A$AP. big dreams, good music and expensive taste
As the ubiquitous A$AP Mob get set to drop their L.O.R.D EP, we take a look back at a classic interview with the crew's pretty motherfucker, Rocky.
Photography Bruno Staub. Styling Matthew Henson. Photography assistance Andrew Beardsworth, Matthew Henson, Joshua Dotson. Styling assistance David Marshall. A$AP wears jacket Dior Homme. T-shirt DRKSHDW by Rick Owens. Hat Stussy.
It may have birthed hip hop, but emerging rap talent from New York has been in hibernation for several years. New York's finest have been forced to stand by and watch the emergence and subsequent dominance of Young Jeezy (Atlanta), Rick Ross (Miami), Wiz Khalifa (Pittsburgh) and Drake (Toronto). Then, two years ago, Queens' Nicki Minaj stamped her stiletto on the rap map, making way for Harlem's hottest new hype-machine: A$AP Rocky. His swagged out Southern flavoured debut mixtape LiveLoveA$AP introduced Rocky and his A$AP crew to everyone from Drake to Alexander Wang and The New York Times. With Azealia Banks, Angel Haze, Joey Badda$$ and Action Bronson right behind him, it looks like the weight of New York hip hop can finally be lifted from Jay-Z's shoulders (perfect timing for bonding with Blue Ivy and his increasing basketball interests).
"I be that pretty motherfucker, Harlem's what I'm repping," may be the repeat refrain on Rocky's debut mixtape, yet the 24 year-old's influences are entrenched in the Deep South. Professing a love for, "Three 6 Mafia, UGK and Bone Thugs N Harmony," Rocky's sublime syrupy sentences were smothered in Southern staples; grills, gold teeth, sizzurp and staying truly trill. "Influenced by Houston, hear it in my music," he asserted on LiveLoveA$AP's wonderfully woozy opener, the Clams Casino produced Palace.
It was a confident, game-changing debut that asserted Rocky not only in the rap world but as one of current culture's new favourites too. Alexander Wang enlisted him for an ad campaign; he's been interviewed with his pal Jeremy Scott on numerous occasions, while Lana Del Rey cast A$AP as the JFK to her Jackie Kennedy on National Anthem. When Rihanna wanted a helping hand at the MTV Awards, she asked Rocky to perform a remix of Cockiness with her. He gave her a helping hand - in more ways than one - most notably a huge squeeze on the Rude Girl's bottom mid-performance. But making your name in the mixtape world is one thing; he may have toured with Drake, modelled for Wang and performed with Ri-Ri, but does Rocky have what it takes in the world of full-length albums?
If there was the odd complaint that LiveLoveA$AP might have been occasionally lacking in lyrical depth, LongLiveA$AP asserts the Harlemite as a serious spitter that can stand tall amongst his Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and 2 Chainz contemporaries. "I felt like I had something to prove with this album," he nods. "I always feel like I've got something to prove when it comes to my art." As with his mixtape, A$AP's debut album has touches of that Southern vernacular and sound, yet he's clearly keen to assert lyrical and sonic progression. There's throwback 90s backpack (the New York All-Star posse cut 1Train), futuristic R'n'B (the Dangermouse produced Phoenix), fuzzy Brooklyn bodega (Hell ft. Santigold), flossy flossy (Fuckin' Problems ft. Drake, Kendrick and 2 Chainz) and in the case of Skrillex's Wild For The Night seething, stabbing, incessant dub-trap-rap. "He's so cool. Like we hang out as friends and he's cool despite his success," says Rocky of his pal Sonny Moore. "We were chilling on his bus one day and he's like 'What's everyone doing, we gotta go to the studio' so he brought the party to the studio and he threw Wild For The Night on. I hope it's as fun to listen to as it was to make it."
Despite his relative lack of stripes, it looks like A$AP might actually be about to more than live up to the 2012 buzz and mixtape hype. Yet, despite a multi- million pound deal, enlisting the likes of Haim, Hit-Boy, Florence Welsh and Dangermouse for LongLive, and having fashion's hottest hanging on his hemline, Rakim Mayers is far from happy today. Arriving at the i-D shoot he's charm personified; polite, gracious, warm and enthusiastic about shooting for a magazine he's read, "since I was a teenager." But behind the laconic smile, those pretty-boy features are troubled. The mere mention of his album leads to a sigh and a frown; "I mean, if you want to know about it, you might as well just go online now and hear the whole thing." Long. Live.A$AP has just leaked. A whole month early. "I feel like crying right now but you're here and I didn't want you to see me crying," he says, eyelashes batting at a rapid rate. "It hurts. I put in so much work for this and my label put in so much work with all the strategising... I didn't want people to hear my album until my second single (the title track) LongLiveA$AP."
The recent convert to vegetarianism couldn't care less about the commercial implications of the leak; it's the creative proposition that bothers him. "I know I got to be a businessman in this line of work but in this precise climate and subject, I prefer to be the artist. I let my label sell it. I'm not concerned with album sales; I'm concerned with the connection with the people. I didn't want them to hear this album until they saw videos. Because right now, nothing makes sense," he points out, picking at a foot-long cheese sub. "I have a static flag on the album cover and that doesn't make sense until you see the video. Not saying it would have made much of a difference, but it mattered to me because that's my craft, my work and I care about it." It's unclear what exactly the concept is - "static represents a TV and the TV projects all of my thoughts. It's a lot of imagery on it," he begins - because Rocky is suddenly distracted mid- explanation. It's hard to know what order A$AP would put his favourite things in, but girls are certainly high up on the list alongside fashion, music and weed. "Who's that," he whispers as the photographer's agent, a vision in Louboutins and tattooed neck, sashays past his Stussy snapback. "Hello. What's up?" he says with charming grin, before returning once more to a covert whisper. "Her shoes are nice. Man, she's beautiful." Temporarily forgetting his leak issues, Rocky returns to life again. One eye on his newfound interest, he's suddenly animated. He talks about his love of London - the weather and the fashion - but, more importantly of course, the girls. "I fell in love there," he whispers. "With four girls. At the same time."
Ok, tell us more.
In March 2012, I went to London, met a group of friends, I fell in love with each of them and they were all in love with me. We had this weird, I guess, unity thing going on. It was a relationship. Together. At the same time.
You must have a lot of energy.
I do [laughs]. I'm 24 years old...! It was fun. I met them at a show, at the after party at some club. All the hip kids were there and there were these beautiful girls. While it was going down... [whispers] the orgy, I was literally sitting there smoking and saying to myself 'This is beautiful.'
What attracted you to these women?
They were bossy. They were like 'We're not whores, we know we're not whores, we just want to have fun with you.' That was the bottom line. They had total power over me. They said, 'Listen, we want to share you today. You're going to be our whore.' I was like, 'Really. Is that what you want?' I'm overly confident so it was an acceptable challenge. Like 'Are you kidding, you don't know who you fucking with!'
Is there a Mrs Rocky right now?
Not any more. I'm so unhappy. I'm happy with life but I'm unhappy with my relationship and my love life. It's either this, music, or a relationship. I can find a girlfriend down the line, but I just don't want to be a whore anymore. You know, I had four-girl orgies in London already.
As a self-pronounced pretty motherfucker, have you always had luck with the ladies?
Oh yeah. I used to get a lot of girls when I was 16, 17, 18. Then when I got into my 20s I was more concerned with getting my life together. I got girls of course, but I wasn't Mr. Popular and I wasn't concerned with being Mr. Popular. I just wanted to be established. And now look what happened. I got my work and I can get all the girls. I'm always optimistic about my life. I mean, I just found out my album leaked a month early, what, two hours ago. Honestly, I feel like breaking down, but life goes on. I've been in relationships that I thought would last forever and they ended really quickly and I've been in some that didn't have a chance and they ended up lasting. It's hard to love people in this day and age because the only way I could judge a girl, or the only way I could see myself being with a girl would be if she's successful. I don't mean famous necessarily, but successful so that I don't think she's after me for my fame or money. The bad part about that is that you've got two successful people, 9 times out of 10 it's just a 'power couple' move, it's a publicity stunt or you're just always linked with the other person. Look at Jay-Z and Beyonce?, Kanye and Kim...
I don't want to be a part of that. I would prefer to be me and my girl, she does what she does. I don't want to be the 'couple' thing. When they make the names up, that would make me sick. Kimye is the worst shit I've ever heard. Who thought of that dumb shit anyway? TMZ? That's just corny and retarded.
That is ridiculous.
What successful women do you find attractive?
I love ambitious, creative, artistic girls. I hate it when girls have no taste or style. They're bland, like, whatever. I can't stand that. Age isn't really a concern with me, but I'm not into younger, 18 year-old, girls. Before I was famous I was involved with a woman that was way older than me. I think that taught me how to be a man and to have my morals intact from early. If you're dealing with a female that's older than you, you're going to take heed to everything that's going on so you can be on the same page because there is an age difference there. When I was 18, I had a lady who was 39. This lady, honestly, she looked good. Thinking back on it, I'm trying to figure out what she was thinking! I was handsome, but I don't know how I got her. I had a lot of balls and I think that's what it was. She lived in the neighbourhood and I used to see her all the time. One day, it was like 1, 2am and I wanted to go to the store. Her building was on top of the bodega and her daughter was sick, so she was getting some Nyquil or some ginger ale, and I was there to get some papers for the blunts. I grabbed her hand and was talking to her and honestly, she gave me her number that day, I called her the next day and two weeks later I was damn near living with her.
What did your mum think about that?
My mum was shocked but I grew up pretty fast. I moved my mum out of the hood when I was 21. I moved her into a condo.
How did you do that?
Well, I used to sell drugs. So I moved her into a condo in Jersey, I was doing well, but the next thing I knew business started going bad and I was broke. I lost the crib and everything. I used to go to another state to sell and I started getting so much money that people didn't like to see a guy from out of town doing that. Even though they weren't capable of doing it, I came and I did what I did. Next thing I know, we weren't making any money, people were trying to rob us, the cops were looking for us and I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do in life. But God answered and I got my record deal. It was about eight months after I stopped selling drugs and the deal came through.
I imagine you were keen to leave that life after your dad had been in prison, your brother being murdered...
The kind of pain I felt when my brother died is unexplainable. It was unbearable. It was... I was so hurt that I couldn't eat. Seriously. I didn't want to eat no food. That's when I started getting very slim. I couldn't eat; I didn't want to talk to anybody. (Long pause.) It was crazy.
Since his arrival in the land of rap around a year ago, A$AP has quickly become known as a man that doesn't play by the rules - especially when it comes to fashion. Eschewing the major players, he instead began by name-checking Raf Simons, Rick Owens and Jeremy Scott as his designers of choice. When he's pictured on BET wearing what looks a bit like a skirt, a few days before this interview, he laughs at the online scorn that quickly followed. "The thing is, it happens every time. I wear something dope, people are like 'Fuck that guy' and then six months, a year later, you see them wearing it," he grins. "It's cool though, I like to inspire people." Eschewing the homophobia that seems insidious in hip hop's rhetoric - "I embrace all my fans, gay and straight" - A$AP also does things differently when it comes to clothing. Today he turns up in a Paul Smith shirt and Margiela coat. "You know what I like about Rick Owens," he says to no one in particular as he rifles through the clothing racks. "He's from LA but he designs like he's from France." The first outfit he picks out is what looks like a scuba-diving dress, made by Hood By Air. His manager, watching, groans. "This is dope," he mumbles. "I love this."
Does it bother you that people mock your style?
I think a lot of the stuff I do a lot of people don't get until one, two years later, then they forget who did it first. That's the issue. Like, even when it comes to my flow. Now everybody raps like me, to the point where I forgot I did it! I heard everybody do it. Not one person, everybody does it. I don't have a problem with that because music is supposed to inspire. Think about it, somebody did it before I did it. But people forget who did it and who broke the door down, so that people after it have it easier. If there were no Martin Luther King to break down racial barriers, life wouldn't be easier for blacks in America. That's just an example. They forget that when I first do it, they diss me, but then they thank me later. It's like a sub-conscious thing. I'm ok with that. For me, it's flattery. I'm glad to be inspiring people. I feel like some people don't have enough balls to admit they've been inspired by a young fellow like me. I guess there's a lot of, I don't know, arrogance, in the hip hop world.
What are your hopes as a rapper?
You seem to have an aesthetic that runs through your music, what you wear, the videos you direct, the artwork.... When I was growing up, you would see certain guys in Harlem and they had all the cars, all the girls. But I want to change that. I want to show people that you're the man because your business was successful or because you did successful joint ventures or you have assets. You own your own shares and stocks, or you're a commodity. I don't want to fucking glorify the negativity cos all it's going to do is urge them to do wrong things to get it. I want my people to be legit man. My people is my generation. I don't care if they're from Harlem, from West Bubblefuck, Africa or Germany. I don't give a fuck if they're from Alaska. If you're 14 to 34, you're my era. 10 years ahead, 10 years behind. With the urban community, they glorify silly shit. My whole album is basically projecting stages of my life. A stage when I was innocent, a stage when I was guilty, a stage when I was creative... it grows and it varies. What I like about it is that it's really come from a genuine place; it comes from me. The biggest inspiration from my album was me. It might sound self-centered but it's the truth. I don't want to watch too many artists, I just focus on what I'm doing and I keep doing what I'm doing. And keep doing it how I do it.
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Bruno Staub