It's pretty clear whose hip hop posse ruled 2012. In September, Kanye West released the collaborative album "Cruel Summer," which featured G.O.O.D. Music artists Big Sean, Common, and Pusha T as well as other friends like Jay-Z and 2 Chainz. G.O.O.D. Music dominated the airwaves with opulent beats and swaggering hubris. They forced us to pay attention not necessarily because the songs were groundbreaking but because the artists were elite.
The calendar has turned, and a very different crew has emerged. This group has no throne on which to sit—they rely on craft rather than spectacle. On A$AP Rocky's "1 Train," the ninth song on his new album "Long.Live.A$AP," the rising Harlem star leads a staggering showcase of seven young and hungry rappers. "I had to make the most perfect posse cut for 2013," A$AP Rocky said in a recent interview. "1 Train" might not be perfect, but it's a loud and confident fanfare for a new breed of lyricists.
The beat is supplied by Hit-Boy, a producer who crashed on the scene with West and Jay-Z's epic "Ni**as in Paris." The subdued violin riff on "1 Train" doesn't come close to matching the grandeur of "Paris," but the backbeat provides an easy groove for the rappers to ride.
A$AP's first guest is Compton wunderkind Kendrick Lamar, fresh off of his enormously successful debut album, "good kid, m.A.A.d City." Known for being socially conscious, Lamar delivers a tension-filled, psychotic narrative of a man pushed to the brink by poverty and drugs. Next up is Brooklyn kid Joey Bada$$, who continues the same themes but trades Lamar’s intensity for wordplay: "I'm on my convict, don't drop bars, I drop prisons / Don't sell rocks, seen the spectrum through the prisms / Somehow bypassed the bias and the -isms."
After a suspiciously derivative Yelawolf verse, A$AP puts back to back two rappers that could represent the contrasting drugs they reference in their lines. Detroit's Danny Brown emulates the highs and lows of molly: his voice high-pitched and abrasive, he crams references to penguins, solar system planets, ostriches, and Adonis into 16 bars. Alternatively, the laid-back Queens native Action Bronson is more akin to marijuana as he alternates between introspection and silly bravado: "The moon's reflection off the lake hit me / You should have stayed with me / Now many Asian bitches lay with me."
By the time Big K.R.I.T. brings the song home with a long verse full of Southern swagger, it's hard not to imagine the kind of impact this posse will have in the coming years. Four of these seven released their major-label debuts last year, with two more scheduled to debut in 2013. Long gone are the days of East Coast-West Coast beefing; now, all the most talented young rappers from around the country hang out with, record with, and tweet at each other. The camaraderie may make for less drama, but it’s hard to argue with the cohesion and potential shown in "1 Train."
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