How did A$AP Rocky fare at his biggest UK shows yet this weekend? NME’s David Renshaw was at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday (October 17) for what was a strange night for the Harlem hero…
A$AP Rocky announces himself to his huge London crowd with the words, “Sometimes I hate this rap shit, but I know the fans love me.” It’s a strange start. Three songs later, things get weirder still. Behind a huge white sheet that hides him from the majority of the 10,000-plus audience, he attempts (and fails) to play ‘Excuse Me’ on keyboard. “Man, fuck this shit,” he says, running his fingers along the keys. It’s a muddled start.
Focusing on the slower, sludgier end of this year’s ‘At Long Last A$AP’ does not appear to be what his fans love him for. Dressed head to toe in black, Rocky (real name Rakim Myers) runs through ‘JD’ and ‘Fine Whine’ to an audience who can’t even see him. Thankfully, the piercing synths and booming bass of ‘Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2’ coincide with the sheet falling. It reveals a crowded stage. Mob members A$AP Nast and A$AP Ant and a gang of teenagers with peroxide blonde hair surround the Harlem rapper as he asks, “Who gave ‘em style 9 times out of 10?”. It’s an exhilarating moment.
Tonight, Rocky appears caught between being the thoughtful artist he wants to be and the reality of being 90% style. This disconnect defines a disjointed performance. It’s a shame, because he excels at being flashy and dumb. Guns, sex and violence collide as ‘Goldie’ rings out across the arena, while fake cash rains down as ode to getting rich ‘M’s proves a highlight. The Skrillex produced ‘Wild For The Night’ brings a noisy punk spirit to a venue that proudly displays adverts by its official E-Cigarette partner throughout the gig.
However, these moments are fleeting and broken up by Rocky delving further into his psychedelic new material. “Who here is drunk as fuck?” he asks to mighty cheers, and the response gets louder when he asks who smokes weed. The silence when he inquires about acid is notable though. A$AP Rocky’s audience favour selfies and designer labels over mid-expanding hallucinogens and it shows as trippier new material like ‘Canal St’ and the genuinely brilliant ‘LSD’ are met with muted applause.
The hour-long set ends in something of a rush as Rocky wisely returns to his more mainstream songs including the Rod Stewart-sampling ‘Everyday’. It’s left to ‘Electric Body’ (Sample lyric: “Shake that ass girl, make the coochie wet”) to end things on a rather basic note. The crowd leave satisfied, but you can’t help wondering if Rocky would have been happier if that sheet had never dropped and he’d been left to explore the outskirts of his psyche alone.