Who the hell does A$AP Rocky think he is? That's the half-serious question I have when I finish At. Long. Last. A$AP, Rocky's clouded, wigged-out, overlong (by about 10 minutes) third album. Dude put an unknown British folk singer on nearly a third of his LP. He repurposes the schmaltzy Platters holiday tune "Please Come for Christmas" for aquatic stomper "Excuse Me." "Wavybone" has him resurrecting the dearly departed Pimp C to count pyramidal stacks of paper. M.I.A. comes through just to spitefully chant "tell your new b**** to suck a d***," on lean sipper "Fine Whine." And his organ-driven second single "Everyday" samples Rod Stewart. ROD STEWART. As in the dude behind "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Listening to At. Long. Last. A$AP. I'm reminded of H.G. Wells' when he lambasted James Joyce's ponderous book Finnegan's Work: "who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousands I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?"
The answer to my question is he's "A-f***king SAP." Lord Pretty Flacko's the most unflappably confident rapper since '06 T.I. At his most uncool, he's cool because he thinks he is. Kanye West, Schoolboy Q, Lil Wayne, Future and Mos Def all bring their A-game to At. Long. Last. A$AP and you walk away thinking Rocky won the bout. He has a way of phrasing that makes a possibly mundane brag seem amazing. Like on "Canal St." when he spits "your favorite rappers corpses couldn't measure my importance." How great is that? He could've said he's better than your favorite living rapper. Not enough. He's better than any rapper living or dead. And you believe him when he says so in his spacious cadence.
It's nightmarish when he applies the style to the Danger Mouse produced "Pharsyde." The recollection: "Found his body parts in awkward places like apartments, basements, Garbage vacant, lots, garages, spaces, Harlem's far too spacious," is something no one should have to see, but it's more horrifying because of how Rocky steadily pinballs to the conclusion. Violent people aren't to blame for such carnage, the entire city's guilty. So too are crooked pastors and peddlers of religion, whom Rocky ferociously indicts on fervent opener "Holy Ghost." To hear him tell it, the ushers are skimming from collection baskets and "they tryna' dine us with some damn wine and crackers." If the line is autobiographical it's absolutely deflating.
The production of At. Long. Last. A$AP only reinforces Rocky's nightmarish/hellacious words. "Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2" stomps so heavily that bones in your feet get broken. When Rocky and ScHoolboy Q play their long-running game of one-upmanship on "Electric Body," you fear it's going to end in dual beheadings. The opening Friday the 13th woodblock clanging cultivates such an air of menace that it doesn't even matter the song is tailor-made for stripper clubs with its XXX hook "shake that ass girl, make that coochie wet." It's too terrifying to twerk to. Ditto for "M'$" which is undoubtedly bass heavy, but crams in enough screams, synth heaves and engine revs to make Death Grips envious. Lil Wayne, turning in his best performance in four years ("6 Foot 7 Foot"), sounds like Galactus coming to swallow Earth whole when he raps over the track.
Even when the beats have room to breathe the rapping sounds authoritative. Take the golden soul of Kanye West produced "Jukebox Joints," the track never gets above an inside voice, but A$AP and 'Kanye manage some impressive s***-talking. The former brags about changing rap and the latter claims to be "a black man with confidence of a white male." I especially love the Kanye line because it's continuing the 2015 trend of him indulging in sly racial commentary. Meanwhile "Everyday" has none of "Juke Joints" import and might be the most compelling effort on At. Long. Last. A$AP. The track's warm organ is hypnotic piping out of a car window on a summer night and the aforementioned Stewart sample is oddly rousing, his raspy voice just works for a banger. When you're constructing beats that can bang and sample Rod Stewart, without seeming crammed, you're in rarefied air.
And A$AP Rocky unquestionably is in rarefied air. He's one of several hip hop artists: Drake, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, capable of selling 100,000-plus copies of an album in the first week. Rappers don't do that anymore. Granted rappers don't sign deals worth $3 million anymore and A$AP did that too. He'll keep making that kind of money as long as he keeps putting out work as strong as At. Long. Last. A$AP.