A$AP Rocky is rap's "Next Big Thing." It's been that way for over a year, but now that he's dropping his debut album, it's time to show and prove. Go on tour with DAT PMF, the rapper who intends to become king.
This feature appears in Complex's December 2012/January 2013 issue.
A$AP Rocky is concerned. Moments before heading into New York City’s Roseland Ballroom, he spots a cluster of fans outside his tour bus. Rocky doesn’t want them to see his $6,000 leather Givenchy crewneck, or the Y-3 shorts he’ll be wearing for the sold-out show tonight. He asks his right-hand man, A$AP Lou, a stocky white dude with gold fronts and a Givenchy T-shirt, if there’s a robe he can put on for the 25-foot trek from the bus to the venue. He settles on a Public Enemy Supreme parka to preserve the element of surprise, an impulse that falls in line with his exploding career.
It’s been a little over a year since his “Peso” video went viral. He followed that with the acclaimed mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. Now, Rocky’s highly anticipated debut album, Long.Live.A$AP, is being kept carefully under wraps until its planned December release. Until then, he’s holding his fans down with scene-stealing features on records by Schoolboy Q, Swizz Beatz, and Rihanna—and a legendary performance as President Kennedy in Lana del Rey’s “National Anthem” video. More than any of that, Rocky’s gravitas, charisma, and hustle have brought him this far—to the cusp of rap superstardom.
Rocky has worked bigger stages than Roseland over the past year, but tonight is different. He’s playing for a hometown crowd. There will be plenty of fans, sure, but also people who knew him as Rakim Mayers, just another kid from Harlem on the come up. Before exiting his tour bus for a pre-show meet and greet, he learns that his outfit is the least of his worries.
“There’s a problem,” a trusted crew member explains to the 24-year-old with the seven-figure record contract. A process server is outside waiting to serve Rocky with papers. In the wake of a well-publicized, shut-the-venue-down brawl at an A$AP show last October, a plaintiff has taken legal action against the whole crew.
As he steps off the bus, young fans scream at him (“AAAAAA$AP!”) and Rocky acknowledges them with a flashy smile. Then, sure enough, a half-step away from the ballroom’s artist entry, a young man impersonating a fan slides up to A$AP and his entourage.
The response is swift. Rocky’s muscle, a tank-size man dressed head-to-toe in firetruck red, yanks the papers from the server and rips them to shreds, letting the scraps fall to the ground like confetti. The rapper offers a dismissive shrug, followed by a single, giggled directive—“Suck my dick!”—then continues into the venue, unfazed.
Rocky’s muscle, a tank-size man dressed head-to-toe in firetruck red, yanks the papers from the server and rips them to shreds, letting the scraps fall to the ground like confetti.
A$AP Rocky is quick to let you know he doesn’t give a fuck, although his rise through the rap game suggests otherwise. Spend some time with him and it becomes clear that there are things he cares about. The fact that his assistant copped an iPhone 5 before he got one weighs on him more than the legal papers his bodyguard left shredded in the street. Warped priorities? Perhaps. But it works for him.
His rapid ascent from obscurity to Internet celebrity to major label deal speaks to the fact that he’s doing something right. iPhone upgrades aside, he currently gives a fuck about dropping his debut album and paving the way for his crew. As for the rest of it—legal papers, haters, and beef with former associates—not so much: “If I gave a fuck about what these clown-ass motherfuckers gave a fuck about, I’d be confused,” he says. “When you don’t give a fuck, you’re happy like me.”
Backstage, the small hallway is populated with young men and women dressed in Black Scale and SSUR hats, streetwear labels Rocky made popular during the past year. Ask any industry insider, or stroll through any fashion-forward neighborhood, and it becomes clear that Rocky’s the new king of hip-hop tastemakers. “I love you,” says a girl clutching on to his arm. “We drove to see you in Canada.”
A young man walks in with a leopard-print Supreme towel on his head, and Jeremy Scott adidas on his feet. “You inspired this outfit,” he says. Rocky smiles and takes time to chat even when his bodyguard pushes to keep the line of waiting fans moving.
These stylish kids aren’t the only ones excited to see Rocky. There’s also a group of execs from his RCA Polo Grounds label, as well as his tour agent Joshua Dick, the man responsible for booking Rocky’s shows. It’s impressive to see all the buzz Rocky has generated—all without releasing an album. “Instead of taking a style and trying to replicate it,” Dick explains, “Rocky has become this monster comprised of all his various musical influences, but with a twist all his own. When you have all of that, plus the million-dollar smile, you’re going to create your own lane for a very long time.”
Family is here, too, including A$AP Twelvy’s mom. Riffing on Rocky’s tagline of being “the pretty motherfucker,” she calls herself “the pretty fucking mother.”
“I’m so proud of my son,” she says with a grin, “and I can’t thank Rocky enough for the loyalty he has, and what he has done to better my son’s life.” Other than a well-publicized split with producer/rapper SpaceGhostPurrp (who has accused Rocky of biting his rhymes and suggested that things got physical between the two crews), loyalty runs deep in the A$AP Mob. Everyone has been down since long before RCA blessed them with a $3 million budget. The bond they share is more than friendship. It’s a brotherhood.
Minutes before he goes on stage, Rocky assembles the group, outfitted in army fatigues, for a prayer. It’s something they do before every gig—and no wonder. They’ve had brawls break out, like last July, when someone in the crowd snatched a $15,000 watch off Rocky’s wrist. (The culprit was nabbed by fans, who eventually gave the watch back.) “Please let it be a safe show,” Rocky prays. “Thank you for putting everyone I love together.”
Fast-forward to after the show. Rocky is polling the room on his performance, making it clear he’s looking for honest opinions and “no yes-man shit.” His younger sister congratulates him on the performance, and the New York date is in the books just in time to hop on the bus and head up I-95 to Boston.
One day later, this scene repeats itself. Cold rain doesn’t stop hundreds of kids from lining up at Annie Mulz on Gloucester Street where Rocky is doing an in-store signing before another sold-out show at the House of Blues.
It’s 6 p.m. and young men and women have been waiting outside for over five hours to catch a glimpse of A$AP Rocky. He gets out of the car that was sent to collect him, and is immediately flooded by dudes taking camera phone pics and a group of teenage girls crying like it’s the TRL era.
The store is so over-populated that the meet and greet has to be cut short. Rocky opens up the back of an A$AP Army Truck full of tour merch and starts playing his mixtape cut “Brand New Guy” and slangin’ T-shirts. It’s hard to imagine a street off Newbury being any more lively on a Friday afternoon. Rocky hops into an SUV to leave the event but before driving away he opens the window and asks a fan what he’s wearing. “I carved it myself,” the dude tells him, offering a handmade necklace that says A$AP. “Do you want it?” Rocky accepts the gift and heads back to the tour bus to see about getting that new iPhone.