A decade of i-D covers: A$AP Rocky, 2014
A year after breaking into the hip-hop mainstream with his debut record Long.Live.A$AP, the Harlem rapper ruminated on life in New York, powerful women and his love for LSD in this 2014 i-D cover feature.
This story originally appeared in i-D's The Girls + Boys Issue , no. 332, 2014.
Music and fashion icon A$AP Rocky is killing the game on his own terms. With a # 1 album under his belt and two more on the way, the 25 year-old rapper is fast cementing his position as one of the musical voices of his generation. We hang out with Rocky stateside to kick off the youth revolution.
"You already know,” is a constant refrain of the A$AP Mob, the multimedia collective that launched A$AP Rocky. It’s part verbal tic, part truth. Because there’s a lot that you already know about A$AP Rocky, née Rakim Mayers, aka Lord Flacko. You know the look: full gold grill, French braids, conceptual designer duds. You know the music: wavy, eclectic, Southern-inflected rap that began with cult 2011 mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. and peaked – so far - with last year’s Billboard #1 album Long.Live.A$AP. You know the bio: ambitious kid overcomes a Harlem childhood spent slinging yeyo and rolling dice on the corner to become a pop-culture phenomenon living up to his crew’s acronym: Always Strive and Prosper. So what don’t you know?
Quite a bit. When I meet A$AP he is zen, contemplative, a million miles from the swag prince who grabbed Rihanna’s ass on television and sits front row at fashion shows with girlfriend Chanel Iman. Dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, with a diamond and marble ring of his own design (“I used to hate diamonds, but I love them now. I’m changing every day”), he sips pineapple juice and vodka. It’s nearly 11pm, but after our interview he’ll head to the studio to work on his much-anticipated sophomore album, not to be confused with Beauty & the Beast: Slowed-Down Sessions Chapter 1, a hazily sexy instrumental record that is slowly being released online. As we talk into the night, his small entourage patiently check their phones in the background. Despite being young, celebrated, and flush with “PMW” (pussy, money, weed, his staples), A$AP is feeling blue: “My music, like my passion for fashion, is really dark at times. I’m capable of making a happy song here and there, not quite Pharrell’s "Happy", but I prefer dark fashion and dark music. I was born in the dark, I create in the dark, I work in the dark, I make love in the dark. It means life.”
The first two releases from Beauty & The Beast reflect this dark period, with "Unicorn" slowing the beat to trip-hop languor, and the “art video” for Riot Rave showing looting punctuated by flames and wolves. A$AP might deal in darkness, but he’s also on a mission to open your mind. A preamble to "Riot Rave" is a call to arms: “The cause being acceptance, liberty, and a way to blow off steam for all the youth, outsiders, outcasts, rejects, underdogs, and just straight up weirdo mother-fuckers. The youth rules tomorrow!”
In Rocky’s world, music and art are gateways to anarchic freedom. “I live in my own society. I just try to be careful that I don’t break laws that man created. But I abide by my own laws, fuck it.” Having been warned by his manager not to bring up any lawsuits in progress, I don’t press the topic. A$AP sees himself as a Pied Piper to a freer existence: “I want kids to lose themselves and forget about society’s rules and shit.” Lawless and free, he’s also borderless. Although A$AP grew up on Cam’ron’s block in Harlem, with the Diplomats cranked up high, he feels more international these days. “Two years ago, when I had my record deal, I went back to Harlem. All the hood motherfuckers said, ‘Do us a favour, and don’t come back.’ All the memories are gone. I reside in Soho and LA right now, and my mind is universal. My inspiration isn’t only from Harlem.”
So where does his inspiration come from? He’s moved on from the purple drank (cough syrup) immortalised in songs like "Purple Swag" to the mind-opening world of hallucinogenics. “My inspiration now is from psychedelics and shit. LSD, I love it. It almost makes you feel like you’re the best creator next to God.” Which might explain his off-the-grid creativity, in projects like an upcoming 3D film starring Michele Lamy, Rick Owens’ gothic muse and wife.
Yes, this Raf Simons obsessive still has one foot firmly planted in the fashion world. He delighted the industry with his name-checking jam, "Fashion Killa", and has modelled for DKNY and Alexander Wang. For Rocky, fashion is another means of artistic expression, along with music and directing. But he is disillusioned with his position as a fashion plate: “I don’t fuck with everybody at this current moment. Fuck all these fashion motherfuckers. I’m interested in Raf Simons, Rick Owens. I love Dior and Prada. Margiela’s cool. Personally, shout out to Jeremy Scott and Alexander Wang. Everybody else, fuck ‘em.”
As to the persistent rumours that he will pull a Kanye and start his own line? “I wouldn’t design, I would collab. I’m not a fashion designer. I have too much respect for it. Imagine if Rick Owens or Alexander Wang said, ‘I’m gonna be the next rapper.’ Fucking up the game and shit.”
For a rapper whose lyrics unapologetically celebrate luxury goods (“red bottom loafers”, “Cristal go by the cases”, “Margiela no laces” – and that’s just in "Goldie"), A$AP Rocky comes off as a bit of a hippie. “I’m always in love. I’m in love with the earth. To be in love with the earth is to appreciate life, to appreciate natural shit, like: marijuana, shrooms, women, fruits, vegetables.” Can you imagine DMX extolling the virtues of flora and fauna?
Women come up constantly. When he’s not ranking nationalities (Europeans and Australians are high on the list), or extolling the beauty of models (“I love tall women”), A$AP outs himself as a feminist. He declares, “We need more Madonnas and Rihannas, girls who dominate more than men.”
A 90s baby with a deep nostalgia for the pop culture of his youth, Rocky searches the internet obsessively. He gets inspired by relics like Jonas Åkerlund’s notoriously hedonistic 1997 video for Prodigy’s "Smack My Bitch Up". Portishead influenced the slowed-down sound of Beauty & The Beast. One of his favourite films is Larry Clark’s 1995 Kids: “It reminded me of growing up in Harlem, going downtown to chill with that mixed crowd. It was just one melting pot of people chillin’. I miss those days. We’re too old to just be chillin’ in the street drinking 40 ounces and shit, watching friends skateboard and crashing parties.”
The internet is a friendly place for A$AP; it’s where he became famous. In 2011, a French fan released a compilation of Rocky’s amateur YouTube videos called "Deep Purple", which blew up immediately. As he says, “I probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for YouTube.” A$AP Yam launched the entire crew on a simple Tumblr page, and the A$AP Mob website remains a strong platform for the group.
What is the end game for this artist who has gone from dealing drugs to multi-million dollar record deals in just a few short years? It all comes back to the music getting bigger and better: “I look forward to a stadium full of people high off of energy, whatever their preference of drug is, and my music. A stadium full of people just losing themselves to the moment. When I get that, that’s when I’ll be satisfied.” The only people who call him Rakim are, “girls who want to be my boo.” It’s no accident that Rocky rejected his namesake, one half of legendary hip hop duo Eric B. and Rakim, whose second album Follow the Leader was released the year he was born. Gone are the days of following the leader, MTV-dominated airways, and posturing over substance. When asked how he would like to influence his young fans, A$AP says, “Growing up, my biggest idols were drug dealers, rappers, and basketball players. I want kids to be more creative so this world can be better.” At the height of his youth and fame, A$AP Rocky is preaching values of creativity, experimentation, anarchy, and above all, self-invention: “Life is what you make it. When life throws you lemons, make Sprite.”
Text: Rory Satran
Photography: Daniel Jackson
Fashion Director: Alastair McKimm
Hair: Shon at Julia Watson Agency
Make-up: Hannah Murray at Art + Commerce
Photography assistants: Karen Goss and Peter Duong
Digital technician: Chris Collie
Styling assistance: Katelyn Gray
Hair assistance: Ryuta Saiga
Make-up assistance: Jen Myles
Casting: Angus Munro at AM Casting (Streeters NY)