Harlem's getting gentrified. There are androgynous boys in coffee shops sipping certified fair trade "graphic designing" and "writing novels" to the tune of Chromeo and Cut Copy. They leave their iPads on the table while they piss out the French roast, and their iPads await them when they return. The streets are safer, in short — New York gettin' soft. Where are the Biggies of old? The Nases and Ghostfaces? Enter A$AP Rocky, the 23-year-old Harlem native whose mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP, has helped bring back the edge in NYC. Though Harlem-bred, his sound is admittedly Houston-inspired. The sampling is subtle, choruses looping in slo-mo. And A$AP is trill. And not in the way I'd previously interpreted the word (a shrill, warbling sound of birds) but trill in the good way — the street combination of true and real. For example, from Rocky's hit "Peso": "Graduate school of hard knocks, I can show you my degrees/ Couple A, B, C's, bad bitch double-D's/ Popping E, I don't give a F, told you I'm a G." So true. So real. So trill, in fact, that he's performing in festivals like SXSW and Coachella; festivals those same coffee-shop artistes will be attending. And it won't matter that Harlem isn't as gnar as it used to be; the kids will be bobbing their heads to A$AP, regardless. Because even a nerd writing short stories in Starbucks — or a surfer, I suppose — can escape to a rougher place, one filled with bad broads and big blunts, if only for a three-minute track. —Beau Flemister

ASAP Rocky
Photo: YSA Perez