Music preview: Rival star rappers Tyler and ASAP Rocky bring edge to solo tours
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In his short time on the world stage, rapper and Twitter sensation Tyler, The Creator has waged an impressive number of hit-and-run feuds. Let's see, there was B.o.B., Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, 2 Chainz, Miley Cyrus, Tegan and Sara (oddly enough) and ... oh, there we go, A$AP Rocky.
Tyler and A$AP are stars who would be high draft picks on your Rappers Under 25 Fantasy Team, and they will practically be crossing paths here this week on their first headlining visits to Pittsburgh.
The 22-year-old Tyler, who plays the sold-out Mr. Smalls on Friday, redefined edgy in an increasingly pop-friendly hip-hop world when he surfaced with the Odd Future crew as early as 2008 and released his debut album, "Bastard," in 2010. Pitchfork greeted it as "a minor masterpiece of shock art and teenage spleen-vent" and went on say that the raspy-voiced Tyler (born Tyler Okonma) "sounds demonic" rapping over a plinking piano or stabbing industrial beats.
"This is what the devil plays before he goes to sleep" was his introduction to the album, and one line later, he was revealing that he never met his father and that "I cut my wrist and play piano cause I'm do depressed," setting the stage for the seething rage, misogyny, homophobia and self-loathing to follow.
Much of this went under the radar until two game-changing events in February 2011. On Feb. 10, he unveiled the shocking, cockroach-eating black-and-white video for "Yonkers" (from his second album "Goblin") in which he fantasized about stabbing Bruno Mars in the esophagus. Six days later, he made his network TV debut, with OF member Hodgy Beats, on "The Jimmy Fallon Show" looking like every mom's worst nightmare in a green mask with an upside-down crucifix -- rap's Marilyn Manson. There was even a zombie girl on stage and climax where he leaped over the other guests' chairs in a feral chant of "Wolf! Gang! Wolf! Gang!"
A month later, Odd Future took that mayhem to the mtvU Woodie Awards show, and that summer he beat Wiz Khalifa, Foster the People and others for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards. Leading up to the ceremony, he dissed all of his competition with the exception of Adele (even Tyler loves her).
His lyrics have drawn criticism from many quarters, and he's squirmed trying to defend them.
From day one, his unhinged, uppercase Twitter feed has been a source of hilarity (about his big ears, fondness for pancakes, inability to drive, etc.) and a war zone, although while at the Grammys, on the coattails of his smooth-voiced OF partner Frank Ocean, he turned into a crazed fan, gushing about being in the room with Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and, of all people, Jack White.
He's also been hanging out with Mac Miller of late -- he was at the End of the World party on Miller's MTV2 reality show -- and they have something in common, having both angered Donald Trump. On Feb. 27, the mogul tweeted "Was photo bombed yesterday by a wise guy when I left the set of @LateNightJimmy ..." That was Tyler, behind his friend Taco posing with The Donald, sticking out his tongue and lifting up his shirt.
His mini-tour helps build hype for a long-awaited third album, "Wolf," scheduled for April 2. A while back he offered a Twitter preview: "WOLF. APRIL 2nd. ALOT OF GAY JOKES BIKE REFERENCES AND CHORDS STOLEN FROM STUFF I DONT WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT I YELL ALOT TOO." So far, he's released one single, "Domo23," which opens with him rapping that he "ate one roach and made a lot of money."
"Talking about rape and cutting bodies up, it just doesn't interest me anymore ...," he told SPIN about the album's focus. "What interests me is making weird hippie music for people to get high to."
The solo tour has him a little antsy as he noted on Twitter and in an interview with The Fader: "I'm nervous. All the songs are just my songs. I'll just let the crowd know, This is awkward, let's do this. And then get over it. On the last Odd Future tour, we did some big venues. They were cool, but for my tour I wanted to do smaller venues like we did when we first started. I like those shows, they're way more fun. I like sweatboxes where if I stand at the edge and go forward I'll fall into a bunch of people."
If Tyler is lucky, "Wolf" will top Billboard in April, just like East Coast rival A$AP Rocky did in January with his much-anticipated debut "Long.Live.A$AP."
The 24-year-old rapper born Rakim Mayers has his own hip-hop collective in A$AP Mob, formed in 2007, but his breakout is as a solo artist working with ace producers -- Danger Mouse, Skrillex and Clams Casino -- a star-studded guest cast, including Santigold, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q.
Like Tyler, he came out of the box with a gripping opener: "I thought I'd probably die in prison," he rapped his in his shady voice. He continues from there with a hard street approach ("this ain't no conscious rap") and the ability to ride beats, from dreamy reggae dub to a frenzied Skrillex banger.
Tyler took issue with the single, "[Expletive] Problem," featuring Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, and Drake, tweeting, "So funny when someone releases a new song with the same four people that we expected to be on it with the same [crappy] 'Trap' beat ..."
Like many of the artists dissed by Tyler, A$AP refused to get drawn into a beef. "He has his opinions and he's entitled to them, so it's whatever," he told Life And Times. "Hell no, I'm not tripping over what Tyler, The Creator said. I'm Jiggy."
A$AP is doing a Pittsburgh show on an off night as opening act on the Rihanna Diamonds World Tour (so, this show Wednesday could conceivably have been at Consol with Rihanna because there's an open date). Later in the week, he'll be at SXSW in Austin for the Woodie Awards, where he is nominated for the top prize.
In a teleconference previewing the awards, A$AP was asked about who he would like to collaborate with and surprised people by saying Tame Impala ("they are really dope yo, they are like this indie group"). He also said, "My dream collaboration would be with someone like John Lennon, but that's probably not going to happen."
He was also asked about what legacy he would like to leave behind, a heady question for a 24-year-old. "I am leaving behind a legacy," he said, "I'm teaching the youth, man, I'm doing it one thing at a time, through all my songs and my energy, and just sending the message, man. It's a new day and age. We need to bring back the hippie power. It's not about race, power, ethnicity, color anymore -- We're all one people. We need to get high and enjoy life the way we used to in the '70s."
First Published March 11, 2013 12:00 am