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A$AP Rocky reinvents, returns to New Orleans 

The Harlem rapper on his psychedelic journey to cult stardom

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Photo by Dexter Navy

A$AP Rocky's AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP sinks under a psychedelic fog after a gospel sermon of an introduction. Memphis rock band Lucero yanks a few guitar riffs under "Holy Ghost," a song that's both an indictment of an unthinking public and Rocky washing the sins outlined on the rest of the album. Then there's "L$D," a rap-less love song to acid (or "love, sex, dreams"). It's heavy, heady, late-night music from an artist focused on carving out a cult following.

  Less than three years ago, his maximalist rap singles "F—n' Problems" and "Wild for the Night" were unavoidable radio monsters. "F—n' Problems" — with three of rap's biggest names (2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar) — also was nominated for a Grammy Award.

  Lately the Harlem rapper is listening to ? & the Mysterians and T. Rex, but he says they don't have anything to do with the headtrips on AT.LONG.LAST.

  "I just listen to it while I'm high," says Rocky, aka Rakim Mayers, speaking by phone with a deep inhale and a tired baritone. "And Donovan, 'Hurdy Gurdy Man.'"

  In March, Rocky and members of his A$AP Mob bounced around the stage at the Buku Music + Art Project with anarchic energy, channeling more hardcore punk than meditative psychedelics. His tour with rap provocateur Tyler, The Creator — which comes to Champions Square on Oct. 8 — won't be the same, he says.

  "I can't express what I'm trying to do at a festival setting," he says, joking that he should collaborate with Tyler on a their own type of festival, with "cotton candy machines and shit."

  With production credits from Danger Mouse, Kanye West and Rocky himself, among others, June's AT.LONG.LAST digs into psychedelic rock, deep soul and indie pop, with guest verses from West, M.I.A., Lil Wayne, Mos Def and even a beyond-the-grave verse from departed Texas rap titan Pimp C.

  In a 2012 interview, Rocky said that year was his biggest yet. He was 24 years old with an acclaimed debut album in the wings. This year, Rocky's mentor and collaborator A$AP Yams died in January — that same month, Rocky made his big-screen debut in the well-received indie Dope, and AT.LONG.LAST was in production.

  "I feel like I'm having the biggest year now," he says.

  AT.LONG.LAST is Rocky stepping away from "swag trapping and fashion" and becoming a true "cult artist." (Rocky catches himself before saying he's "the Steve Jobs of rap," but that's the big picture.) "Sorry to break this down to Hooked on Phonics," he says, laughing, explaining that the iPhone is popular and a cult product, while Android phones are simply ubiquitous. (Rocky is the iPhone here.) AT.LONG.LAST is Rocky waking up from the high, going to work and looking for lasting relationships while his fame rocket shows no signs of slowing.

  Over an eerie, slow-motion Smokey Robinson sample on "Jukebox Joints," Rocky raps, "Good excuse for my absence like 'Flacko, where your ass been? Heard you done with fashion, now your ass is acting' ... I'm all alone though, mood music makes me bop slower. Tripping on how I shifted pop culture."

  The beat picks up with a fresher, clearer sample. Rocky is more frank; he admits the "only one word I'm afraid of is the 'love' word." He echoes his drugged-out melancholy on "L$D": "I look for ways to say 'I love you' but I ain't into making love songs. Baby I'm just rapping to this LSD."

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