A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator Are True Leaders of the New Cool

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This week, the internet has been enthralled in a fight about what’s considered “real” hip-hop bringing into question evolving taste, hypebeast culture, and the eternal elephant in the room within the genre, ageism. Many people are using the argument that oldheads just can’t get the youthfulness of artists today. Meanwhile, the biggest acts in hip-hop right now are on the northern side of 30 (hi Fewch!) and doing remakes of 90s Memphis or Texas music. So who are the actual voices of the younger generation? Who are the artists truly ‘pushing the culture’? I found my answer at the New York City stop of the Rocky and Tyler show at the Theater at Madison Square Garden last night.

There was a time as A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator were beginning their ascent when the media continuously attempted to stir up beef between the A$AP Mob and Odd Future camps. Now with solid music careers and widely successful side projects, it was the perfect time for them to silence the rumors and come together for a tour, bringing Danny Brown and Vince Staples in tow. Arguably, Rocky, Tyler, and Vince dropped three of the best albums, rap or otherwise, this year. Every teenager in the tri-state area seemed to agree as they packed the venue to the gills. At this point, we expect rap concerts to appear more like a White People Association of America meeting, but last night couldn’t be farther from the truth. I marveled at the extreme diversity of the crowd. Even Rocky had to comment on it in his closing commentary. Black kids, white kids, asian kids, hispanic kids repping everywhere from Brownsville, to the Upper West Side, to Connecticut all swaying and rapping in unison.

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Opening the show a few minutes before the 8pm start time, Vince burst onto the stage like he was the headliner. As the youngin’ on the bill, he performed with the self-assuredness and  charisma of a veteran. His command of the crowd peaked when he requested the pit form a circle and when the song drops, mosh like crazy. It was the most organized and contained mosh I’ve ever seen. Vince breezed through his set with the crowd hanging on to every word. Knowing his actual catalog, which is quietly super conscious and black nationalist, it was a bit awkward seeing the white girls next to me making Snapchats yelling “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police.”

Next up, was the wildcard we all love, Danny Brown. Holding down the title of eldest on the tour at 34, Danny’s youthful energy erupted from the stage. Whether it’s the amazing production on his songs or his peculiar voice, it’s hard not to enjoy a Danny Brown set. Danny’s most recent album, 2014’s “Old”, was largely overlooked by the masses, but each song he performed from it aged so well. I almost went into cardiac arrest when “25 Bucks” dropped. Daniel nailed his performance and I hope that he’ll be able to grow beyond his niche to give the world the gift that is Danny Brown.

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It was very clear that a huge chunk of the crowd was coming specifically for Tyler, The Creator. There was Golf and OFWGKTA ‘nalia everywhere. Tyler’s catalog lives in extremes, but he has found a way to feed his entire fanbase in one set. From jumping around to “Tamale” to crooning on “Fucking Young/Perfect”, Tyler kept everyone on ten throughout his performance. He also peppered every break between songs with jokes making you feel like you’re in the audience cheering on your best friend. Tyler is a great rapper, but he’s the master when it comes to actual music. My friends and I couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the tracks all sounded live. “Cherry Bomb” was a pretty noisy album, but in a concert space, they had ample room to breathe. At this point, Tyler is a pro at this type of scene, but seeing him live always feels like you’re at the best party put on by the coolest kid in school.

Last night marked my fifth time seeing A$AP Rocky in concert. His very first show in New York after the release of “Live.Love.A$AP” set the bar unbelievably high. I was blown away by his stage presence and ability to make Irving Plaza feel like a massive stadium while seemingly rapping directly to you. Last night’s show, however, superseded that original mold. We should’ve known that this was going to be an intense set when Rocky opened with album favorite, “JD”. He launched into hard hit after hit until allowing the stage to cool down with “L$D”. Rocky did an acapella performance of “Holy Ghost” that seriously had me considering recommitting my life to Christ. The staging itself was visually alluring, changing with every song or voice infliction. The A$AP Mob was obviously in the building. Like a real one, Rocky opened the floor to Addie and Nast to perform their singles “Hella Hoes” and “Trillmatic”. Twelvyy even surprised us with his new song that’ll surely be a contemporary “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. They all owned the stage and in those moments, you almost forgot you were really here to see Rocky. Then he closes with “Canal Street” and you remember that the king of New York is actually some kid with braids from Harlem.

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The Rocky and Tyler tour was a reassuring experience for a hip-hop head. Everything the “oldheads” complain is lacking in music was on full display in the flashiest way. Miss regional rap? Rocky, Tyler, Danny, and Vince are dripping with their respective city’s aesthetic. Even over the inescapable trap drums, these four can bend the track to adapt to their sound making it feel different than anything on the radio. Miss rappers actually ‘saying something’ ? Vince is hands down the voice of the youngest of the millennials with a strong grip on social issues. No one in contemporary hip hop can tell stories quite like Danny Brown. Tyler retired the necrophilia talk for bars about crushes and being fatherless. Rocky, from the beginning, has been able to make visual experiences out of every song.

Bigger than all of this however, was watching four black men, who happen to be rappers be themselves. Rocky had a Kanye speech moment talking about how they all exist outside of the mainstream at the cost of staying true to who they are. Vince, Danny, Tyler, and Rocky exist beyond the polar ends of conscious/just noise and real/hype. They are everything we love-hate about lower and middle class black millennials addicted to the internet. Besides giving themselves the space to be complicated and living on multiple planes of blackness, it gives us rap fans, in all of our millions of factions, something to connect to.

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Photography: Brook Bobbins

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