A$AP Rocky at First Avenue, 10/13/12

Photo by Erik Hess
A$AP Rocky 
With Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q , and A$AP Mob
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
Saturday, October 13, 2012

The LongLiveA$AP tour rolled through Minneapolis on Saturday night, and the powerhouse trio of buzzing rappers A$AP Rocky, Schoolboy Q, and Danny Brown played to a sold-out crowd of excited young rap fans. The much buzzed-about rappers rode high on a sea of people who knew most of the words, clamored for their favorite songs, and were easily convinced to turn up when prompted. It was a solid night of entertainment that struck me as exemplary of a paradigm shift in the nature of modern rap performance.

This was in a sense a triple headlining bill, with all three rappers doing well for themselves thanks to positive critical and fan reception of their latest projects -- Rocky's LiveLoveA$AP, Q's Habits and Contradictions, and Brown's XXX - all of which were released as free downloads. Each remains a strong release to a full year later even among contemporary rap's sometimes sprawling landscape, which can chew up and spit out new rappers when buzz dies down, and the trio of artists was all the more massive when brought together. There was a constant air of excitement among the packed crowd throughout the night. The tour had built quite a level of anticipation.

Photo by Erik Hess
Sadly, the traffic from the Zombie Pub Crawl, coupled with a slow-moving line, prevented me from seeing my personal main attraction, the unfortunately punctual Danny Brown. He was finishing "Blunt After Blunt," cutting the beat and letting the audience scream the two word chorus, as soon as I arrived into the main area. His energy could be felt even without seeing him visually, and I was incredibly disappointed at missing his performance.

Schoolboy Q's DJ, wearing a Mod Sun tye-dyed hoodie, played some club tracks in between the sets before Q arrived to the tune of his own "Tookie Knows," dressed down with a colorful bucket hat. Q is a rapper that lives and dies by his infectious flow, peppering his dark street tales with manic egotism and drug use with a flexible voice that carries most tracks, but his energy here seemed lacking at times.

Photo by Erik Hess
The raspy "Oxy Music" led way to "iBETiGOTSUMWEED," showcasing his slow drip style and his rager party animal back to back; though adept at a number of different techniques, he fell back too often on crowd participation to finish his lines for him. Every other song wound the crowd back into a frenzy though, and the beats hit remarkably hard every time. Hands stayed raised through nearly the whole set, though slow-burn lyrical tracks like "Blessed" actually played better for me personally. More somber than his drug talk tracks, the beat also managed to hit harder with a pummeling yet spare machine gun kick that allowed the West Coast rapper to show more of himself instead of letting the beat do the legwork. He engaged in a lot of shouting, which helped to amp the crowd effectively but lost some of the subtlety to his flow. 

After a period of spun tracks between sets, which sustained crowd energy with hits from Juicy J, Chief Keef and 2 Chainz, the screen lifted to reveal a war-themed backdrop with upside-down flags and battle motif. Dark violins bellowed as an A$AP voice over spun a cinematically overdone yarn about how he began in this world alone but knew one day he'd be running this shit, or something. It was a bit dramatic and cornball, and only really served to numb the crowd energy, but once Rocky himself hit the stage, the audience exploded. Backed by a pair of gas-masked goons, Rocky began running around the stage in an orange ski-mask, rapping in his signature triple-time flow to an audience that was more than ready.

Photo by Erik Hess
He has a fun and personable presence, and worked through syrupy tracks like "Wassup" and "Purple Swag" while brimming with a turned up smoothness the for which the audience went nuts. His hybrid style stems was born in Harlem but owes a lot to rap scenes outside of New York, siding with the smoothness of Southern influence rather than an East Coast brashness, and it's precisely this amalgam nature that makes his material sound new and exciting despite sticking closely to a specified traditional sound. As with most young rappers I've seen lately, he relies on backing vocal tracks to help prop up his raps -- occasionally dropping the beat to prove he can really perform it, after which the crowd always cheers emphatically, he returns with the aid of back-ups. I cut A$AP some slack in this department, as one his main signifiers is a chopped-and-screwed vocal manipulation which can't necessarily come across live, but I still wished he could shoulder more on the performance end. 

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