“And I modeled Dior, but I’m still a rapper / Took a little detour, but I’m still a rapper,” ASAP Rocky slyly asserted on “OG Beeper” before a sold-out crowd Sunday night at the Anthem.
The Harlem native has nothing to prove at this point but still felt compelled to remind the world that music is his priority, despite his many other ambitions. ASAP Rocky’s rise at the beginning of the decade was disorienting; his aura was unmistakably New York, but his music appropriated the styles of other regions to what felt like an unprecedented extent. His personality is magnetic: simultaneously suave and brash. His distinct taste and seemingly boundless artistic ambitions led to other avenues: fashion, acting and the high-art experimentalism (he did a live installation at Sotheby’s last year) that defined his most recent album, 2018’s “Testing.”
Many of ASAP Rocky’s endeavors exude creativity for creativity’s sake, but they tend to work — on some level, at least — because of his confidence. He knows what he likes and has the charisma to pull it off. That presence and his knack for details were evident in Sunday’s show, and a reminder that those qualities make him a particularly strong live performer.
Rushing the stage fashioned in the same full-body, crash test dummy costume used as the visual concept for “Testing” to grab a microphone affixed to a barrel wrapped in caution tape, ASAP Rocky opened the night with the triumphant “A$AP Forever,” a toast to his individual legacy and that of his ASAP Mob collective. Following an extended moment of silence, he dove into the posse-cut “Yamborghini High,” which pays respect to ASAP Yams, his longtime friend and the ASAP Mob visionary who died of a drug overdose in 2015.
ASAP Rocky’s love of particulars and high fashion intersect aesthetically and musically. He recently released “Babushka,” a reference to the Gucci scarf he wore around his head, grandma-style, at a gala last fall. After finally removing the crash test dummy mask, he asked everyone in attendance to don their scarves before using the shuffling, rave-inspired song as a transition into the evening’s next phase.
After a brief intermission, Rocky returned standing atop one of three cars emblazoned with crash test dummy emblems suspended above the stage to perform “Gunz N Butter,” a song that shows his affinity for Southern hip-hop through a sample of Memphis rapper Project Pat. His music has grown increasingly off-center with each album, and “LSD” and “Kids Turned Out Fine” feature him utilizing his singing voice, emphasizing the songs’ psychedelic-drug influence. He performed both sprawled across a giant smiley face at the center of the venue and the image, broadcast on the screen behind him, evoked memories of the 1993 coming-of-age comedy “Dazed and Confused” — on acid, of course.
Notoriously specific about what he wants, Rocky spent a good 10 minutes ordering hardheaded fans to open a giant mosh pit so he could perform “Wild for the Night,” his 2013 dance music mash-up with the DJ and producer Skrillex. And the rapper, who is forthcoming about his influences, took a moment away from his own catalogue to shout out other artists’ music. “Plain Jane,” another sleeper hit by his ASAP Mob comrade ASAP Ferg, interpolates the pioneering Memphis hip-hop group Tear the Club Up Thugs’ 1999 classic with an unprintable title. Rocky played both records in succession, showing respect to the musicians whom he and the rest of the Mob are indebted.
By closing the night with “Long Live A$AP,” ASAP Rocky bookended the show with records that speak to his and the ASAP Mob’s longevity. No matter what eccentric detour he takes, his charm, energy and vision will make his shows more than worth the experience.