Justin Burton is a lecturer in music history at Rider, Rutgers, and Montclair State Universities. He specializes in posthuman hybridity in popular music, especially as it relates to black identity construction. Justin currently serves as the web editor for IASPM-US.
"Trillin in Harlem: The Unmistakable Crunkness of New York's A$AP Rocky"
In mid-2011, the internet, as it sometimes does, blew up—this time with buzz over a new rapper out of Harlem, A$AP Rocky. What distinguishes Rocky from previous New York rappers is the extent to which his music is permeated with the sounds and signifiers of Southern hip hop. From the opening track of his 2011 mixtape, Live Love A$AP, the crunk influence is obvious, as a voice intones the song’s hook in a deep voice that has been screwed. The screwed and chopped sound, where rappers’ voices are slowed, deepened, and digitally sliced into fragments, is one of Houston’s signature production techniques, and the influence of Southern hip hop extends to Rocky’s lyrics and visual style, as well. Rocky’s lexicon includes terms like “trill,” “throwed,” and “tippin,” words frequently heard in the flow of Houston rappers, and Rocky also gravitates toward the color purple, which seems to be a nod to “purple drank,” a particularly potent libation heralded in hip hop songs across the South.
While other New York rappers have collaborated with Southerners on tracks in the past, Rocky’s extensive incorporation of the Southern hip hop sound is unique, especially for a rapper from the city that often claims to be hip hop’s birth place. This paper will explore the overlap of regional sounds that can be heard in A$AP Rocky’s music, demonstrating how Rocky builds himself into a bridge that spans North and South and emblematizes the cross-pollination of Great Migrations past and present.