A$AP Mob's mastermind breaks down how to parlay Tumblr fame into real-world rap riches.
This feature is a part of Complex's "Tumblr Generation" Week.
Long before he landed the A$AP Mob a $3 million record deal with RCA/Polo Grounds, 25-year-old A$AP Yams did something that took just a couple of minutes and impacted the rest of his career. He opended up a Tumblr page. His carefully curated, now defunct RealNiggaTumblr was instrumental in building a buzz for a bunch of unknown Harlem rappers who are now one of the most in-demand overall crews in rap. Not only did Yams master the art of blowing up on Tumblr, he did so without letting the A$AP Mob get pigeonholed as a bunch of "Tumblr rappers" Come to think of it, nobody in the music industry has perfected the Tumblr to rap riches flip better than Yamborghini. Peep game.
10 ARTISTS WHO KNOW HOW TO USE TUMBLR.
As told to David Drake (@SoManyShrimp)
How have you been?
Shit, chilling man, fucking working. Just got back to New York from L.A., about to head to Japan tomorrow, and shit; the work don’t fucking stop at all. A$AP Ant and A$AP Nast got some type of tour booked out there some fucking way. I don’t know how. And they’re doing a couple shows out there, and some in-store’s in some Japanese spots and shit. So I’m going to head over there and just play chaperone and make sure they’re fucking taken care of. I’m kind of scared because that whole... I ain’t never been there, but I’m kind of fucking scared because of that whole North Korea shit. So I told the homie, if it go down, you got to catch my fade. Bombs drop you’ve got to catch my fade off rip. I’ma fuck you up, pick you back up, and we’re going back home.
The latest A$AP Rocky album definitely got a huge reception.
We’re slowly approaching Gold right now, I believe so. The singles just went Platinum and shit like that, but I still haven’t gotten my plaque for that because they said they were going to give us all our plaques once we go Gold. Like, fuck it—because we’re pretty close to it. The sales [are] doing pretty well, we’re about to shoot a couple more videos. We’re about to wrap up some videos actually off the album to just keep the sales going and shit.
I started the Tumblr to just put up all this miscellaneous [stuff] that wouldn’t fit into my Wordpress blog. And it slowly grew into something else. I noticed I was getting a bigger audience on the Tumblr, so that’s when I put all my energy into the Tumblr.
What have you been listening to lately?
As far as the usuals, I listen to a lot of Chicago shit, obviously. Other than that, I don’t listen to anybody I don’t get money with at this point. I just stay in my own zone and shit. So I just been listening to the Aston Matthews, Joey Fatts, the kid 100s—you know what I’m saying? Other than that it’s been the same ol’ shit.
Does that mean you’re not really keeping up with stuff anymore? How do you keep up with music?
I do keep up with music as far as I need to know what’s on my radar. I always stay at the bottom no matter what. I mean, like, if somebody takes one step on that bottom of that ladder I’m there, like, “Oh, what’s up? Like, what’s good playboy? Like, what’s the word,” you feel me? I still keep up with the music, but I don’t put enough energy into it to really fully embrace it, unless it really just catches my attention like that.
Where do you find out about new music?
I don’t really check blogs too much. I actually just keep up with music, luckily, through the Tumblr shit. I did form some type of associations with people that not necessarily blog, but I look at as taste-makers. So, you know the Twitter shit—you know, I always keep up. They usually tweet about an artist they fuck with at the time. I always make sure I keep my ears open, my eyes open nowadays. Because it’s more visual anyway so whatever they’re talking about on the Internet. So, you know, I don’t really keep up with the blog shit too much. Unless it’s like a really well-written editorial. I don’t really fuck with just regular blogs nowadays.
Tell me a little bit about when you first started the Tumblr. What were you trying to do?
I had another website at the time. All I did was just copy and paste shit from other content blogs that I fucked with. So I started the Tumblr to just put up all this miscellaneous shit that wouldn’t fit into my Wordpress blog at the time. And it slowly grew into something else. I noticed I was getting a bigger audience on the Tumblr, so that’s when I put all my energy into [Realniggatumblr]. I went out and purposely bought a scanner. Alright, motherfuckers like all these cool little pictures and shit like that? Images of rappers from the '90s? If that’s what they like, I’m going to keep posting that shit. It was a research study of what kids of the Internet age, what drives them to keep following a certain website. I took all their interests and put it all on one website for them to enjoy and keep looking at every day. And that’s when I started writing, and people started to like my shit. I didn’t feel I was a good writer, you know what I mean? My intention wasn’t to be a journalist, ever. You feel me? That shit was a hustle since day one. I just knew how to voice my opinion very well and get my point across in a similar comedic way so it doesn’t look like some dry-ass piece of writing.
What surprised you when you started doing the Tumblr? What didn’t you anticipate?
I didn’t anticipate people liking the hood shit too much. All the little hood shit I put up, I didn’t really think they’d get jiggy to that—you feel me? At that time during Tumblr everybody was just the cool stoner kid. There was pictures of kids smoking weed in their snapbacks and shit like that. Then I came out of nowhere: you know, I put up a fucking photo of Three 6 Mafia or some music or some obscure shit from Memphis from back in the day, and kids is really drawn to it. And that’s what kind of led to the time we’re at now where everybody is really just appreciative of Southern Rap culture and other different regions and their cultures and shit like that. Because that shit wasn’t present at the time where I started Tumblr. At the time my bitch was on it, you feel me? And I used to look at [Tumblr] like, “That’s fucking wack. What the fuck are you doing right now? This is what you do with your life all day. Fuck outta here.” Then it slowly became a hobby for me where I actually enjoyed it because people were appreciating what I put up and shit.
It’s just easier to spread the content, you feel me? You don’t have to copy and paste nothing. It’s just one click, a reblog, and then it’s on somebody else’s page who might have 200 followers. Then that person reblogs their page, and he might have 1000 followers, and then it just spreads like wildfire. That was really my intentions. But other platforms it’s a lot harder to spread your content. You have to do a lot. HTMLs, the codes, and all that other extra shit like copy and pasting codes from other shit. That’s mad unnecessary.
Do you think there’s a reason that A$AP were able to find so much more traction on Tumblr than you might have somewhere else?
Yeah, of course. Tumblr is really its own subculture to the point where now they have a term called "Tumblr Rappers"—where they rap about the shit that interests the everyday Tumblr user.
Tumblr is really its own subculture to the point where now they have a term called "Tumblr Rappers"—where they rap about the [stuff] that interests the everyday Tumblr user.
When was the moment you knew you were going to start pushing the A$AP Mob?
I was real selective with it because “Peso” was an older record than “Purple Swag,” and I was literally sitting on “Peso” for like a year before we actually released it. It was like, we would find the right time to put that record out, but with the whole theme of the Tumblr and shit and the direction it was going, I knew people would gravitate towards “Purple Swag,” which is why we just put it out there. We just wanted to see what the response would be and people responded very well—and this is before the video even dropped. We put the actual song out and people fucked with it. Once I got to a point where I know people are really checking for me, as far as what’s the new hot artist to check out or what’s the best new shit—they know they can go to my blog and see something that they’ve never seen before. Once I built that audience up, I just threw [“Purple Swag”] out just to see what the response was, and to our surprise it was very well.
Which do you think was the stronger record?
“Peso.” We weren’t big fans of “Purple Swag.” Even the video, we were like, "Let's just do it to see how this shit comes out. This is some shit we’re going to just fucking do just to do it." Because when that dropped the comparisons was fucking crazy. We was just being boxed in like a motherfucker, like one-hit wonders type of thing. And, to me, I thought “Peso” was an instrumentally strong New York rap record that was really progressive for New York rap, and it was a good representation of what we sound like in 2011 or whatever year it might be.
In the “Peso” video, it seems like there's some Hot Boys kind of looking scenes, and he’s got the Master P glasses. Was that something that you were conscious of when that video was made?
Nah, we weren’t actually conscious of it because we were naturally just fans of it, you know what I’m saying? Everything that was on my Tumblr was just all of our tastes really put together of shit we liked. When we did that it wasn’t on no “Oh, what’s going to get the kids on Tumblr riled up?” and shit like that. They don’t know what fucking Cartiers are, you feel me, they don’t know what any of that shit is, they’re too young to even know what the fuck that shit is. But we know about it and we know that’s the shit that’s “oh, that shit is fucking Hip-Hop and R&B, that’s crazy,” you feel me? The “Peso” video was kind of inspired by the Cam’ron video “My Hood.” That and Juvenile's “Ha.” It’s a mix of those two videos put together.
Is it becoming too much of a liability to start a rap career on Tumblr?
I wouldn’t say it’s becoming a liability. I would say it’s becoming harder to get out of that element of being labeled a "Tumblr rapper." You just got to know how to capitalize off of it and keep growing from there. Drawing back to what we were talking about before, it's eventually all about, you don’t want to get stuck. It’s just like any other music scene: you want to be able to grow from that one music scene. You don’t want to just stay in that one scene, be forced to do shows in one specific city for the rest of your life. You want to be able to take it as far as you’re able to imagine.
Did any of the other guys on A$AP Mob really pay attention to Tumblr before you guys blew up?
No, actually I don’t think anyone in A$AP actually uses Tumblr besides Ferg. Rocky doesn’t even know how to fucking do nothing besides Facebook and Instagram. Other than that, nobody is really too big on the Internet too much.
When you were shaping the aesthetic, the parts you were involved with of A$AP, was that population of people a part of your consideration at all?
I wouldn’t say the population. I would say certain artists. We were definitely influenced by the Main Attrakionz sound. Most definitely, they were the first people actually to reach out to us. I had a relationship with Squadda even before he even knew any of the rap shit, he used to just fuck with my blog off GP. We’d interact on Twitter and shit like that. I think it’s called “cloud rap.” I’m not sure [laughs]. That definitely had a major influence on our sound and we wanted our shit to sound like.
It’s still a relevant sound, but you just got to be able to grow from it. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony. You got to either find new sounds or bring something else to the table. You don’t want to just stay stuck in one realm for forever. That shit weak. Even now, it’s just slowly becoming regurgitation. Artists do pen-and-pixel style covers, and throw crosses on their shit, and you know—do chopped-and-screwed shit, and it’s like, “Yo—really? It’s 2013, fam. Really? That’s still what you’re on?” Shit changes every year. That shit is just becoming really bad and really bad reblogs of all of us kids back in 2011.
Tumblr’s users' interests really shift fast. This is the Internet. Everybody has ADHD now. The climate changes quite quickly.
in trying to make that adjustment from being known on Tumblr to becoming a real-world success, what’s been the thing that took you by surprise the most? What was the thing that you didn’t expect you’d have to deal with?
That the fans turn on you. All the people that supported us, you know, some of them stopped supporting. They have this really fucked-up mentality that once a certain amount of people listen to something that it’s not the shit anymore. And it’s “OK, now I got to find the next new shit so I can stay exclusive and look cool on the Internet and it looks like I’m really a tastemaker." Rather than just thoroughly enjoying the music without any type of influences or anything clouding your own judgment. It was a lot of people supporting us that stopped supporting us, and I found it hilarious. I’m like, "Wow really, is it that serious?” But I wasn’t salty. You know what I’m saying?
Was there anything else you wanted to talk about as far as how A$AP Mob made it from Tumblr to the real world?
I’ll just say people are non-believers and I’m not going to ever trip on that. When Rocky first dropped his project and everybody was like, “Who the fuck are the rest of these guys with A$AP in front of their name? They’re never going to fucking make it.” And now we got Ferg who’s about to drop his project this summertime, and we’re going to keep doing the same one-by-one until everybody gets their foot in the door. So, I don’t really trip on people saying, “These guys are weak. Rocky is the only relevant one, the most talented one.” Because when Rocky came out we was dealing with that shit too. When people didn’t believe that he’d be an actual artist to drop an album in stores on a major label. Everybody thought he was some fucking gimmicky rapper.
What’s been the hardest lesson that you’ve had to learn and adjusting to becoming an executive?
I would say, maintaining a healthy balance of satisfying your Day One fans and maintaining and growing a new fanbase. You can’t keep everyone satisfied, but you just got to be able to try your hardest and do what you want to do at the same time.
Do you feel like there’s a stigma [associated with] the way you guys came up through Tumblr?
Not anymore. I mean, it’s just all about getting out of that. That’s it. As long as you’re able to grow and take advantage of an opportunity, you won’t have to worry about a stigma. We had stigmas when we first came in. Now the stigma we have is keeping the ball rolling. Who’s next up? Or the next album, the sophomore album. Our stigma right now is the sophomore jinx, which is way better than “Oh, is this guy still popular on this website?” You feel me? That’s a better worry than some petty shit like that.
What are the musical ingredients that made the good and the bad of what’s coming out of Tumblr?
I would say, it’s whatever drives the Tumblr youths' interests at the time. Like, right now it could be chopped and screwed music, or '90s Memphis rap, or fucking West Coast rap from the '90s—shit like that. It would probably sound like a mixture of all that combined in one. But you never know: the Tumblr’s users' interests really shift fast. This is the Internet. Everybody has ADHD and shit like that now. That might not be the interest next year, you know what I mean? The climate changes quite quickly. Next year might be fucking conscious rap. That might be the next new shit on Tumblr.
Women make up more than half of Tumblr users—do you think that shapes the way this whole scene has developed? Or did you ever think about that at all?
[Laughs] I never thought about that. That’s kind of crazy. Women definitely have an impact on who’s popular on Tumblr. If you have a distinctive look, bitches are going to fuck with you—you feel me? So it gets you more popular I guess. Even since day one, women always had the same music, regardless of what anybody says from a consumer standpoint. Because they always said women are the ones that buy the albums and shit. So, yeah, no matter what, women are going to be a very important aspect when it comes to the consumer shit.
At the end of “Suddenly” somebody yells “You don’t get no hoes on Tumblr!”
[Laughs] Who the fuck said that? It might have been me because I’m always bragging about my Tumblr bitches. But it might’ve been somebody else. I’m not sure, it might’ve been Bari—Bari is heavy on Tumblr too. Like I said that’s a big aspect. The fact that somebody will say that on a rap album [laughs] ... shows the importance of Tumblr to this generation. Fifteen years ago, you didn’t hear anybody saying “You don’t get no hoes on Xanga.” You feel me? That fact shows the importance of it right now.