Concert Reviews

A$AP Rocky at the Ogden Theatre, with Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q, 10/16/12


A$AP Rocky walked onto the stage with his crew in tow, ski mask over his face, looking like some radical of ill repute. Odd Future and Pro-Era have pulled the same stunt, only more effectively. The rapper invigorated the Ogden immediately with overwhelming energy and powerful flow. He leapt into the crowd with abandon more than once, and there's no doubt the crowd received his energy well, but there was a major piece of the MC's appeal that was lost in the ruckus.

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Rocky (aka Rakim Mayers) was named for the legendary god MC Rakim, arguably the greatest ever to grace a mike, a rapper who spoke volumes without the need for volume. Mayers has that same gift, but without the lyrical prowess; it would be astounding if he had it. The unique thing about Rocky (that opener Danny Brown also shares) is that, to a large extent, his appeal comes more from style than lyrical substance. For Brown, his abrasive voice and vivid, explicit, even disgusting subject matter reflects the grimy ghettos of Detroit.

On his exemplary mixtape LiveLoveA$AP, Rocky is able to communicate what artists have been trying to convey for decades: what it actually feels like to be high. This is achieved in large part due to heavenly production from Clams Casino, but equally from Rocky's ability to blend the tone of his lyrics into the tone of the beat.

The problem is, when the A$AP crew stampedes onto the stage, guns blazing, rapping over the lyrics from the original tracks, that subtlety is lost; Rocky becomes just another rapper with a great flow. Still, the dude has nothing short of a great flow. Despite being a Harlem native, with his signature spitfire triplets, he sounds more like Pimp C than Jay-Z. As he proudly states in "Palace" -- which he didn't play, for some unforgivable reason -- you can hear the Houston influence in his music.

The purpose of the LongLiveA$AP tour is to promote Rocky's upcoming debut studio album of the same name, and the interludes in the show seemed to suggest that, with the new album, the rapper was moving in a new, more revolutionary, more militaristic direction. The stage was backdropped by an upside-down American flag, an image that was right side up on the cover of his debut mixtape. "All those flags do is represent the battle," he said, "and when I look around this room and I see all these trill faces, I know I ain't facin' the battle alone."

And he definitely wasn't alone. As Rocky moved through his setlist, he brought guest after guest up, including Danny Brown for "Coke and White Bitches, Chapter 2"; Schoolboy Q for "Brand New Guy" and the beloved "Hands on the Wheel"; Yelawolf for no other reason than that he is playing the Bluebird tonight; and, of course, the rest of the mob. A far cry from their chilled-out recordings, the mob was very moblike -- a spectacle -- almost like a gang ritual in their intensity.

Near the end of the set, Rocky started rolling out the heavy guns, beginning with the super-stylish "Goldie," followed by the sensual "Kissin Pink." Then, somewhat surprisingly, though following the revolutionary theme established earlier, Rocky made a genuine plea to stop racism, saying, "It don't matter if you white, black or brown, 'cause we all purple people at heart," referring to his favorite color of marijuana and drank. Rocky then launched into "Trilla," which features a wholly satisfying sample of Das EFX's "They Want EFX," followed by the long-awaited grand finale, "the song that introduced me to you," "Peso."

Danny Brown began the evening in a ratty stretched-out T-shirt that suited him well. This guy's voice makes it sound as if he's disgusted with everything, and it just adds authenticity and grime to his already obscene lyrics. In his performance of "Monopoly," when Brown says, "I done served fiends on they menstrual/Ain't even had pads, stuffed they panties with tissue," the image is so disgusting, and Brown sounds so disgusted, you just know it's a true story. Brown also performed crowd favorites "Molly Ringwald," an ode to all the "redhead hos," and "Blunt After Blunt." When he was finished, he said, frankly, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, "That's my time, and I'm so glad it is, 'cause I'm rollin' off molly and these lights are fuckin' me up."

Next was Schoolboy Q, who was absolutely electric with his energy, and, unlike Rocky, it worked fully in his favor. He started off with two of his best tracks from this year's Habits & Contradictions, "Oxy Music" and "Nightmare on Figg St." One enjoyable moment, which Q may forever have to endure, is that in his best song, "There He Go," he says, "Word to Dr. Dre./Detox is like a mix away," which is funny, because, as we all know, Detox is never coming out, but that didn't take away from his thoroughly enjoyable set.


Personal Bias: Danny Brown is my favorite rapper right now. He destroys every verse he gets on, and he's so versatile. I would not have objected had they reversed the bill. That's not to take anything away from the other performers, who are also awesome.

Random Detail: Schoolboy Q has lost a lot of weight since the last performance I saw of his online. Good on you, buddy.

By The Way: Danny Brown performed Ab-Soul's "Terrorist Threats" and Schoolboy Q performed Kendrick Lamar's "ADHD," both tracks that the leading artists performed themselves last week in this very venue.

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Noah Hubbell