There are some artists who crave attention, the glare of bright lights and inquisitive eyes fixated on their every move. There are also some artists who prefer to be shrouded in mystery, ducking and dodging the stigma attached to stardom. Then there are some artists who fit neither bill and simply play their part as best they can. A$AP Twelvyy, original member of A$AP Mob, is one of them.
Since arriving on the scene spitting head nod-inducing bars on Rocky’s 2011 debut mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP, he’s grown a reputation for being both overlooked and underrated with many wondering when the 28-year-old rapper would get his proper shine. But after nearly a decade of teasing fans with a handful of one-off singles and feature appearances, the rapper born Jamel Phillips has finally unleashed his unique talents on the world with a full-length project entitled 12.
As with most rap collectives, every member is their own individual and carefully concocts their own style that will either be hated or appreciated (because fans are fickle). But while mob frontman Rocky accelerated to the charts with syrupy, sometimes Bone Thugs-N-Harmony-esque brisk rhymes cloaked in Big Apple arrogance, and Ferg found his niche with boisterous, experimental soundscapes, songs like “Glock Rivers,” “Heaven Can Wait,” and “Lords Never Worry” found Twelvyy delivering refuge for city-slickers hungry for the sound that put New York City MCs on the map across the globe.
“Castle Hell,” the opener of his highly-anticipated debut, is a cinematic narration of his journey from Harlem to Castle Hill, Bronx as a young teen, which he aptly describes as going from an infernal, dog-eat-dog underworld, to relishing in the sweet life – with a watchful eye, of course.
While the album builds upon the gritty, street-core storytelling sound pioneered by the likes of East Coast MCs like Mobb Deep, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan, Twelvyy, who endured a period of being banned from listening to rap as a teen, draws from a variety of influences that are a tad more sentimental, like the sample of London crooner Sampha’s “Beneath The Tree” on the slick “Strapped.”
He even goes as far as titling one of the Harry Fraud-produced tracks on the album, “Yea Yea Yea (Maps)” after the indie band Yeah Yeah Yeah’s 2004 hit single. “Hop Out,” which features Ferg, is a striking, easier-to-digest track that employs an infectious chorus that could surely propel him to commercial success.
But even when he experiments, Twelvyy doesn’t stray too far from his focus. 12 is firmly grounded in telling the story of his own everyday struggle that’s riddled with a complex path, all while staying authentic to his beloved home of New York City.
In a recent interview with Complex, Twelvyy was candid about the evolution of A$AP Mob, particularly the backlash and doubt Rocky and Ferg were first met with when individuals called them out for sounding nothing like what New York had been championed for decades prior. “My whole mission was to be like, ‘Alright, you could say that these two don’t sound like the city—but yo, he sound like the city.” That was one thing that was in my head too: sounding where I’m from or helping our sound grow.’”
“Riviera” and “A Glorious Death,” featuring Joey Bada$$ and Flatbush Zombies, respectively, are the album’s standouts uniting fellow contemporary New York MCs for a friendly competition, tossing vigilant rhymes back and forth.
With rap becoming more and more mainstream, damn near pop music, what’s most compelling is Twelvyy’s resistance to conforming to what apparently sells today: mumble rap, tasteless hubris, misogyny, and even excessive displays of gaudy jewelry. While 12 is easily categorized as hip-hop, it still sounds fresh, smooth, and more refined than its counterparts.
New York City and street rap purists, look no further, Twelvyy is your contemporary dream in shining armor.
For more of our reviews, read how Tyler, The Creator becomes a man with his latest full-length, Flower Boy, right here.
- Words: Ashley Monaé