A$AP Mob — Harlem's innovative hip-hop collective of rappers, video directors, producers, and clothing designers — seem to spend more time apart than together. Cofounded by A$AP Bari, A$AP Kham, A$AP Illz, and the late, great Steven "A$AP Yams" Rodriguez in 2006, the group has gained mainstream traction over the years, thanks in part to the viral success of rapper A$AP Rocky (2011's "Peso," "Purple Swag," and a breakout mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP). Joining the founders and Rocky were rapper-designer A$AP Ferg, A$AP Twelvyy, and a rotation of A$APs who worked together and apart for the next few years. As the group's success swelled — this year brought the release of their own solo efforts, like Ferg's Still Striving and Twelvyy's 12 — the Mob worked more apart than together.
But now the Mob is back and in one piece, even as Ferg and Twelvyy tout new projects, headlining Tuesday night at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
For A$AP Twelvyy (Jamel Phillips), 12 is his dynamic debut after a series of singles dating to 2014 ("Glock Rivers") and a winning contribution ("Coziest") to the Mob's Too Cozy mixtape, released last year (the second volume dropped this year). "It's hard, promoting my stuff and the Cozy tape, doing double duty," Twelvyy says with a laugh. "I'm not so forceful, so to put myself up front, you have to let your art speak for yourself, and I do. People will gravitate toward you."
Celebrating his 10th year as a Mob member, Twelvyy immediately gives praise to his lost mentor and friend, Yams. "Before I had that dream, I started rapping the day that I met Yams," says Twelvyy. "Rocky and Ferg, I saw them around town being super-fly dudes. Joining the Mob didn't have anything to do with money or music, either. It was just straight love and genuine respect for their integrity, for young men in my community. I couldn't have seen us 10 years later being who we are now. It's incredible but bittersweet, thinking that my bro that I started this with ain't here."
The spirit of Yams haunts 12 and songs such as "Periodic Table." Part of the album was recorded with Yams, who died at 26 in 2015. The second, more recently recorded half of 12 and songs such as "The Glorious Death" find Twelvyy daunted but undeterred by Yams' passing. "Damn, my brother not being here? It took me awhile to focus," he says. The most potent track on the album, though, reaches back to his onetime home, the Bronx's Castle Hill (renamed here "Castle Hell"), and deals with learning to love the lyricism of rap through 2Pac's A Rose That Grew from Concrete.
"Close your eyes — you can see his street even if you've never been there," Twelvyy says of the street poetry whose tones he sought to emulate. "That is the picture I wanted to reflect, people who live in mansions but are still wicked, twisted and crazy. I got through Castle Hill strapped. You have to cut through the Super Mario and go through hell, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. That's the art of the streets."
For A$AP Ferg (born Darold D. Brown Ferguson Jr.), the art of the streets is also the art of the deal. Along with Still Striving, he collaborated with Adidas on a new line of sportswear, dubbed the Trap Lord Collection ("I just added something innovative to their look, my personal style"), and last week he appeared on the debut of chef Andrew Carmellini's "Talkhouse" food culture podcast ("As a kid, I always watched food shows, like Iron Chef and Emeril Lagasse").
Ferg says he joined A$AP Mob because it was like a "go-between with the artsy-fartsy crowd and the hard hip-hop crowd." The difference between when Ferg joined the crew and now is that he and the rest of the team know how to "better monetize what it is we do. We linked up in the first place because we were a diverse group of artists and genuine friends first," he says. (Twelvvy adds that he is part of the Mob's "poetry crowd, the thinkers, the enlightened, and the video gamers").
Ferg may have money on his mind, but Still Striving is no less poignant or familial than 12. A stirring song such as "Tango" reaches back to his own view of life and loss, including that of Yams. Even closer to Ferg is the passing of his grandmother and her struggles with arthritis on "Plain Jane." Ferg calls her his muse, "a charismatic character who I stayed with while my mom went to college."
Like Twelvyy, Ferg is content to let the music do the talking. When it comes to hawking Still Striving and Too Cozy at one time, Ferg laughs and says having "eight to 10 guys in the Mob automatically makes promotion easy."