Don’t miss the opener: A$AP Rocky sets the stage for Rihanna tonight
blog by Ben Kirst • March 08, 2013 @ 12:06pm
I first heard of Rocky when the ‘Purple Swag’ video started gaining notoriety on indie blogs in late 2011 / early 2012—there was some controversy about a wholesome-looking teenage girl sporting a thick gold grill and lip-syncing screwed-out lyrics that included the verboten n-bomb.
The fact that the young lady was of the Caucasian persuasion added to the somewhat uncomfortable dialogue surrounding the video. The indiesphere seemed to agree that the track itself was fantastic—and it is—but as far as the video goes, there was this kind of undercurrent like, “should we be OK with this?”
The impression that I got from A$AP Rocky, the A$AP Mob and the girl herself (one of Rocky’s friends from his hometown, New York City) is that they couldn’t care less about increasingly dated ideas about propriety, conventional morality or the never-ending debate about race and culture in America.
As Rocky himself said, “Her name’s Anna. She’s from Harlem. She’s 22, or she’s about to be 23 if she’s not 23 already. She’s cool. She’s fun. That’s really the person she is. She does use the [word “n—-a”] all the time – you know, she’s cool like that…She was just one of my friends. She’s so crazy, her with the grilles and everything, I was like ‘Yo, we need to do a video with you rapping along to the lyrics.’ For ‘Purple Swag,’ I always knew I wanted to use a girl for that part, and she just was perfect, so we used her. She just was having fun the whole time, lip syncing and sh*t.”
And that was the beauty of Rocky’s first official mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP—it sounded so fresh, so new, so utterly different than what was popular in the mainstream. Rocky combined styles from all regions of the hip-hop nation. He was as hedonistic and profane as countless other rappers, but his hedonism and profanity had—and maybe this is the wrong word—an innocence to it, a teenage enthusiasm that is often lacking in the hard-edged tales of street crime and braggadocio we find in all angles of the rap spectrum.
On top of that, he’s just an interesting dude. He’s a Harlem kid who hung out with skaters and artists in Manhattan’s Union Square. He is serious about sartorial style, giving shout-outs to exclusive, obscure labels, lauding specific designers and landing in highbrow fashion spreads. He directed his own videos. He befriended rappers of different styles and mannerisms from all over America. He’s worked with Skrillex and made a guest appearance in a Lana Del Ray video, for crying out loud. The guy is a cultural linchpin.
In January, Rocky released his first studio album, Long. Live. A$AP, and while it has lost some of the immediacy of the mixtape, it still explodes with color and vibrance—not to mention a veritable who’s who of the finest rappers in the game. Long. Live. A$AP features guest spots from Schoolboy Q, Santigold, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Drake, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Danny Brown and Action Bronson, among others. The album is not just the next step in Rocky’s career, it is a document that captures the rising stars of hip hop at what may be the moment just before their apex.
What young cat my age is directing their own videos? What young cat is influencing hip-hop culture and fashion culture at the same time? Look how young I am. I’m the first rapper to be on the cover of VOGUE Magazine, the first rapper. And I’m proud of that, I take pride in that. That’s a dream; I never thought they’d put a black kid from Harlem with gold teeth and braids on the front of Vogue, you know what I’m saying? What other artist you know got their album leaked a month and a week early and I’m still blessed. And it’s because I’m trying to work hard, so how you gonna put me at No. 8, bruh?
So, yeah—if you’re going to see Rihanna tonight, enjoy the show. Just understand that the most important artist—the one we’re still talking about in 10 years—may be the one who takes the stage first.