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Get to know this guy A$AP

by Ryan Snyder

By about 12:10 a.m. early Saturday morning at Greene Street Club, the scene on stage had essentially crumbled. What was at one time a sold-out hip-hop show by one of the brightest up-and-coming rappers out there had become an unidentifiable onstage cluster of iPhone documentarians, dumbfounded security, a few random dudes smoking kush, and the show’s headliner hovering in the mix. Dirty South hip-hop is legendary for shows like this, but that it was Harlemite A$AP Rocky is what makes it all the more curious.

There’s a case to be made that no city exacts a greater psychological toll on its rappers than New York. A sense of obligation to uphold the city’s tradition through a very particular style of rap has resulted in its music being more of a transmitter than a receiver. The legacy of guys like Rakim and Biggie to the Diplomats and is rooted in oldschool formalism that other cities just don’t possess. It’s the cradle of hip hop, but A$AP Rocky was born into the cradle of the internet, and his music reflects that.

He tags the Houston scene heavily on his stellar debut mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, with its screwed-down hooks and purple smoke swagger, and his more intimate club shows are indicative of the free-form approach his influences upheld. Rocky’s first move was to establish the Greene Street show as a party first and a hip-hop show second. We’ll be hearing about his crew the A$AP Mob much more in depth in 2012, and here they served both as his lyrical counterparts and physical extensions of Rocky’s own hype-man persona.

There was barely an identifiable song within the show’s first act as Rocky and his crew pumped fists and worked the crowd, the antithesis of the New York style. When it came time to introduce last summer’s blog hits, he framed them expertly. He told the crowd after about 30 minutes that he was going to bounce because he didn’t get his pesos. “Nah, fuck that. We ain’t going out like that,” he said, foreshadowing the chiming Cleveland-born melodies of “Peso.”

Occasionally it is his beats that shine, and in the case of the shimmering Texas blues riff he samples on “Trilla,” it was stifled over improvised chants. Other times its his posse outshining Rocky, as was the case with A$AP Ferg playing Sleepy Brown to his Big Boi. Touching on Petey Pablo’s North Carolina classic “Raise Up” probably maxed out the crowd’s affection for him, but when Rocky wants to really ingratiate himself, he throws a brick through the fourth wall.

Recently off of the big venue tour with Drake and Kendrick Lamar, Rocky took the opportunity to explore the space fully, swimming through the crowd, climbing the side bar, mugging for cameras and just ensuring whatever semblance of order there was before, suddenly was no more. No one’s ready to call him an iconoclast and he’s certainly never going to be confused with the dadaist Lil B, but as an impudent rookie, he’s easy to root for.

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