Tracks such as “Goldie,” “F—in Problems” and the star-studded super collaboration “1 Train,” combined with a heavy underground following and Harlem-meets-Houston flow resulted in a successful mainstream release and a gold certification by the RIAA.
Using the time to grow, and battling the loss of his friend and mentor A$AP Yams, he returned with ALLA and a matured version of the same swagger Rocky exuded on the first album.
The first song “Holy Ghost” opens with a heavy guitar influence as Rocky flows effortlessly finding his own relationship with God. From here, the tempo is set. The world has been established as a place much different than most hip hop today.
Instead of letting the instrumentals do the heavy lifting for him, Rocky seems to have picked tracks that allow him to flex his specific style of rapping. In “Canal St.” he switches flows and delivers his lyrics in a manner that commands attention. Much of the album follows this method, further sucking listeners into this psychedelic world contrasting with his last album.
Unlike LLA, there are far fewer tracks which rely on heavy bass and club like beats. A few heavy-hitters such as “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)” and “M’$” find their way onto the album, but this isn’t where ALLA finds its strength.
Instead, it’s Rocky’s capability to stand tall on the tracks he decides to share. The features on ALLA are on the heavy side, but they work in favor of Rocky. Assists from ScHoolboy Q, Juicy J and James Fauntleroy are all welcome. Verses from the likes of Future, Kanye West and both members of UGK sneak up on the tracks. Even Lil’ Wayne gets to showcase his ability to adapt to the style of another rapper.
Without a doubt, the strongest track comes late in the album. “Everyday” boasts an eclectic team of vocalists as Rocky collaborates with Miguel, Mark Ronson and Rod Stewart for what is a track that embodies an A$AP Rocky track and the closest the album gets to a radio single. The flow changes multiple times as well as the beat and there’s the tinge of Rocky’s Houston-inspired slowed voice dropped in and out of the track.
While 18 tracks may be a little excessive, ALLA covers all the bases. However, it covers them too often. Some tracks such as “Excuse Me” and “Better Things” can be easily skipped because they don’t add anything to the album. The longer one listens to the record, the more they realize how most of the world they’ve been sucked into has some places they’ve already seen in a simpler form. While the delivery and beats are impressive, the shiny new toy effect wears off quickly.
This project is not to be compared to Drake’s “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late” or Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” or any other major rap release this year. So far, each artist has managed to carve their own lane and each project they release should be seen as such.
ALLA is better than its predecessor, but it still gives room for Rocky to grow. He has jumped the second hurdle. With this, Rocky will stay around for a few more years. Still, the hurdles come with every album an artist releases. Rocky will either stumble or continue his path to his psychedelic podium. For now, he’s safe.