In 2012, A$AP Rocky closed out Saturday night of Coachella in the Gobi Tent. Considering he had released his first mixtape, Deep Purple, only the summer before, it was a plum set time for the Harlem rapper. Being a rap and Rocky lover, I was excited to see him perform on a big stage.
As it turned out, I was one of only a few. Even though he brought out Master P and played an ebullient, jiggy set, Rocky’s crowd didn’t even stretch three-quarters of the way to the back of the tent. Meanwhile, the sprawling yard in front of the main stage was crawling with fans of Radiohead.
It was clear: Coachella did not cater to my kind.
This year, A$AP Rocky was back. Reports of his appearance at the Outdoor Theatre the first weekend were … not good. Fuse said he “easily had one of the most disastrous sets at Coachella in the past two years.” Though he had brought out Kanye West as a special guest, Rocky had been late to the stage and both artists’ microphones were cut off. Vibe called it “a buzzkill and ball of confusion wrapped into one big ball of suck.”
Perhaps the negative press attracted more people. Maybe people hoped for another Ye sighting. Whatever the reason, on Friday night, A$AP Rocky, the same rapper who couldn’t fill a tent four years ago, commanded one of the largest crowds I witnessed all weekend — so large, in fact, that I wasn’t even able to make out Rocky on the screens. When did the tables turn?
My first clue that Coachella has finally caught up to the fact that rap is the new pop music came earlier that afternoon. DJ Mustard, purveyor of the pussy-popping music that has now spread from his native L.A. across the country, was on at 5 p.m. in the Sahara Tent. Friday was particularly scorching and a dust storm was kicking up, and I expected to sashay into his set. But Mustard’s radio-ready hand claps and finger snaps were like catnip to girls flashing underbutt.
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“I can’t wait to get ratchet,” I overheard a chokered, giggling girl say. Getting inside the tent was not an option, and his crowd spilled so far back out that even people outside the tent were squished in and claustrophobic. Was anybody even at Foals or Lord Huron?
On Saturday, Vince Staples, another native who played the Sahara Tent and had one of the best sets I saw, was competing with Disclosure, the act that probably drew Coachella’s largest crowd. Still, he pulled an audience who shouted “Norf side Long Beach” right back at him. And while Anderson .Paak glides along that buttery line between hip-hop and R&B, his set was packed and widely considered one of the weekend’s most magical.
There was one glaring exception to the new rule at Coachella, however. “Can I keep it gangsta, Coachella?” Ice Cube barked Saturday night, glaring out from the mainstage. “He used that exact same line last weekend!” squealed my girlfriend, who went both weekends. His set wasn’t inspired — I’ve heard every song he chose to play too many times on KDAY — and it felt stale, as if he was pandering to a crowd of indie rockers. Too bad he didn’t get the memo that Coachella-goers now know their hip-hop.