This Sonic Breakdown will cover A$AP Rocky’s album AT. LONG. LAST. ASAP. This is the second A$AP Rocky album I have heard; the first was LONG. LIVE. A$AP. It will be presented as usual with a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole.
A man with a preacher’s tone and cadence yells, “This negra has kept his soul from the devil,” and the crowd or congregation begins to boo him. The beat has a resemblance to several Johnny Cash songs. A mix of rock and roll, gospel, and blues elements can be heard on this song. A$AP Rocky begins the first verse, adding to the religious tones in the production and title of the song. He focuses on the hypocrisy that can be seen in religious establishments and the music industry alike. He has a line that juxtaposes slavery and the music industry: “Let’s show these stupid field niggas they can own they masters,” playing on the concept that the workers really hold the power if made aware of it. This song introduces the world to Joe Fox, a talented young artist from London. A$AP was walking to his hotel and serendipitously heard him playing on the street. Joe Fox’s sound is a blend of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan that provides a weight to the song’s ending as the bass accompanies him. The imagery that comes with the song title of “Holy Ghost” paralleled with the abbreviation of the album title, A.L.L.A, is an interesting concept if you take into consideration the collision those two religions have had and continue to have.
There is a simplistic but perplexingly dark quality to the production at the beginning of the track. Rocky describes hustling in New York and the tribulations that are associated with it. At the line, “I went from roaches on my bump to red broaches on my cuff,” the beat has a meager sonic change with the addition of a deep, ominous bass chord that elevates the gravity or importance of each word being spoken. While the line itself illustrates the journey he has made from rags to riches as the cliché. The bass chord fluctuates in and out, adding levels to the song. Bones is featured on the chorus using an introspective sound with the lyrics, discussing the theme of lying about selling drugs or being in a gang that many artists use to gain creditability as rappers even if they never actually lived that life. The song isn’t promoting that lifestyle but rather to be real to your life.
The sounds of a love-stricken, saddened man ooze from the song. Joe Fox sets the tone by singing the hook, “this love, this love won’t last forever,” with his hint of an English accent, exposing heartbroken feelings allowing his voice to sound similar to John Lennon. A$AP Rocky flows over the piano-laced production with a slow tempo bass line and a modified version of his voice. This is a creative take on an anti-love or break-up song. When Mia appears on the bridge, a punch of needed aggression is added with her voice and in the production with a heavier, up-tempo African drum sound. The reason the aggression is much needed is because during a break-up, sadness and anger or both are present in some degree or fashion, regardless of the circumstances of the break-up. Future has a verse that pushes some aggression, but the smoothness in tone only slows it back down for A$AP and Joe to end the song.
Sonically, the track has an intoxicating hipster atmosphere provided by the guitar and warped bass line, most likely with the assistance of a wah-wah pedal. A$AP Rocky sings and raps in a voice reminiscent of Pharrell until the chorus, where a more Chris Martin from Coldplay sort of sound progresses forward. He is breaking down his love for drugs and women, giving way to what seems to be a more inebriated state as he continues the second verse. The song has semblances to something Kid Cudi would have produced. This would be an excellent Woodstock-type of festival song, pushing a positive, free-spirited, jovial aura.
There are portions of the song, especially in the chorus, that sound like the Top Gun theme song, inspiring a larger-than-life scenario. The repetitive use of “excuse me” in the soliloquy pays homage to the Texas hip-hop culture. A$AP Rocky is declaring he is comfortable with who he is, and if that bothers you, that is not his concern. He is portraying that rebel/renegade mentality that bleeds over to the next song. There’s somewhat of a Prince resemblance in a sense of clean, clear, thematic sound.
The title is an abbreviation for James Dean, the actor who died young but is still synonymous with youth rebellion due to his most famous movie, Rebel Without a Cause. A$AP pays homage to Dean through this song and insinuates that he is a reincarnation of that rebellious spirit.
“Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)”
A trap-inspired beat with a braggadocio Rocky riding the track. The high pitch sound adds a different dimension to the production that hasn’t been heard so far on the album. A$AP pushes a concept that is recurrent on the album, that of finding the balance between being in the public eye and being able to be private as well.
The beat is perfect for the featured artist, Schoolboy Q. A$AP is using a faster cadence that is in opposition to the slower chorus. He discusses his wealth and how some women don’t use sexual favors to gain financial gain through the line taken from a Vine clip, “Next time you shouldn’t have sucked a nigga’s dick for free.” Schoolboy Q has his unique gangsta tone and timing that elicit a build-up of hyped energy in a low-key manner for the next verse. Q also provides insight to his financial affluence while indicating the hard work he puts in to reap this reward. After the second verse and chorus, the beat slows and has a modified sound to the vocals. The ending of the song has an airy, ghostly singing of the chorus, somewhat similar to Beck in tone.
This song features an old-school soulfulness that switches to an O’Jays or Temptations groove. Joe Fox embodies the soulful and emotional qualities related to that era of music, reminiscent of Smokey Robinson. A$AP switches from an introspective narrative flow to a softer spoken tone for the first three verse. In the third verse, he touches on his past relationships with models and his love for fashion while being afraid of falling in love. Mr. West touches on topics of friendship, fashion, and family relationships. The horns added to the production allow for a more dynamic tone for Kanye West’s feature. The track ends suddenly with static until the next song.
This track has a very Harlem-type sound amplified by bells ringing combined with the deep violins that have been linked to the New York hip-hop scene for generations. In the second verse, he uses a Jay Z line, “All I got is my word and my balls” to carry the NY feeling even further. Joe Fox is using a higher register, showcasing his range.
A somber guitar strumming with only Joe Fox singing starts the song. When the entire production is introduced, a dark, depressing, lightly religious tone is matched with portions of the Lord’s Prayer weaved in. The Gorillaz song “Feel Good Inc.” is brought to mind by Joe Fox and the beat.
Again, the production is set up to highlight the feature of Juicy J and UGK while remaining cohesive with the groove of the entire album. The beat still maintains a soulful quality with a Memphis/Houston-hustle vibe. A$AP is still in his comfort zone as he moves through the tempo changes and jazzy feel. UGK has a standout verse because of the quality of his voice and content, which is why he is considered a legend. The track has an abrupt ending.
“West Side Highway”
This song has an exotic feeling, giving the imagery of driving down a highway in a convertible on a beautiful island. The bass line has a hint of a calypso sound. James Fauntleroy, who I was introduced to on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, is featured with a slightly lower tone. A$AP sings the hook about a lavish, uninhibited lifestyle mixed with drugs, sex, and jet-setting.
This is a dreamy-feeling production with Rocky in a softer tone mixed with some screwed sections in the very beginning. After the first verse, a smoother feel emerges with a more urban or hood sound until the hook, which has a minuscule change to the beat for a “Moments in Love” by Art Of Noise type of aura. A$AP informs us of the relationship issues he is having with certain women, and he even mentions one of them by name: “I swear that bitch Rita Ora got mouth.” This openness of what is going on in his personal life adds to the relaxed sound on the song.
A hood march is the emotional tone presented on this track. A$AP pays respect to a Kanye line with “you don’t have any flacko in your sorato.” ASAP explains how hard he worked to make the wealth he has amassed. An electric guitar adds a rock element that provides depth to the production. Lil Wayne sounds like the old mixtape or Tha Carter album with his approach to tackling this beat. This is the Wayne that we all miss and love hearing. Both artists delve into their passion for accumulating wealth.
The sound of someone practicing the piano makes up the centerpiece of the production, for the interlude is the first thing heard. Then the production builds upon itself as different sounds and instruments, like drums and bass, are slowly added one by one. The A$AP crew is talking in the background enlightening the audience of the atmosphere. A$AP Rocky then begins to rap in a slow and soft tone about drug use. Halfway through the song, a deep rumble of a bass line kicks in, causing the listener to become sucked in, as if you’re walking deeper and deeper into the dark woods in a Grimm Brothers fairy tale.
Rod Stewart’s rich, raspy voice introduces the production, setting up the tone of anguish and the frustration of wanting to be left alone but knowing the struggle to achieve that due to your fame. Miguel, with his sharper and sweeter voice, repeats the same line as Stewart, this time changing the mood to one more accepting of the notoriety. A$AP Rocky reflects both sentiments of wanting attention and wanting solitude in the first verse. Then the sound switches to a deep, dark organ central beat for the second verse with A$AP’s voice having a hint of Kanye in the finishing lines. This verse deals with the theme of gaining the upper hand in a situation to obtain monetary gain, like artists using paparazzi to market their clothing line by wearing them out in public areas. The beat then transitions back to its original with Miguel singing an extended version of the chorus followed by Rod Stewart and A$AP finishing, slowing coming to a halt.
A space ship and the sound of rewinding a tape backward begins the song, followed by what sounds like a 1960s or 1970s all-male group singing, “Gotta find my way back home.” Then a Black Star-like beat emerges with half of Black Star gracing this track. Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, incorporates many A$AP Rocky reference in the lingo he uses. This is paying respect both ways by Rocky introducing Bey as “pretty flacko señor” and Bey making references to A$AP. After Bey’s verse, the song goes silent, followed by a dark, simplistic production to showcase A$AP Yams closing out the album. His voice is the last voice heard on the album, signifying he has found his way back home but is still supporting his team. As A$AP Rocky said, “Rest in peace, ASAP Yams.”
It is a very good album that was an elevation in production quality, lyricism, and concept in comparison to the previous album, which was a good album. On its own merit, it is a very good album that provides a trippy, heavy, sentimental and cinematic atmosphere. Some of the issues A$AP Rocky is dealing with are grave and dark. He expresses how he is dealing with the death of A$AP Yams, from grief to acceptance, love for the drug that Yams died from, to him being comfortable with himself and his celebrity status. Music is used as a form of escapism for A$AP Rocky and ironically, for his listener also. Rocky showcases his stylistic rapping diversity by using multiple of styles throughout a single song, much less the entire album. Joe Fox has the essence of a true singer/songwriter with an old soul that is exposed on this album. He provides the resonating emotional connection similar to that of legends like Bob Marley. I am not putting him to the level of Marley, Dylan, or Lennon, nor am I wishing that weight on his shoulders to live up to them. The features on the album are added judiciously, accentuating the production nicely, highlighting the artist while not taking away A$AP Rocky’s shine or causing him to be overshadowed. I have only had a week to absorb this album, so time will tell if holds its luster. Some people say East Coast rap is dead in relation to the next generation. I disagree. A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, and Flatbush Zombies, just to name a few New York artists, will be just fine. Check next week for Dizzy Wright’s The Growing Process.