In this corner, the undisputed heavyweight style champ, straight outta Missouri by way of L.A., the man who put the wings on your adidas, Jeremy Scott! And in that corner, the pound-for-pound flyest motherf*cker on the planet, all the way from Harlem—A$AP Rocky! Let’s get ready to rumble!
This feature appears in Complex's February/March 2012 issue.
Today’s rap game is crowded with artists, but there are only a few stars. It’s the reason magazines and blogs keep recycling the same subjects, and why fans can count the rappers worth talking about on their hands. But take it from us: A$AP Rocky is a star.
Critics ask, “What has he done?” For starters, the 23-year-old Harlemite put out two of the best songs of 2011—the lean-induced “Purple Swag” and the infectious “Peso”—followed by a must-hear mixtape, LIVE.LOVE.A$AP. Finally, after a flurry of high-stakes negotiations, Rocky and his crew landed a $3 million deal with RCA/Polo Grounds.
But the young rapper’s draw is deeper than his bespoke flows. Witty and intelligent, flashy but down-to-earth, he’s the type of artist whose charisma fills a room. As A$AP makes the rounds at L.A.’s SmashBox Studios, every dude on set gets a dap, every chick gets a cheek kiss. And when it comes to fashion, Rocky’s no rookie. Before the rap money, A$AP was pushing weight so he could afford brands like YSL, Rick Owens, Raf Simons, and—you guessed it—Jeremy Scott. But things are better for A$AP now. As far as scrambling for Jeremy Scott threads, consider this Complex cover his connect.
Jeremy Scott knows all about star power. He’s the go-to for Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Rihanna. His playful remixes of pop-culture iconography and masterful use of prints and metallics have transcended fashion runways and splashed all over the streets. His off-the-hook collaborations with Swatch watches and Longchamp bags are rivaled only by his surreal adidas line, which has taken the tough-to-please sneakerhead world by storm. The Missouri native has been called “Fashion’s Last Rebel,” and he’s been hailed as the only suitable heir to the Chanel throne by be-all-end-all designer Karl Lagerfeld. Scott’s respect stems from his fearlessness. He does exactly what he wants, and he knows how to translate that vision to the world.
Rocky and Jeremy never met before this shoot, but the respect is mutual and the chemistry effortless. This is what happens when worlds collide.
You've name-dropped Jeremy in a bunch of songs. When did you first notice his designs?
A$AP: Around 2008. We started doing the whole thing. He used to come out with Mickey Mouse shit, three tongues, African patterns and shit. I started getting exclusive shit from France. I liked it so much because the only way you can find it is if you go on eBay, and you’re paying double. There’s no way an average person is gonna have it.
I wake up saying I'm going to look the best I can look and do what the f*ck I want.
Jeremy: Can I ask you a question? What does A$AP stand for?
A: It stands for “Always Strive and Prosper.” Which is cool, because it’s a positive thing. It’s constructive. People forget how important the youth is sometimes. They determine the future, you know? We respect our elders, so it’s an honor for us to have recognition from you guys. Rick Owens, Raf Simons, Jeremy Scott—that means a lot to us. Just like Jay-Z, Nas, and 2Pac—you guys mean that to us. Seriously.
J: Thank you, thank you.
A: This is more than just a rapper and a designer getting together. This is bringing the cultures together and clashing them.
A$AP, you’ve called yourself the flyest motherfucker on earth.
A: I might have said that when I was high or something. [Laughs.]
What do you think this cover with Jeremy will do for your fashion cred?
A: Everything. Because this guy’s a legend. He’s our hero, and we love what he does.
Jeremy, you’ve collaborated with some major players in rap. How does it feel to be co-signed by A$AP, one of the leaders of the new generation?
J: I’m very appreciative. I love hearing the stories about what my work means—not only to him, but to the kids he came up with. His friends, all of Harlem. For me that’s my ultimate goal: to touch people’s lives. The real people on the street. Of course I love having accolades from the fashion world and I’m thrilled with Rihanna and Gaga and Katy and everyone wearing my clothes. But when the real kids are using their money—
J: —To buy something to express to the world who they are, to say, “This is who I am because I’m wearing this,” that is the ultimate compliment for me.
Hip-hop is one of the only communities that really started its own trends. It's the only new music that's come along in eons.
You both push the envelope in your respective fields. Is that what’s most important to you, doing your own thing?
A: My own thing is all that matters to me. And it feels good when I get props for doing what’s best for me. I like when people admire it and relate to it.
J: The only box I’m in is a shoebox. That’s my challenge every time—to push the boundaries, to constantly be challenging, and at the same time doing what I feel is right. It’s easy to make something absurd. Sometimes people say, “Whoa”—like what I’m doing is crazy. It’s not for everyone. I have a special role and I take it deadly serious. I spend my life, all of my waking hours, working and thinking and trying to create and perfect new ideas.
How important is getting cosigned by your peers for each of you?
A: Very important, it’s one of those things that you feel grateful for.
J: I feel lucky that people who came before me have given me mad props. I can’t find a better example than Mr. Lagerfeld. It’s so flattering. He’s the most iconic fashion designer of our time. To have him champion me so fully and let me into his world, these are things that I never expected when I was in school thinking about fashion.
Why do you think hip-hop is so fascinated with fashion and vice versa?
A: As black people it was our thing to show that we’re not living in poverty and that we can afford extravagant things—that kind of stuck with us. So when our great-grandparents were putting on their favorite outfits, it was to put on a front for the hard times. And hip-hop is a bunch of people that never had nothing. Fashion is just an expression. It’s an art. It expresses your taste. Good taste is important in hip-hop. I wake up saying I’m going to look the best I can and do what the fuck I want to do. And that’s what it’s all about. I don’t know if I articulated it good because I’m pretty high right now—and I have a lisp and I’m going to Mars right now.
J: [Laughs.] The thing is hip-hop is one of the only communities that really started its own trends.
J: That’s why I’ve always been inspired by hip-hop artists, because they transform things—even just the jean, turning it around, inside out, sagging it—all these different things. Yes, of course we get little things from other music movements, but hip-hop has been like, Pow! It’s really inspiring and it’s the only new music that has come along in eons. Rock and roll has been around—it’s changing forms. But hip-hop is major.
A: That is so crazy.
The beautiful thing between hip-hop and fashion is what’s going on here at this shoot. Some people may ask, “Why are these two together?” But this guy loves your clothes. You love the music.
A: Yes. It can happen anywhere. It can happen in rock. It can happen in punk. It can happen in funk. But hip-hop would cherish it more because it never happened before. It’s the unexpected—like having a black president. We cherish that.
J: We almost had a black Republican nominee—that’s even more mind-boggling!
A: In hip-hop culture, things are changing every day. For Jeremy to do this with me is different. I wear braids and I’ve got gold teeth and I look up to a fuckin’ designer and his name is Jeremy Scott. I’m from Harlem. People know me. I’m certified. I love these designers. I love Rick Owens. I’m just keeping it real. This is what I do. I’m keeping it on a whole ’nother level with you. When this comes out it’s gonna be a talked-about fuckin’ cover. This is going to be talked about for fuckin’ eons and centuries and ’til infinity.
A$AP, you’ve talked about this before, but why do you still think there’s homophobia and ignorance in rap?
A: I’m not homosexual. That’s not where I’m at with my life. But I can still be greatly inspired by a homosexual. It has nothing to do with their sexuality. If I start discriminating against people, that will stop me as a person. That’s ignorant. What the fuck does that have to do with anything? It’s not like I want to date this motherfucker—I’m inspired by this dude. This isn’t about fashion, it’s what he personally did for me. I’m not saying I’m going to be an activist. I want to enlighten those brothers. I used to be like them, but I’m a grown-ass man. I don’t care what another man does with his time.
J: Why does it exist in the world? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things. I don’t know why people care about what other people do. When this becomes an issue in politics, that’s the thing that boggles my mind. I heard on CNN that Republicans won’t get behind Mitt Romney because of abortion and gay marriage. Why do you care?
Did each of you want to stand out from a young age?
J: I did for sure.
A: When I was 20 I got fed up with doing shit just because it was the popular thing to do. I became miserable trying to keep up with trends so I started setting them on my own.
J: I always felt there was a fire burning inside me that was different, that was stronger. I grew up on a farm. I was removed from everything.
From an early age I was wearing things in a different way. Once in seventh grade I was wearing like seven shirts all together and I would say, 'My mom told me to dress warm today.'
A: That is fuckin’ amazing! You grew up on a farm? You see what I’m saying right now? He grew up on a fuckin’ farm! I grew up in Harlem and my music sounds like it’s from Houston, from Cali, or Westbumblefuck, for that matter. He grew up on a fuckin’ farm and look at this. Look at this!
J: I always felt that I was supposed to go on to do something else.
A: Did it take getting off the farm for you to become more creative?
J: I was already. From an early age I was wearing things in a different way and starting to figure out how to get things that I could either customize or make myself. Even with what I was given, I would totally twist it, turn it, put it together. I remember once in seventh grade wearing like seven shirts all together.
J: And then I would say, “My mom told me to dress warm today.”
J: I had all these different concepts that I would come up with, and every day at school was like a fashion show. The only reason I wanted to go to school was for people to see what I was wearing. I’m a lot more tame now because I have a fashion show. I used to have to have it all on me. I bought a Flavor Flav–style clock from the captain of the football team in my French class. I was always mixing different cultures, and there were people who said, “You shouldn’t do this because you’re white.” Especially in a place that was not urban. And I was all about hip-hop, and mixing different things with my high-fashion inspiration.
A: I told you it’s all about balls. You got to have balls to do it. Who can take that criticism? Someone with big fuckin’ balls, honestly. I’m serious. That’s what it takes. What designers inspired you?
J: When I first realized there were fashion designers I think I was 14. Gaultier was doing unusual things. I was also inspired by so many diverse things—hip-hop, punk, and even stuff at the mall. Everything was converging, and I would customize my own stuff so that I would have things that were personal or unique.
What would you consider your breakthrough moment?
A: Right now. [Laughs.] Also when I signed my deal. You know that was a crazy fuckin’ deal to happen for me.
J: I feel like I’m always having a breakthrough.
A: That is so crazy. I should’ve said that!
J: [Laughs.] But it’s true. There are always so many goals and new things I want to achieve, and I feel so blessed for everything and so humbled by people’s support. When I turn on Twitter there’s people writing “I love you,” and they don’t even know me. It’s such a nice feeling. We all have bad days, and I don’t take it for granted. I really don’t, ’cause I’m a people person. I want some love.
When the going got tough, did you guys ever consider giving up?
A: Before I made it? Yeah, a lot of times. I’ve been through deep shit, like hella depressing shit where I doubted myself and I felt like it’s taking too fuckin’ long. And then I thought, “This is what I do best and I know I’m good. And if I know I’m really good, then the world has to know it.” And I kept pushing for it. There were times that I was like, “Fuck it man. I just want to keep selling drugs.” But I kept going.
And now you’ve got one of the hottest mixtapes of the year. If you could play it for anybody in the world, who would it be?
A: Let me take my time with this. I would play it for my brother. He died. So I would play it for him.
God is blessing me and it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been poor. I’ve been hood rich. I’ve been heartbroken. I've been sad.
How does losing your brother affect you on a day-to-day basis?
A: I try not to think about him at all. It hurts. But this is his way of blessing me, like looking over me. I don’t mean to sound like a cornball—because people might be reading this, like, “Oh, he’s about to talk some bullshit”—but I really feel like my brother’s up there. God is blessing me and it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been poor. I’ve been hood rich. I’ve been heartbroken. I’ve been sad. God is great, man. And I plan to keep Him in my life—and my brother. I’ll never forget about him, ever.
What about you, Jeremy? Did you ever feel like giving up?
J: Yeah, after my fourth show everyone decided to turn against me. I did a show that was all gold and it was in the middle of [a period of] minimalism, and people were like, “This is too brash and too tacky.” And, yeah, it was harsh to have Anna Wintour in your front row and all these people like André Leon Tally suddenly saying, “Oh, you should never design again.”
A: He said that?
J: Yeah, and other people said some really harsh shit. I weathered it and survived. So I’ve had tough times but I never felt like I shouldn’t do it. It was just tough to bear ’cause everyone wants a little love. Those are the things in life that make us stronger.
A: What year was that?
J: That was ’98, ’99.
A: Well look at you now.
What made you keep going?
J: It’s funny because the outfit Rihanna wears at the finale of her tour is something she asked me to duplicate from that show. She was freaking out. She said, “This is amazing! Can you make me one of these?” It was a full circle moment. I just try never to get too caught up in that.
I don’t want to be negative about it. If other people didn’t have the vision—that’s their lack and their misfortune. And that’s not going to be mine. Any artist has to go through these journeys, like what you’ve talked about. That’s the artist’s way. That’s what we have to do and that’s our burden. Maybe other people can’t bear that. We bear that for others. That’s part of our job and the reason people appreciate us.
WATCH A$AP ROCK & JEREMY SCOTT'S BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEO: