Harlem is changing. As the sun goes down on West 123rd Street, people with their possessions in shopping trollies weave past young women striding home with their yoga mats. In front of a gleaming new apartment block, a group of middle-aged men are drinking, smoking and pumping P-funk from the back of an Oldsmobile. Next to an abandoned car a man watches The Lion King on his laptop.
This is a historic part of New York, the uptown Manhattan district that has been central to the African American story. It gave birth to the politics of black identity, helped define the sounds of jazz, and launched the careers of artists from Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown to Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. It is also a deprived area, one that has been blighted by deprivation, drugs and crime. As in many other urban neighbourhoods, however, the middle class are moving into Harlem. Artisanal cafes sit around the corner from shops selling African relics, and opposite the famous Apollo Theatre there’s now a branch of American Apparel.
Out of this Harlem comes A$AP Rocky, the young man we’re on 123rd Street to meet. Now 23 years of age, he was born and raised in the neighbourhood. He went to school in Harlem, dealt drugs in Harlem and learned to rap in Harlem. Last year, the music he was making with his friends, a lazy, woozy, psychedelic take on modern hip-hop, got him signed to RCA records on a rumoured $3m deal before he’d even released anything. This year he’s touring with Drake and his photogenic mug is beaming from the front cover of fashion magazines.
Continue reading at The Guardian UK.