asap ferg, all hail the hood pope
The Trap Lord on Harlem, touring, that rrrruf sound and the upcoming Mob album.
A$AP Ferg by Alex John Beck
A$AP Ferg, the self-appointed Hood Pope - a man confident enough to put out Fergivicious without fear of it sounding like a Fergie Black Eyed Peas comeback track - spent much of last year criss-crossing the States on his Turnt x Burnt tour. We first caught up with him and the rest of the A$AP Mob (an album from the whole crew is due later this year) at his biggest hometown gig yet in NYC in December where the posse's first superstar, that pretty mofo A$AP Rocky, shouted out: "I'm so proud of my brother Ferg!" The gig showcased Ferg's dizzying mix of voices, sounds and ideas: gruff and smooth; hard '90s beats and woozy present-day trap; aggressive lyrics and comforting paternal musings ("This is for all those kids who want to do something for themselves"). The overall mood was deservedly joyous - a bunch of Harlem kids who've made it big and are celebrating as they takeover their city and beyond. i-D caught up with Ferg backstage at the gig, then again at the Polo Grounds studios in the Bronx. Here's what the Trap Lord had to say.
What's it like coming up with all these other people from Harlem? Your whole mob…
It feels good, because we're building our empire from scratch. I didn't have an empire to join or continue. My father was a great man and did the artwork for Bad Boy's logo, Andre Harrell's Uptown logo and Heavy D's logo. He was on the verge of building his empire, so he stacked a couple of bricks for me, but at the end of the day, a lot of the stuff that I have now, I earned by myself. He passed away three days before my 17th birthday.
Were you connected to a lot of the people in the music industry that he knew?
Not really. I knew Puff Daddy, but apart from that I didn't know anybody in the industry. Still don't know anybody in the industry.
It feels like Harlem is what Brooklyn was in the 90s, with all this hip hop talent coming through.
Yeah, Harlem is really fertile right now. It happens probably every five years. Harlem was big for the dancing scene back with the Chicken Noodle Soup, all these dancing records. I was like, "Damn, we missed the boat on that one!" I was probably like 14. I'm actually glad that we didn't join hip hop when the dance craze was happening, because that was a fad. I feel like it was perfect timing for us.
What's your favourite Harlem time?
I just loved when Cam'ron was doing the whole pink. He reps Harlem all day. The cars in pink, the pink minks, the pink bandana. The whole pink phase was dope. He had everybody in the world doing pink. He was like the black Liberace, if you may.
You've been working with Method Man and Busta. Are you keen to work with other generations and have things pass through?
It's just about talent. Method Man, Shabba Ranks or Bone Thugs-n-Harmony is just people I grew up on, and I had the chance to work with them, so why not do it?
Do you get extra knowledge from people who've been through this all before?
Most definitely. I ask Busta Rhymes a trillion, katrillion questions every time I see him, just because I grew up watching his videos. I'm like "Did you write your own treatments? Where did you find Hype Williams at? How did y'all connect?"
Do you feel that you have the flamboyant side to you that Busta had?
I'm pretty much reserved, and chill. I'm more of an ordinary person, but I just have a real active imagination.
You're into fashion, but in a less crazy way. Is it harder to pull off fashion looks when you're shorter and stockier?
No, that's just called sporty. I'll get diesel before I get crazy bony and skinny. I just wear what I like to wear. Everything doesn't work for anybody. Even if you're pencil thin, you're not going to wear everything, because it doesn't always work for you.
What do you like right now?
I like comfortable stuff that looks dope. Oversized jerseys. I love Alexander Wang, because it's real minimal, sporty and upscale at the same time. Jeremy Scott is a real good friend of mine. He came to the Work Remix video shoot and we talk about designing things together all the time.
Shabba Ranks was big in the UK charts in the '90s, but was seen as a slightly comedy character. How come you did a song about him?
It is funny, but Jamaicans really look up to that guy. He's a prophet to a lot of people and he raised a lot of kids off his music. But it is funny because he's so pop at the same time. Like Michael Jackson could be funny with the glove and the one curl that comes in front of his face, Shabba Ranks had ten gold chains. He had eight gold rings. It's so funny. It's over-exaggerated. It's pop and I wanted to make a pop rap song.
What's your favourite lyric on your album? Mine is "I love the way you lick lick on my dick tip"!
Ha! Mine is "Me and Rock run trains on the 'ho/He be like bitch don't touch my braids."
18th February, Polo Grounds Studios, Bronx
So what have you been upto since I saw you in December?
We finished the tour in Montreal. Canada has the most beautiful women. Well, one of the main places. I don't want people to come at me!
How was the touring life?
Tour life is good. You've got to remember that I've been on tour for damn near three, four years. I've been on the road more than I've been at home. I'm going to be touring forever. I might as well wear skates everywhere because I'm never going to stop moving!
How was the New York show?
The show was popping. New York is always a blast. It's just like my fanbase keeps growing. Before I was seeing the same faces at the shows, but now I'm seeing all different people coming from all around the world. There are people coming Spain or Australia; they missed the Australia dates, so they come catch me in New York.
And you've been working on the new A$AP Mob album too, right?
Yeah, the Mob album is going to be crazy. Now that me and Rocky are kind of stepping into stardom or whatever, it's kind of hard for us to link up with the brothers, and that gave us bonding time. Rocky was kind of busy doing things, but I was there to glue everyone together and make sure we have this project locked down.
Was it good being back with the boys?
Yeah it was really good to be back with them - there's a certain energy that you don't get when you're not with them. I can do music all day, but it's different with the brothers, because everyone got their own input and their own creative attributes.
I love that you're listening to your own music whilst you get your hair done. Do you always listen to your own music?
I always listen to the updated stuff yeah.
Can you talk about being the Hood Pope?
Hood Pope is more of the conscious me, all for the people. Teaching my peers that there are other outlets that you can put your mind to if you want to make it out of the box, or open your mind to more worldly things. The Hood Pope just represents the youth because the youth don't have anybody to look at as a role model. I'm not saying I'm the best role model, but you can learn from my mistakes. Imma only speak the real, and a lot of kids won't listen to their mothers or grandmothers or preachers or doctors, because those people can't relate to these kids. Our teachers are not the best teachers nowadays, so kids can't pay attention in school. ADD like a muthafucka! You know what I'm saying? And I can relate to that shit. But I influence kids to go out there and learn themselves, teach themselves, build themselves to be strong and powerful.
It's good to have that conscious side to the album to counteract some of the more violent parts of it.
I'm just telling my story, what I've seen growing up. It's all real shit. It's tales of something I've thought about. The hood sparked those thoughts. It's my reality. It's a harsh reality and I'm kinda waking everyone up to it. We need a better world - If I see better things, I'll talk about better things. I'm talking about things that have actually happened and I'm talking about what I want to see happen. That's what Hood Pope is about, that's what Cocaine Castles is about.
Can you tell us about your little "rrrruf" sound. I love that!
I experiment a lot with different sounds. I use my voice as an instrument, so I just tried to use my voice as the most aggressive thing that comes to mind and that's like a dog bark I guess. And that became a signature for me.
It's a good sound.
Have you got any new sounds?
I got a lot more - you gotta stay tuned.
Can you give us one?
"Alllll…right!" You're gonna hear me saying that on a song.
Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Alex John Beck