I Can’t Stop Listening To 1 Train

This comes as a shock to myself, too. A$AP Rocky was never really “for me.” I remember when LiveLoveA$AP came out in October 2011. The people around me at the time who were listening to it, to me, didn’t seem like the right kind of people. They turned me off to his music. (They turned me off in a lot of ways.) Legitimately, they were frat boys, years out of college but still attached to their drinking problems. In addition to that, my relationship to hip hop is complicated. I’ve written about it here many times and even though when I say it out loud and people tell me I’m crazy and that it doesn’t matter anymore that it’s OK because everyone likes it and it’s the norm – I still know they’re wrong. I know that everything matters, race matters and it always will.

But before I get started there, let me get started here. I know exactly why I’m drawn to “1 Train“. Quite some time ago I wrote about Odd Future’s “Oldie” – a track, as it seems, that’s been brushed aside. No one seems to care about the ten minute album closer, which is a damn shame. Because it’s so damn good. “1 Train” and “Oldie” have everything in common but the artists featured on it. They both simmer over the same beat (“1 Train” is just over six minutes while “Oldie” clocks in at 10:37) and let a jumble of different rappers flow over it. Different flows and different timbres give the effect that you could actually be listening to a different song every few verses. But you aren’t. That’s the beauty in it.

“Oldie” moves from Tyler to Hodgy to Left Brain to Mike G to Domo to (GASP) Frank Ocean to Jasper to Earl (who makes his first appearance for the first time in a year on this track) back to Tyler. The Gang knows how to produce (read: Tyler knows how to produce) and arrange and flow together. At one point, both “Oldie” and “1 Train” cut the music to let someone free-flow. On “Oldie” it’s Tyler in the closing verse. On “1 Train” it’s Joey Bada$$ – who does this quite well, often, on his 1999 Mixtape.

“1 Train” gives this nice alur with the strings and then adds the classic back beat. You don’t notice it once A$AP starts the first verse. There are lines that stick out in my head every time I hear it along with the lines that get lost on me because I’m maybe waiting for the familiarity or just getting lost in a daze – or a haze. A$AP breaking the fourth wall does it for me, “I’ve been thinkin bout/all the O’s in my bank account” as does his “Anything is better than that 1 train.” (Personal note to self moment: breaking the fourth wall=what all hip hop should do.) Kendrick Lamar (who, not surprisingly, doesn’t have a memorable line for me) moves in to Joey Bada$$ who, among other things, addresses his age. “Just got back to the block from a 6 o’clock with Jigga/and I’m thinkin bout signin to the Roc/but my niggas on the block still assigned to the rocks” gets me every time. You know why.

Yelawolf does it one better. It’s a miracle he even takes a breath in his verse. We for sure can’t hear it. “Flyin’ duck/nothing but a buck shot/Ch/pow/motherfuck your life/pussy blod clot/ain’t no ever been no rapper this cold since 2pac was froze/and thawed out for spot date at a Coachella show.” And I know I don’t need to tell you that I love everything about Danny Brown. His voice took me a long time to take to but he adds to the courses on “1 Train.” With that kind of whiney, high-pitched “dick so big stretch Earth to Venus,” and those one word list-flow rhymes that work perfectly. Action Bronson’s flow is, as always, seamless, “Cuffed to my wrist I’ve got the briefcase/the gavel slam/I’m a free man/try not to eat ham.” And Big K.R.I.T. has that southern slow-mo in him (that has never really done it for me because of southern rap’s abuse of the drum machine) that works so well with the melodic trance. “Most rappers hoping the world end so they won’t have to drop another album/B.B. King saw the bing in me/so why can’t you?” K.R.I.T.’s thick lyricism ties up the track in a nice bow.

In the end we have, hell I’ll say it, perfection. And if you want to try and stop A$AP, even if you don’t love him or his catalog, you can’t knock him simply because he.is.everywhere. The New York Times (uhh, what?) reported on ASAP Yams (uhhh…what??) and The Village Voice did a cover profile of him. I wouldn’t be lying to you that, if you already don’t, you need to love everything about A$AP playing the black JFK in Lana Del Rey’s video. LongLiveA$AP is actually just his debut full-length record distributed through his label A$AP Worldwide via RCA. I also feel the need to remind you that he signed to them for two years and made $3 million. So there’s that too.

Along with many other reasons I find myself flocking to New York City – mentally and physically – I flock to and favor New York City hip hop (with very few exceptions.) In addition to being all anyone would ever need, New York is also the birthplace of hip hop. The city is romanticized in music from Lou Reed to my latest obsession, Azealia Banks, who like A$AP is also from Harlem (stay tuned for a Dear Azealia piece?) I can’t get away from New York. And I hope I never do.