“ROCKY, WHERE YOU BEEN?!” Clearly, he took an extended leave of absence to make some music, and we have been very patient to say the least. The Harlem representative has had a polarizing appeal to many since he stepped into the game of Hip Hop, but it has remained steady among his fans. Not only just in music, but also in the world of fashion, he also has a particular audience who views him as a multi-faceted artist of this particular time in Hip Hop. One who’s not afraid to explore his options sonically, whether they be for the better or worse (See: Fashion Killa from his previous album, Long Live A$AP). With Rocky and the rest of the Mob, they suffered a setback in which the co-founder of the group, A$AP Yams, passed away. They’ve all took it hard, but no one harder than Rocky. You could imagine that there would be more emotion poured into this rather than what’s been heard before. Or, you could expect Rocky to just go harder, to continue to be himself, which is usually the best route to go anyways. It feels as though this is a trilogy that follows the mixtape (Live.Love.A$AP), and the debut album. ‘At long last’, but what ‘at last’ were we waiting for? For his full potential to blossom? Will he completely flip the script and just lay down bars instead of trying for the party records? Of the cuts that he dropped prior to the album, Multiply (which for god knows what reason, isn’t on the album) was a statement that he was about to really take off, and then the preview for Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 had everyone on edge for a good month or 2 (or 3). Rocky was poised to drop his best and he would have to since he too was one of the names that was dropped by Kendrick Lamar in the ‘infamous verse.’ Would he meet that challenge, would be the real question at hand. So without further adieu…
I think as of recent for a few albums I’ve listened to seem to have a sense of religion behind them, and with the initials of this album being A.L.L.A after Allah (‘God’ in Arabic), and since Rocky’s real name is Rakim, who many proclaim as the ‘God MC’, there’s a sense that some religion will be at play with this album. Right off the bat, Holy Ghost sets the tone with a preacher declaring that Rocky’s been staying on the right path and his soul has been cleanses, pure, and away from the devil. That being said, the congregation doesn’t seem to agree, and that’s heard (Jesus had haters too, right?). The first thing’s first is that the artist featured, Joe Fox, has a crazy story behind him and how Rocky got involved. I read that he was a homeless artist in London, UK, and he played his guitar for Rocky at 4 in the morning while he and his people were waiting for an Uber to go to Starbucks. The rest is history and he’s practically on half of the album. I find that to be such a crazy thing for Rocky to pull someone off the street and give them an opportunity to flourish their talent. I respect that a lot. He has a good voice, and it works well because throughout the album you’ll hear different musical influences that make this not necessarily feel like a Hip Hop album, but in the grand scheme, just simply music.
“They ask me why I don’t go to church no more
Cause church is the new club and wine is the new bub
And lies is the new drugs
My sister the next stripper, my brother the next victim
My usher the next tricker”
It’s not the first time that a rapper has ridiculed the atmosphere of Church and the idea around it. It doesn’t necessarily mean much for many when it comes to church when it’s just something that people go to, to ‘excuse’ some of their habits that they carry on from Monday to Saturday (or Sunday to Friday if you’re a 7th Day Adventist, but that’s besides the point). Church, which was on The Game’s album Jesus Piece, is a whole song that pretty much contrasted Church into a club atmosphere. Chris Rock also said in an HBO special, Never Scared, that people worship money, and in these few bars, that’s the common denominator: Strippers & Trickers. Church is a touchy subject because of the people congregated under the roof, and the idea that it’s treated as a business for some, to collect offerings (we’ve all been there).
“The pastor had a thing for designer glasses
Yeah, I’m talkin’ fancy plates and diamond glasses
The ushers keep skimmin’ the collection baskets
And they tryna dine us with some damn wine and crackers”
The pastor is usually always the best dressed in the room. I mean, for obvious reasons, but it’s pretty obvious why he’s the best dressed and often has the nicest car. This is why people look at Church like a business. The pastor is paid to tell you what you’re ‘supposed’ to hear, you go home, you do the exact opposite of what was said in the sermon that week, and then you do the same thing again next Sunday. Wash, rinse, repeat. This isn’t applicable for every case, but there are enough examples to warrant this song as a valid observation into the culture and behaviour. As to how it translates into the Hip Hop world, Rocky’s calling out the collection of sheep who are selling themselves for the dollar instead of making something of themselves, to own their own artwork. It’s the basis of separating the real from the fake, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Good start to the album.
The first time I ever went to New York was August 2001 (yes, a month before 9/11). While I was there, my mother, aunt, and I, went down to the infamous Canal St., and a NY hat was bought for me. It was pretty cool (I don’t know how I lost it, to this day), but at 11 years old, clearly I didn’t know the significance of the street we were shopping on, but it’s known as the go-to place if you want to buy your bootlegs, pretty much. The Toronto example I could provide would be Spadina Avenue between College & Queen, but there are like 17 Chinatowns in Toronto (and Pacific Mall), so it doesn’t do it justice for a comparison (I tried). The objective of Canal St. business owners or vendors is to hustle, which is the theme of Rocky’s song. Whether it be a bootlegger or legitimate business, you’re in constant competition and you have to hustle your way, no matter how many times cops will have raids to shut you down. Just pop back up.
“Takin’ packs up the block them older niggas said I couldn’t hustle
Man fuck ’em niggas, I’ll be back, strapped back pack
Bitch I’m flippin’ work, hand in hand, I think they call it track hustle
Racin’ laps, re-up went to waste, it pays to make it stack
Face the fact, there’s always niggas out there, tryin’ to knock the hustle”
Diving into some of Rocky’s history, how he made his bread as a young gunner was to hustle for the older heads on the block, and that’s how he always had it in him to make something out of nothing and to always strive and prosper, as soon as possible (hmm). There’s nothing like proving others wrong, and throughout the song, he lays down examples of how he stuck to his own script and influenced a lot of people to mimic his style (the bars that used the examples of Master P & No Limit are my favourites of this song). For a mainstream New York rapper in 2015, there aren’t many who can hold a torch to what Rocky’s doing currently (the keyword there was mainstream, and let’s just not include Jay Z). Canal St. was just the beginning and a familiar atmosphere of the hustle in motion, and that’s how he translates it into his own lifestyle and the reason why he’s dipping his hand into different areas of art – he’s versatile, and others can’t match up to that, in his eyes.
For a lot of people, they won’t know that the ‘whine’ in Fine Whine is a double entendre for ‘wine’ and what West Indians refer to as a dance, which involves the gyrating motion of moving your hips & waist, or in another word, whining. And then there’s the traditional ‘whine’ is someone complaining about something, so it could be a triple (and that’s all in the title, how bout that?). Last album, Rocky had Santigold as a feature and this time around he features M.I.A. They have similar styles, that’s the only reason why I brought it up, but this actually is a pretty chill song, and not only because it’s all slowed down like you have to listen to it under the influence of promethazine with codeine.
“Eyes bloody when we out in public, I’m hubby she say she love me
Wasted money on syrup and honey, she think she Duffy
Then I became the druggy, enhance my fame and money
And for your pain and suffering, my karma’s waiting for me
Expecting payments from me
But she won’t get a damn thing from me
She just might get a band aid from me”
You can tell that this isn’t just an ode to the chopped & screwed, but it’s a ballad for those who have experienced a broken heart, and who else to deliver such outpours of leaned emotions than Rocky & Mr. Codeine Crazy himself, Future. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Future (the ‘Future Hive’ on Twitter is hilarious though), but I didn’t mind his verse on here because his workings of autotune create that emotional vibe that just works with the style of the song, which is pretty much in his alley. With both Rocky & Future going through ‘rocky’ relationships and eventual break ups, this track is one for the scorned, and it helps that M.I.A can contribute from spewing words of bitterness from the other end of the spectrum.
“How the fuck am I supposed to live
How many fucks am I supposed to give
How the fuck am I supposed to feel
Treated like a bell, put the check and split”
Continuing the drug induced trend (assuming that you’d consider Lean a drug), L$D is a continuation of drowning his words into a Jimi Hendrix type of retro love song. This isn’t new for Rocky to take a different sonic approach with his music, and much like Kid CuDi, Rocky loves him some drugs (or at least talking about them). LSD is a drug otherwise known as Acid, and this, much like the song prior, plays a double entendre role in terms of talking about his want & need of the drug itself, as well as a woman (drugs are usually compared to women, so it’s all in the same game).
“I know I dream about her all day
I think about her with her clothes off
I’m ridin’ ’round with my system pumpin’ LSD
I look for ways to say, “I love you”
But I ain’t into makin’ love songs
Baby, I’m just rappin’ to this LSD”
For me, it was the video that made me appreciate the song more than just the song itself, because I could do without it pretty easily, but the video does a great job of really portraying the trippy experience that Rocky is experiencing. Quite frankly, I could skip it with no hesitation, because the love drug stuff isn’t really what I care for, but it’s the style that Rocky’s been consistent with, so I’ll give him that. It’s mellow at first, and he shows off his vocal range (which isn’t terrible at all), and it really is a paying of respects to that classic hippy era where drug use was the thing to do and was the reason why so much great music came from that time. Maybe Acid’s on the brink of return? Who knows?
Back to the rapping after taking a brief intermission of drug induced outpours of woeful messages, Excuse Me sees the return of Rocky from where he left off a couple of songs prior. Flaunting the lavish life and putting other rappers on notice is what I’ve been accustomed to hearing Rocky do throughout the course of his young career, and that’s where he’s often at his best, although him switching it up here and there doesn’t hurt either.
“Okay excuse me, Mr. Bill Collector, I got problems
My check arrive mañana, I’ma pay my debt, I promise
I spent 20 thousand dollars with my partners in Bahamas
Another 20 thousand dollars on Rick Owens out in Barneys”
There’s not a lot to gauge when it comes to complex bars or insane rhyme patterns, like the traditional NY rappers we’ve come to know well for the past 20 years and then some. Pretty much, you know what you’re going to get with Rocky, and whether you like it or not, that’s what’s been working for the most part and I doubt he deviates from that approach. I’m not big on the hook, but I dig the song. It provides hype for necessary reasons (the Rocky where you been section, in particular), and that would just set up the next few tracks.
JD & Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 are so short (which saddens me) that I’m better off combining them together because they’re like interludes that are meant for the ultimate turning up, and it shows of Rocky’s flow which is one of the best in the game. I had to run JD back quite a bit because the opening lines with the beat drop are killer. It’s like the same reaction I got when I heard Thuggin Noise (Lords Never Worry) and the hook? Lord, the hook. You know when they play that in a club atmosphere, it’s going to get wild, but my only knock is that it’s so short. A song like this, however, doesn’t need to have overwhelming length because its purpose is to give you that jolt of hype as you move through the next track, and that’s where we have LPFJ2 come in, produced by Chicago’s own, Nez & Rio (who did a bunch of tracks on ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron album). The snippet for this song came during the Multiply video and that lived online for a while before eventually releasing the track ahead of the album’s release. Needless to say, it was the most anticipated song because of the knock of the bass and the infectious hook that came with it. It’s the synthesizer, trust me. This is supposedly the sequel to Pretty Flacko that was produced by SPACEGHOSTPURRP, so I’d say that this is a successful sequel. Both songs fill the necessary void of turning up with the ultimate party tunes, but it doesn’t end there.
When it comes to collaborations, in the post-Watch The Throne Hip Hop, people have been wanting collaboration albums with two of their favourite rappers, or at least a dream list of artists that they would hope to have a collabo album. It’s not a new trend, but when it comes to ScHoolboy Q & A$AP Rocky and their tracks together, the streets and the people need a mixtape of them together because they create nothing but audial fire when they do collide. Electric Body is the latest hot fire in their catalogue that they’ve created, and plain and simple it’s party track that will be sure to get the ladies twerking until their hips burn. As the kids say these days, “it’s lit.”
I didn’t know that there was going to be a Kanye West produced song on this album, so it was definitely a pleasant surprise to hear soul samples all over Jukebox Joints (appropriately named). If you’ve been following along with my reviews for a while, you know how I feel about the soul sample, and there really isn’t any producer in the game that has killed the art of soul sampling like Mr. Kanye West. Not only that, but Kanye is also featured on the album, which I would assume would be pretty damn dope considering that his features in 2015 have been dope thus far (All Your Fault on Dark Sky Paradise, and Smuckers on Cherry Bomb). Rocky carried the majority of the song with 3 good verses bouncing from the reason of his hiatus, to his travelling ventures, to his views on that dreaded 4-letter L-word.
“She the type to seek love and make it everlasting
I’m the type to wake up and say you never happened
I mean I fucked the girl with hella passion
But it’s cold how we smashing
Left her sleeping on a separate mattress
I think her body makes for better practice”
“When my death calls, I pray the Lord accept collect calls
Cause I be playing with these womens like they sex dolls
Call my Prada prior, cause it’s dropping next fall
Don’t you short the next ball, my closet like the Met ball
She said, “I just love it when you speak soft-spoken
Up in the magazines with your teeth all golden”
Took the whole year off just to learn to make beats
Dropped the flames on my release and leave the streets all smokin’”
“Niggas taking pictures any time we get together
And hope to fly away one day just like some love birds
Only one word I’m afraid of is the “love” word”
Kanye didn’t exactly have his best verse, but I wouldn’t say that it was garbage. He didn’t step on the track with the urgency to kill it like he did the previous two tracks that I mentioned, so he was more so the afterthought of the song although he did have his signature one-liner that he often leaves behind (“Ay bitch you missed out, hashtag, Fomo”). I definitely had this track on repeat, and it’s one of my favourites, mainly because of the fact that they rapped over looped samples without any other added elements. It was simple, and Rocky flexed impressively.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of Max B, and didn’t exactly think that his music was good, but his fan base and impact that he’s had while being incarcerated has been crazy and stretches back a few years to the early years of Twitter. There have been countless artists who have paid homage to the rapper, and he is responsible for making ‘wavy’ a commonly used adjective in modern conversation when showing praise or approval in the way that Max would have done so. Rocky takes this track to pay homage to the Harlem native, where it seems like a lot of trends are born, and he puts himself in the position of “what if” had his pre-music life caught up to him and landed him in Max’s current situation.
“Behind prison walls, niggas lickin’ balls, pause
Different cause, stricted laws
Damn if I don’t break up in the mall, prison yard, prison guard
No principal, detention on your friends and all
Commissary missing like your sibling’s paw
Uncle Tom, please don’t make my sentence long
Granted what I did was wrong
Pigs don’t show remorse if you admit it all
Missing ma, hope that she don’t miss the call”
Prison isn’t something that’s to be taken lightly; you lose a life of individuality and a lot of your dignity is lost when you’re sent away from the eyes of society. This song takes away the fashion and lavish life that Rocky’s current situation is full of, but rather this takes a spin on his old life and even mentions examples of those who have died close to him and even those of others who’s lives have been taken by the streets. It’s a real thing, and there aren’t a lot of examples where Rocky talks about this stuff where it’s on a personal note.
“Passed away from a stray, from some fake tough guy
Now this the kind of story that should make doves cry
Fuck that, this the story that should make thugs cry
Dry your eyes older sis, held ’em close, watch ’em twitch
Gave ’em kiss in the midst of all of this”
The beat behind it is strong, dense, and aggressive. It adds to the substance behind it and channels the ‘raw New York’ rap sound that many have been yearning for. Free Max B.
Keeping the Hip Hop references current and active, Pharsyde (in connection to the group The Pharcyde) is next up, and this track I had to get into a little bit because it didn’t hit me off the top, and I can partially blame the sample behind it for the lack of interest. It’s mellow and it draws an old school rock vibe with some Hip Hop elements, but this track was definitely a grower. But when I started listening to the context in the lyrics and got away from the beat itself, the breakdown of Rocky’s interpretation of the environment that is his home of Harlem was intriguing.
“My ears are ringing, my palms are shaking, my heart is racing
Somebody’s mama’s heart is aching, can’t take it, partly fainted
Found his body parts in awkward places
Like apartments, basements
Garbage vacant, lots, garages, spaces, Harlem’s far too spacious”
From the home that he grew up knowing to what it is becoming, change is often hard to accept for any one person, and in this example that Rocky presents, it’s no different. This song gets to the point where Rocky is reflecting on his life and experiences, as he brings it full circle from his humble beginnings to his astronomical leap into stardom. To come back home to see the changes (like much of New York is experiencing), it can be frustrating, and those are the grievances that he airs out.
“Gentrification split the nation that I once was raised in
I don’t recall no friendly neighbors face on my upraising
Back in my younger days or razor blades with gangs who bang and never stood a chance
Some boys don’t dance, but left ’em Harlem shaking
On the pavement”
In a way it reminds me of Suddenly where he was running off just how life used to be, and the fun he had growing up although it wasn’t in the greatest of conditions. At this point it’s as if he’s seeing his former world torn down, and is standing in the rubble looking at it with a different perspective on his life.
There’s always a necessity for a player’s anthem, and Wavybone comes to be that, as it’s appropriate that UGK & Juicy J are featured. What’s more impressive is that there’s a rare Pimp C verse that came to life (you’re not the only one who can raise the dead, Kendrick). The slick talk and smoothness while dropping gems about coming up from nothing to live the life of luxury is a constant, but it’s really chill, so that much I appreciate out of this song. It was great to hear Juicy J on a track that didn’t have a Pop star as the main focal point, and Bun B is a legend, so you know what you’re getting when he steps on the track. Get your shiny pimp cups and Gold jewelry on when you listen to this. An old school Cadillac would also be highly recommended.
If there is truly a song on the album I do not like and won’t care for, it’s West Side Highway. I like James Fauntleroy a lot (listen to his work with Cocaine 80s – fire), so this isn’t on him, but the robotic voice Rocky uses at the beginning and the lack of anything really being said that hasn’t been already this deep in the album, I didn’t care for it. I didn’t even like the beat. The force of the skip button is strong in this one. On to Better Things (you see what I did there), I didn’t know at all that there was controversy behind this, because I was too hung up on the fact that this was a dope ass track all the way through. I didn’t anticipate that beat switch at all, and one thing that I have enjoyed about this album is the fact that there are spots of spontaneous moments, which always brings the excitement into music. Clearly I either didn’t hear it or it wasn’t clear, but Rita Ora got sent for on the 2nd verse. Now, I’m not for advocating airing out people’s dirty laundry, but it’s Hip Hop, so you know that it’s a no holds barred affair and all bets are off.
“I swear that bitch Rita Ora got a big mouth
Next time I see her might curse the bitch out
Kicked the bitch out once cause she bitched out, spit my kids out
Jizzed up all in her mouth and made the bitch bounce”
Poor thing. Going from being labeled the No name brand version of Rihanna to this? It’s real out here in the field. It’s not the first time that Rocky has had squabbles with female artists (See: Azealia Banks & Iggy Azalea), but at some point you’d think it’d cease a bit – at least in the public light.
M’$ was a song that Rocky put out before the album dropped and it wasn’t one that was really taken in a positive light, to which he fired back that it wasn’t a single and for people to just shut up and have fun. Well said, Rakim (if you didn’t know that’s his real name). It’s a banger, but it’s not about Rocky on this track, it’s about Lil Wayne. Now, if you’re not familiar with the messy situation that Wayne has been involved with Cash Money, then take to the internet to do the extensive research, but short version: he was owed money, and Birdman was like ‘nah’, so Wayne was like ‘oh word? Cool.’ And then the drama that involved Cash Money not releasing Tha Carter 5, and then Young Thug coming in as the Wayne replacement and him saying that he’s dropping Tha Carter 6 and continuing the legacy. It’s all bad, but seriously, look it up if you’re interested. The main reason for that whole anecdote was because Wayne has since had a great year of features (and one individual track, Glory) which includes this one here. He absolutely rips it and also addresses the aforementioned split from Cash Money (as he’s been commonly putting out there). Needless to say, if Tha Carter 5 is a real thing, then I can’t wait to hear it. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that in the post-Carter 3 era of Wayne’s career.
The Dreams interlude is one that I wish was a full song, because I was digging the eerie piano with the melodic flow that followed through. I still enjoyed it nonetheless, and I haven’t had dreams while under the influence, but this is what I imagine it would play out like, as Rocky plays out in this interlude.
“What a life this is, what a sight this is
Where the darks and the light skin kids
Get along with the white percents
All alike when the lights get dim”
I like how he played into these lines with mentioning Dr. Martin Luther King in the outro to tie in together the ‘dream’ theme. When you’re observant of your surroundings when everything left and right of you seems to be an everlasting nightmare, it’s nice to think of a world where things are at ease.
“I just had an epic dream like Dr. King
Police brutality was on my TV screen
Harmony, love, drugs and peace is all we need”
The penultimate track of this very well done album thus far is Everyday, and when I saw that Rod Stewart of all people was going to be featured, I knew that Rocky had something up his sleeve with the album (it was released ahead of time). The religious theme comes back around to round out the album and complete the enclosed circle, with the church styled organ playing throughout the beat. I found that was a nice touch that I don’t think a lot of people would have cared for, but I thought it was meaningful.
“But the devotion its getting hopeless
But hold it, I’m getting close as my soul is, I’m seeing ghosts
A solo is now a poet, hypnosis overdose on potions
Adjusting to the motions and getting out all my emotions”
The heavy use of drugs is what really propelled this album, with LSD being a main contributor. I think, in a way, it helped him release emotions that were filled either prior to Yams’ death or they were even amplified to the point where it was overbearing not to use anything to help get his words out. The adjustment that he describes feels like it’s a new world beyond the comfortable borders he surrounded himself in. It’s getting outside of the box to put out his raw feelings outside of what most fans have already heard throughout the few projects he’s put out. It’s a sign of growth and it’s welcomed and appreciated. Out of nowhere, the beat switches, the flow changes up, and it feels as though it’s a brand new song altogether. That adds to the unexpected element that has been constant throughout, and he styled all over the 2nd verse as it calmly segues back to the original beat and Rod Stewart sends it off. It’s crazy how much thought and carefully plotted features went into developing this album, and just as you thought it couldn’t get better, the last song would certainly be the proverbial cherry on top.
Back Home has that funky fresh vibe that is reminiscent of that classic NY feel with the soul sample floating throughout, and Rocky definitely serves it justice. They always say that you need to get away from home, miss it for a while and come back to appreciate just what’s been left. That’s been the underlying theme of this album. At long last, Rocky has arrived back home with a grand scheme of thought and strength of focus. At least that’s my interpretation of it. Coming home is an eye-opening experience because you see people for who they are and they’ll either be happy for your accomplishments, or want a handout. Some cases it’s both, but for the most part, throughout the various examples that have been witnessed by the telling of many rappers’ stories, it’s not usually the happy part that comes with it. What I liked the most about this song (much like the album itself) was the appearance of Mos Def. When the older heads pass the torch to the younger generation of MCs, it’s a good thing for Hip Hop. They’re observing that it’s moving forward and there are new torchbearers to help move the culture into a different realm that they could not. Mos Def (or Yasiin Bey) has still been around, but not in the spotlight like he used to. He flexed a bit to show that he’s still a fine wordsmith who strings lyrics together like a nicely knitted quilt. Masterful and effortless. And because you knew it would happen at some point, the piano from Dreams comes in, and none other than A$AP Yams comes in and has his final say on the album, much like how he brought in Rocky’s debut album with a similar boastful statement that praised A$AP Mob, the baby that he helped bring into this world. Can’t say much more about a suitable exit from a dope ass album.
Having 2 number 1 albums is not a small feat that just about anyone can accomplish, and A$AP Rocky has done it twice (including this album). I didn’t imagine that he would have had the career that he’s having right now, but he’s been all over the place in terms of the arts, whether it’s music, film, or fashion, that there’s not much that he can’t do. He makes good music, but I didn’t think he’d be able to make an album that stuck to a constant narrative (to some degree) for a whole album. Being a rapper who can have a lot of bangers is one thing, but detailing a fine album is another. Rocky was able to lace together the best of both worlds and have stories of meaning wrapped around the hits you’ll probably hear in the club often this summer. It’s a testament to who he is as an artist, and while he’s experienced personal turmoil with the passing of one of his great friends, and some woman heartbreak, it shows in the music that he’s still focused and dedicated to creating quality not only for himself, but also his fans. This will definitely be on repeat for a while, and it was certainly worth the wait. That being said, I would buy this (well, I already did), and it would serve you justice to do the same, or even listen to it anyways. Over and over again, I mean. It’s worth the time you’ll set aside for it, trust me. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX