The four-decade history of New York hip-hop is a story of crews and cliques, from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to the Wu-Tang Clan to Bad Boy and Dipset. Continuing that legacy for much of this decade has been A$AP Mob, the Harlem collective fronted by A$AP Rocky that brought its Too Cozy Tour to a sold-out Echostage on Wednesday night.
Despite their Harlem billing, A$AP Mob is less about a specific place and more about a specific vision for hip-hop, one that was the brainchild of Tumblr tastemaker A$AP Yams. A child of the Internet, Yams was a hip-hop historian and a master brander. At the beginning of the decade, Yams helped Rocky establish what would become the sonic blueprint for the crew. Singles like “Peso” and “Purple Swag” were drug-dazed tales of conspicuous consumption (particularly of high-end fashion brands) and sounded like a post-Internet game of hip-hop hopscotch: flows from New York and the Midwest, bass-draped beats from Houston, Atlanta and the Bay Area.
Yams died in 2015, but the Mob has continued to strive and prosper, using a variation of his blueprint. On Wednesday night, they were joined by A$APs Twelvvy, Nast and Ant, a pair of DJs and a handful of hangers-on who roamed the stage and gazed into the sea of whirlpooling, whiplashing fans. The majority of the night's music was gleaned from the group's "Cozy Tapes" albums, two volumes of posse cuts featuring the Mob and its extended family.
The rappers traded verses and finished each other’s sentences while subwoofers pumped bass that tingled toes, fingers and everything in between. And despite Rocky’s prominence, the real star was A$AP Ferg. Ferg, outfitted in a turquoise du-rag and a Howard sweatshirt, leveled the crowd with big-mouthed anthems “Shabba,” “New Level” and the Three 6 Mafia-interpolating “Plain Jane.”
A$AP Mob is an aesthetic as much as a sound, and the concert’s visuals did not disappoint. To match the high-end grandeur of the crew’s lyrics, the DJ booths were fashioned after sports car chassis. To match the Internet-inspired mash that is its musical trademark, video screens played a disorienting mix of 3D game graphics, “Simpsons” clips and music videos — the modern version of someone flipping channels on an old TV with bad reception.
But while there was a bit of nostalgia in the ’90s-nodding visuals, there wasn’t much in the song selection. For his “day one” fans, Rocky performed a single from 2014, but nothing from his breakthrough mixtapes. Perhaps this wasn’t surprising; hip-hop is at its best when its looking forward, not backward. A$AP Mob knows that if it is to carry the torch of New York rap crews past, it has to look like a flame emoji.