The meteoric rise of Harlem’s A$AP Rocky seemed to come overnight. In the spring of 2011 his “Purple Swag” video showed up on WorldStar as an artist to watch, not long afterwards the news of him signing a $3 million deal broke. Many questions the appeal of his music, a kid hailing from the same streets that produced a lyrical juggernaut like Lamont Coleman (Big L). A culture of flossing that would propel the career of Ma$e in 97, as a member of a Dream Team at Bad Boy, and Cam’Ron and Dip Set a half decade later. Like those before him, A$AP Rocky brought his entire crew along for the ride, splitting the paycheck between his own solo debut, and the launching of A$AP World, an eclectic group of city kids who refused to conform.
His first official project, ’Live Love A$AP’, was released as a free download in late 2011, and solidified the money thrown at him by Sony/Polo Grounds. His fan base continued to grow, as well as critical acclaim for the project. Incorporating a chopped and screwed style, usually associated with Houston, Rocky held no punches when mentioning his love for the H-Town and it’s sound, No Limit movement, and the double time flow of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. This formula allowed him and A$AP Mob to be the first crew since G-Unit/Dip Set to break nationally from NYC. It’s no surprise that both crews had no problem with incorporating influences outside of New York, and that contributed to their appeal, it also set the template for A$AP to follow some 8 years later.
His debut album would be released in early 2013, and he continued to push the creative envelope as his star power grew. ‘LONG.LIVE.A$AP’ would go on to be the #1 album in the country, and include crossover hits like “Fuckin Problems” (with Drake, Kendrick Lamar & 2Chainz) and “Wild For The Night” (with Skrillex). Setting things up for fellow Mob member A$AP Ferg to debut with ‘Trap Lord’, and while it didn’t have the same impact in the charts at Rocky’s debut, it was met with critical acclaim, and produced 2 anthems in “Work” & “Shabba Ranks”, the whole team seemed to be winning.
But the wins would be overshadowed by an even greater loss. The crew’s defacto leader, A$AP Yams would pass away earlier this year from what has been described as a drug overdose. This occurred after a few delays to Rocky’s sophomore album, if there was any silver lining to the tragedy it allowed for Yams legacy to cemented both on the cover to ‘ALLA’ and it’s outro. Rocky picks up where he left with his debut, designer fashion, drug induced production and all in a pleasantly arrogant tone. The formula has made him a rap star, and he doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel by any means.
The first 4 songs are all exceptional, starting with “Holy Ghost”, a gutair riff heavy, faith questioning intro in the same vein as “Palace” (intro from ‘Live.Live.A$AP). “Canal St” merges classic East Coast piano loop, with the spacey sounds of an Outkast record circa ATLiens/Aquemini. All with a touch of classic H-Town codeine slow motion loop. M.I.A. and Future assist on “Fine Wine”, Rocky uses his “chopped/screwed” alternate voice throughout, and it makes for an absolutely AMAZING track. “L$D” sounds exactly like what the title says, like a 2015 Woodstock anthem. Kid Cudi-ish in ways, which makes it that much more likable.
The 18 track playlist seems bloated at first site, especially considering his previous projects have been shorter and the majority of hip hop releases are moving towards a similar direction. A few of the tracks clock in under 3 minutes in the case of “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodeye 2” you wouldn’t mind it being longer. “JD”, and “Dreams” aren’t necessarily bad, but they don’t really have the time to develop into either something epic or something truly forgettable, they just come across as after thoughts in the grand scheme of things.
Schoolboy Q and Rocky once again swing for the fences on “Electric Body”, it’s a strong track, but in comparison to their previous collaborations, it falls short of the glory of “Hands On The Wheel” or “PMW”, mostly because an absolutely lazy chorus. The production is superb, as it is on the following track, “Jukebox Joints”, produced and featuring the polarizing Kanye West. The soul sample is nothing short of beautiful, the beat change halfway through, while it isn’t as good as the beginning is almost as entertaining production wise, and the fact that you get a new Ye verse makes it well worth it. His pseudo dedication to the incarcerated Harlem legend, “Max B” features Rocky goin to a more aggressive style he’s tucked away the past few years. Getting a chance to show his lyrical ability, over a sample of Max harmonizing in his classic style.
There are a few shortcomings, not really bad songs but certain tracks just lack the playback value of others “Pharsyde” is rather lazy, and the project could’ve been just fine without it. “West Side Highway” sounds like an attempt at a track for the ladies, comes off extremely stale for a lack of better term. “Better Things” is the musical equivalent to a Twitter-rant, he airs out C list celebrity, Rita Ora for talking too much, the irony here is way too obvious. “M$” has Lil Wayne lending mediocrity to an already pretty boring song. There are a few bright spots in the middle half of the album though, “Wavybone” features a posthumous verse from the H-Town legend, Pimp C and UGK partner in rhyme Bun B. Makes for a nice track, Juicy J also lends his talents on the hook, and a verse.
Overall it ends up being a strong effort from Rocky. He may not make any new fans off of ALLA, but it will definitely quench the thirst of his fans who have waited 2 years for a new album. He taps the iconic, Rod Stewart for “Everyday”, a song released a few weeks before the project, and it’s pretty much a classic track for all intents and purposes. The album closer, “Back Home” sounds like a 2K version of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, Rocky bobs and weaves his way through a dope piano riff. The closest thing to classic New York hip hop on here. Yasin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) spits about 8 bars, before leading to the voice of the late A$AP Yams.