How Many Fucks Is He Supposed to Give? On A$AP Rocky’s ‘A.L.L.A.’


“A$AP Rocky’s gone druggy,” the rap world collectively sighed after the release of the knockoff Gaspar Noé video for his recent single, “L$D.” To be sure, Rocky himself embellished this declaration (in recent days) with talk of acid-driven orgies at SXSW. But when pressed about actually doing LSD, he balked. “Nah,” he told the New York Post, “I don’t rely on that shit… I do smoke weed everyday, though.”

Besides, if anyone took the time to listen to the lyrics of the song, what you hear is one of Rocky’s vintage extended metaphors, an act of imagination that recalls the trapper-impersonating pseudo-confession of heroin use on the opening track of his debut, Long. Live. A$AP. In the case of “L$D,” the drug, unsurprisingly, is a girl, and the “L$D” of the title is an adorable little acrostic poem:

Them other drugs just don’t fit me right Girl, I really fuckin’ want love, sex, dream

Truth be told, with the release of his second album, At. Long. Last. A$AP, it seems not much has changed for A$AP Rocky substance-wise. His friend and mentor, A$AP Yams, passed away in March, and though Rocky struggles to talk about it in public, the impact of Yams’ absence is little felt on the album — much or most of it was completed before his death. Apart from that — and with the exception of a breakup or two and a move to Soho — Rocky is still Rocky. Album-wise, this means a strange preoccupation with religion (“Holy Ghost”), recollections of Harlem life (“Excuse Me”), high-quality collaborations (“Electric Body”), fashion-bragging, and widely-accepted pronouncements of his own gorgeousness (“Canal St.”). And, again, it’s all mixed together in an immersive haze of impeccably curated production (overseen this time by Danger Mouse) that goes, in many ways, unrivaled in rap outside of Kanye’s better moments.

Inasmuch as A.L.L.A. distinguishes — or at least separates — itself from Rocky’s debut, it’s at the level of perspective. This time around, Rocky has more fully assumed his “adult” role as rap’s Epicurus — that philosopher with unorthodox beliefs about the gods (see album title and opener) who sought the admixture of happiness in a balance of material pleasure and pain (everything Rocky does). And, anyway, as Rocky recently said at an event in Harlem: “I’m really not that young.” On A.L.L.A., all of his usual concerns are moderated, or mitigated, and if the album overbrims with anything, it’s the wine-soaked contemplation of a sage 26 year-old. “Everyday I’m feeling fine, drinking wine,” Rod Stewart croons on the album’s penultimate track (“Everyday”), “waiting here to find the sign that I can understand.” Here, and it’s weird even to write this, A$AP Rocky and Rod Stewart are the same.

This is not to say that A.L.L.A. lacks moments of intensity — M.I.A.’s refrain on “Fine Whine” is one (“Tell your new bitch she can suck a dick”) — but it does mean fewer singles. Still, I’d take world-weariness of A.L.L.A.’s “Pharsyde” over the youthful idiocy of its predecessor’s “Wild for the Night” any tame evening of the week. And it’s “Pharsyde” that best paraphrases the album’s sensibility. Almost as if answering M.I.A.’s Socratic inquiry from “Fine Whine” — “How many fucks am I supposed to give?” — Rocky responds:

I think my pride died in me, somewhere inside of me, it’s gotta be A whole ‘nother side of me If you seen the shit that I’d have seen in 26 years of living That’s how many fucks I’d give it

Perhaps the weirdest extension of the philosophical Rocky is A.L.L.A.’s foray into normcore, by which I mean that it finally proves, once and for all, that normcore is a cultural strategy and not a fashion sense. By selecting artists like Rod Stewart, Danger Mouse, and weird British youngin’ Joe Fox, who is featured at least five times on the album — although one of these features sound suspiciously like Damon Albarn (hence Danger Mouse?) — Rocky is subverting a move that usually comes with radio-readiness. Yet the album’s holy grail of normcore is, I’ll just say it, Kanye West, with whom he is locked in an endlessly non-confrontational battle that pits auteur (West) against curator (Rocky). West’s recent attempts to assimilate the common or everyday, like the absorption of Paul McCartney, look suspiciously less normcore than Rocky’s assimilation of West, whose production on A.L.L.A.’s “Jukebox Joints” sounds like something you’d now hear in a dive bar in Chicago. And what was normcore if not New York playing Chicago?

It’s all to say that whether you prefer A.L.L.A. to its predecessor will depend your preference for LSD over heroin or wine over drank. There are worse choices to make in life.