When A$AP Rocky's DJ dropped "Brand New Guy," a thunderous track from last year's "LiveLoveA$AP," the sold-out crowd at Baltimore Soundstage lost it. And so did Rocky and his Harlem, N.Y., crew — 90 seconds in and they were stage-diving as if it were a well-earned encore. It was the fourth song of the night.
Out in the crowd, Rocky was mobbed like a 10-year-vet, not a rap rookie who only started performing live four months ago.
"Look at my shirt. I look like Michael Jackson," the 23-year-old said after realizing his black crewneck T-shirt was now a deep V-neck. He wasn't mad at the overzealous fan: "I love you, baby."
As Tuesday night's hour-long set proved, it's good to be A$AP Rocky right now. He appeared out of nowhere last year with style-first rap videos that quickly went viral. The best of the bunch, "Peso," captures Rocky and the A$AP crew perfectly: elaborate handshakes, loud clothing accessories (a Harlem tradition), malt liquor, drugs and the overwhelming sense that the A$AP (Always $trive and Prosper, among other acronyms) crew puts its brotherhood above all else.
It's a crew the Soundstage crowd clearly connected with and yearned to be apart of. Chants of "A$AP!" rung out all night, like a cult reaffirming its strength-in-numbers.
It's easy to ride the rapper-of-the-moment wave, especially during an age when artists can watch their movements build tweet-by-tweet. But Rocky seems destined to outlast those 15 minutes for two reasons — his infectious, undeniable charisma and his excellent ear.
We were reminded of the former all night. Whether it was lighting up a blunt thrown to him during "Roll One Up" or his ear-to-ear smile after a leopard bra landed on stage ("Our first!" he yelled), there was no question whether or not Rocky exudes the star-power many up-and-coming rappers lack live. He commands a crowd in a likeable way — think the opposite of an entitled diva — making his entire set feel like an inclusive party. When he ran out of songs (he only has one album and a couple stray songs), he announced he was "not done partying with y'all." So his DJ played rap classics — Juvenile's "Ha," Big Tymers' "Still Fly" and most appropriately his hometown heroes The Diplomats' "Dipset Anthem" — while Rocky and his buddies drank 40s, puffed strong and danced. The "Peso" video had come to life.
This would all mean nothing if the music failed to keep up, but it never faltered. "Wassup," a moody slow-burner on record, became an aggressive rallying cry. Stand-out "Kissin' Pink" found Rocky bouncing from each side of the stage, perfectly punctuated by A$AP Ferg's essential sing-song cameo. On a booming system, "Bass" earned its title and then some. Rocky loves slow, Screw music and other Southern touchstones, and he masterfully mixes them with his New York swagger. It's a gimmick that could run its course quickly, but in Rocky's hands, it's remarkably tasteful and fun.
Rocky isn't a pro, yet. The dead air between tracks will likely vanish when he opens up for megastar Drake in the coming months. But the show's overall loose feeling was endearing, never frustrating. It seems unlikely Rocky will ever have to play venues as small as Soundstage again.
Maybe he knew this and aimed to take full advantage of the intimate setting.
Before the night's final song ("Pretty Flacko" for a second time), Rocky asked if he could come party with the crowd. ("Y'all aren't going to rob me right?" he asked, grinning.) He quickly disappeared from my view in the back. Suddenly, as he rapped "Out of This World" a capella, he was right above me, immediately swarmed by eager A$AP converts. When he said he wanted to party with us, it wasn't an empty gesture. He put his arm around some fanboys, and continued rapping. As they recited the lyrics verbatim, the streetwear-clad kids looked to be having the time of their lives. Rocky did, too.