You know A$AP Rocky. You know his A$AP Mob crew. You probably know A$AP Ferg because you know one or both. Do you know A$AP Twelvyy though? When Wu-Tang Clan first took over NYC in the early 90’s, not only did each member have a distinctive personality, they each followed it up with solo albums expanding on their unique style and charisma. Some took longer to come out than others, some were more successful than others, but if you followed the Clan you could easily identify each and every member.
I’m arguing that this didn’t happen for A$AP Twelvyy for a variety of reasons. In my eyes most of the Mob got overshadowed by Rocky just because he came out first and is far and away the most charismatic member of the crew. He tried to launch his family off his own crossover appeal and had some success, but from 2012-2020 there have been increasingly diminished returns with each spinoff. At this point you can argue GZA (as the Genius) and RZA (as Prince Rakeem) each had solo albums before Wu-Tang Clan too — you’d be absolutely right. Does anyone outside of hardcore Wu fans remember those proto Wu albums? Most fans learned who they were from “Enter the Wu-Tang” and followed them forward after it. So the Mob has to fight their way out of Rocky’s shadow, rather than Rocky fighting his way out of theirs.
Twelvyy also made matters harder for himself by promising a solo album called “L.O.R.D.” in 2014 before ultimately scrapping it. By the time he finally got around to “12” in 2017, I’m gonna be honest with you, I had lost interest completely. It’s not unlike waiting over half a decade for U-God to drop “Golden Arms Redemption” — did anybody care about a solo album from U-God that long after Wu-Tang Clan’s debut dropped? No. “12” was half a decade after “Lords Never Worry” so it had the exact same problem. I just wasn’t that interested in what a third tier member of the Mob had to say any more. I’m always interested in Rocky. I’m sort of interested in Ferg and Nast. Twelvyy is at the bottom of the list way below ALL of them.
Now that I’ve buried poor Mr. Phillips under more dirt than Mark Calaway did Allen Jones in the BoneYard, I’m here to tell you that “Before Noon” isn’t that bad. He didn’t exactly get off to a good start with me on “Last Poet” with the words “fuck a quarantine,” complaining that “time moving real slow” and that he has a “lot of time on my hands.” You know what Twelvyy? We’re all going through it. Thankfully he offers the distraction from real world events I actually wanted on “Catch Up”, a track with a deep bass that allows Twelvyy to start showing off his style. I get a mixture of various NY rappers in his vocals — the no-nonsense tone of Fabolous, the confidence of Jadakiss, the little bit of slur from 50. It’s a potent cocktail that gives a flair to lines like “we can fit six in the whip if they lap up/I can put six on my wrist if I stack up.” It’s bad social distancing but it’s some good brag material. “I’m a walking headcrack, bookie put your bets up.” Yeah, I dig his swag.
“Kratez” may be just as interesting visually as it is musically. The name made em think it was going to be about crates full of records, and Twelvyy is definitely representing those milk crates that almost all deejays (including me) have used at one time or another, but he’s using one to do skateboard tricks. I suspect he and Lil Weezy would get along just fine. Maybe he should hook him up with some Trukfit.
The music videos really do Twelvyy a solid by showing off his creativity and letting you get to know him on his own. “Bill Collector” shows his response to being hassled to pay bills — a gigantic (possibly illegal) flame thrower to light them all up. He even plays up the concept in what appear to be out takes, showing that they keep calling him even while getting his hair cut.
It probably doesn’t hurt Twelvyy that Mob appearances are kept to a minimum on “Before Noon” either, the most notable of which is A$AP Ant on “Baby Driver.” That doesn’t mean he’s not repping — the A$AP Worldwide logo appears before every video that he released including “Brinx” featuring Lago 2.0 and Zay Nailer. This track has a eerie menacing vibe and shows off the nimble (and at times raspy) vocals they can quickly spot. It’s another brag song really since they’re talking about making so much money they need a Brinks armored truck, but I ain’t mad at it.
It shouldn’t be weird to hear a new rap album without any examples of AutoTuned vocals, but in 2020 A$AP Twelvyy feels like a welcome throwback to a different era of emcees who just FLOW without any extra studio trickery or manipulation. Even the topics seem like they come from a different time — a pre-pandemic time. “Loyalty” finds Twelvyy declaring “I’m done with the drama” and demanding he get his proper respect before the instrumental takes a complete (and dope) left turn mid-song. I don’t think that Chanel makes money clips, but “Chanel Money Clips” will make you think it’s the latest must have accessory for flossing. If “Pro Tools” featuring Billz Raw was produced with its titular software, it sounds just as good as a recording studio with 48 or more tracks.
The only real negative I can offer about “Before Noon” is that it’s almost entirely driven by Twelvyy’s personality and his desire to “get cake up” and “never take a pay cut.” It’s the kind of subject matter that could quickly become tiresome from someone less energetic or interesting, and even in Twelvyy’s hands it can only go so far. Thankfully at 36 minutes and change Twelvyy doesn’t wear out his welcome on this short album, proving that he’s just as much of a star outside the Mob as in it, despite having mostly been overshadowed to this point. At times I wish he’d throw in a few more punchlines to make me laugh or paint a picture that didn’t just have money stacks in it, but as an entertaining distraction goes Twelvyy will do fine.