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.
You’re about to drop Long.Live.A$AP. That’s a big deal. What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about finally unleashing this album that I’ve imprisoned for the past year. It’s begging to be free and rejoiced by the world. It’s some trill shit. It’s some real smoking weed, struggling, some real motherfuckers-is-coming-for-my-head, some real this-is-how-I-feel, this-is-how-you-feel shit.
Is there someone you’d really like to work with? I know who I want to work with.
If I tell you, you going to be like, “What the fuck is wrong with this nigga?” I really want to work with MGMT, man.
People are always focused on an artist’s first week sales. With so much riding on your debut are you concerned?
Fuck no. ’Cause if I start being concerned about that shit I’m going to fail. I can’t be concerned with that. Hopefully God will make it so. I’ll do good. What does first week sales mean when Robin Thicke, who ended up doing nothing first week, goes double-platinum? The music industry is nothing like how it used to be. Everything’s different now.
I had a lot of close friends stab me in the back for their own greedy desires. I never saw that coming.
What’s changed the most in the past year for you?
I had a lot of close friends stab me in the back for their own greedy desires. I never saw that coming. I never thought my real niggas would be on some fuck shit with me, and do wack shit. I’m a good nigga, and a lot of people fuck with me and then leave with these accusations trying to fuck up what I worked hard for. For example, the whole thing with SpaceGhostPurrp. I didn’t say anything. He’s putting his foot in his mouth. People are starting to see he’s a racist and crazy and bipolar. I look on the Internet and every time we put something out he gets his Raider Klan people to be like, “You’re biting,” and it’s like, “You’re just mad I’m bigger than you.” His life revolves around hating on me, and this is a guy who used to live in my house. My mom took care of him. Before I had a record deal we were sharing dinner plates and shit.
Do you think there’s any possibility for reconciliation?
It happened. It’s like it was meant to happen. It is what it is. When the heat came down, he was the only scared one. He was going to have to serve three days in jail like everybody else. Long story short, Purrp went down South, started talking shit about niggas. It was a cowardly move.
Do you find yourself having to deal with the politics of the industry more these days?
Nah, of course not. That’s friends, not industry stuff. We had Dominic Lord. He’d come join us when shit got dope, and because him and Bari were so cool, I just let it rock. I brought him in as a little brother, and then he didn’t want to wait. A$AP Mob, they’re waiting their turn. He left and started telling these labels that he’s the creative motherfucker behind A$AP and all this other shit. Shouts to him. It’s whatever. I’m just saying, there’s no more room for outsiders. We learned that lesson with Spacemonkey and Dom.
It seems that you’re committed to building the success of the A$AP Mob. Do you think you’ll ever be ready to be a label head?
I hope so, ’cause I would fuck the industry up. I would open the door for all the trill motherfuckers that need that shot. West Coast niggas, southern niggas, New York niggas, midwest niggas, fucking European London niggas that I met, fucking French people. Not just on some A$AP Rocky-sounding shit—I’m talking about people who deserve a shot. And motherfuckers don’t want to give it to them ’cause it’s underground shit.
Your success has opened up doors for your whole crew. Are they cognizant of that fact?
They know that and we all want the same shit. I worked hard. Ferg is up next. That’s a wake-up call for a lot of other niggas in A$AP. Everybody has their turn. And it’s not based off of talent—none of that. It’s just based off of God, whoever He wants to be next. You seen what happened last night with “Work.” C’mon dude, you really thought that was fucking “Peso.”
That song got a huge reception at the shows. How does it feel to see people responding to an artist you broke?
I’m ready to cry every time I see it, ’cause it’s like, “Damn, look what I did.” He’s shining. That shit is crazy, ’cause I want that for all of them niggas. It’s everybody’s turn.
The Odd Future comparisons have gone away.
Thank God. It was just because we were a group. They were out first. I came out with a group. We’re all into the same shit. They wear Supreme, we like Supreme. It was silly shit. We’re nothing alike, when you think about it.
A lot of fans at the meet and greet said you inspire them. How does that make you feel?
I love that. It makes me feel better, because I could go on WorldStarHipHop and click the latest video of me and.... [Rocky goes on WorldStar, clicks on one of his videos, and reads the comments.] Look at all this hate. Let’s just scroll down. This shit shows me that motherfuckers are aware of what I’m doing, and they have an opinion. Everybody wants their opinion to be voiced. They feel entitled, which you should as a human being. If you have a mouth and an opinion, it should be voiced. But when it comes to hip-hop music, it's the most scrutinized genre there is.
Let’s be real. Does Katy Perry have issues about being tough, being real, or being straight, or being gay? It’s all good. With us, it’s just different. It’s a miracle. Why is it so fucking hard to accept the fact that we’re heterosexual men who love fashion? We get along with gay people, we accept gay people. We get along with white people, we get along with Asian people. We love everybody. That’s just it. The truth is, all I care about is my craft. I could give a fuck about anybody’s opinion. I’m doing me and that’s it.
I hate the way Wayne dresses... Maybe it doesn’t work for you, but it works for him... Let that man be legendary.
I’m not sure if it’s the I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, but something is clearly resonating with the kids.
It’s working. I want kids to say, “Yo, I want to do what I want to do. I want to live free.” A$AP is a lifestyle. Be young. Smoke some weed. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m not a role model. I’m an entertainer—but I’m a cultural figure.
You’re surrounded by older dudes, like your management. Where did you get your core values from?
I got it from my older brothers and my father. Not to be like a sucker, you know, but they showed me how to be a man. They taught me trill shit. My father was a drug dealer, my brother was a gang-banger, and my other brother was a working man, so think about it. All the essentials. [Laughs.] I sold drugs, and when I was young I thought I was a gang-banger, you know, a fucking businessman. My brother’s the one who taught me how to rap.
You’re also starting to get business deals outside of rap. How did the EA Sports deal come about?
EA Sports fucks with me hard. They wanted me to do placement for their video games and shit. The staff is full of women. They all came with me to the studio and chilled. Older women, bro. I’m like, “How the fuck do you relate to my music?” White, older women, bro! That’s incredible.
You’ve been grinding for years, but do you feel like you’re still getting started?
It’s just building from the ground right now. Before we know it, you’re going to be saying, “Wow, Rocky, you sold out this arena quicker than Michael Jackson did!” I hope! [Laughs.] If God is good. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.
It’s easy to see the kids are heavily influenced by your style.
Do you think any of hip-hop’s fashion greats are influencing more people than you?
Do you think you’re influencing people like Kanye?
Of course. That’s obvious. [Laughs.] We’re all in the same circle. He’s way richer than me, but of course he’s influenced by me. C’mon, bro. I made waxed denim cool in hip-hop. Fucking waxed denim and rips in jeans. Nobody else did that. I don’t give a fuck. I didn’t know what I was doing. These jeans are Balmain, and I wear them with a Supreme jacket. Of course I’m influencing.
How do you feel about the culture of hip-hop changing? Lil Wayne is skateboarding now. That’s dope. I put Wayne in Jay-Z and Kanye’s bracket, in terms of success. Wayne is still fun. Are we forgetting that Wayne made everybody switch their flow up and start using the E’s and R’s, and “I’m ir-regul-ar, seg-ular”? Like, c’mon, are we forgetting that Wayne changed hip-hop, too? Are we forgetting that he made all these motherfuckers want to have tattoos? Are we forgetting that? It wasn’t Wiz, it was Wayne. Wiz did it, too, but I’m just stating facts. This is a guy who fucking went from being the youngest underdog in his crew to saving his company, and saving his “Daddy.” I’m not a fucking Lil Wayne dickrider—I’m just speaking facts.
People can say what they want about him with the way he dresses. I hate the way he dresses. I’m keeping it 100 with you. It’s very tacky at times. But that’s what he chooses to do. Get off his dick! If that’s what he chooses to wear, OK. At least he’s not wearing it ’cause he saw some other lame motherfuckers wearing it. That’s when I don’t respect it. He’s doing him! Maybe it doesn’t work for you, but it works for him. So we need to get off his dick and let that man be legendary.
Is there a musician whose career you’re envious of?
Elvis was the first man to really introduce the world to swag. On TV, it was so crazy. His pelvic gyrations were a vulgar movement. He was banned from TV for doing that, looking like he was on alcohol. He had to apologize and make a public statement about it. It took balls to do that in the 1950s. Nobody was doing that.
Switching gears, the Rihanna ass grab at the MTV Awards was pretty awesome.
I didn’t mean for the ass grab to be the thing. I don’t fiend for fake publicity shit. I’m just a trill nigga. [Laughs.] Rihanna is what I want to be, as far as having a big core following. She’s very successful. She’s been doing it for years. Think about it. “Pon de Replay”.... So ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’12.... She’s got seven years in this shit. Shout-outs to that young lady, and hopefully, with the grace of God, seven years from now, I can say the same.
It’s clear that you do things your own way, whether in your music or your fashion. Do you consider yourself a rebel?
Of course. I’m doing everything I want to do, the way I think it should be done. Let’s break it down. I’m from New York City. I look like I’m from California. I rap like I’m from 1993, ’94, or ’95. I dress like I’m from France. [Laughs.] And I fuck bitches like I’m Tupac. And I ain’t scared of shit, like I’m God. So, of course I’m a rebel. I do what the fuck I want. Everybody has rebellious ways, but I feel like A$AP stands for its own anarchy. We are rebels. We choose to make our own music, and it’s going to become popular. All of our shit sounds underground. It doesn’t sound like anything you hear.
Speaking of being a rebel, last night you basically told the process server to fuck off—
That goes back to the Purrp situation. Purrp hit a guy and beat him up, and we started fighting the sound people. Last night, when that guy tried to serve me the papers, I wanted to punch him, but we know what would have happened then. That was a funny moment. I can’t believe you were there for that. That’s hilarious. You should have taken a picture.
WATCH A$AP ROCKY'S EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW:
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Matthew Henson. (PROP STYLING) Alexis Anthony. FIRST IMAGE: Coat by Burberry Prorsum / Shirt by En Noir / Pants by En Noir / All jewelry A$AP Rocky's own. Breastplate stylist's own. SECOND IMAGE: Sweatshirt by Alexander McQueen / Shorts be En Noir / Pants by En Noir / Hat by Black Scale / Cape stylist's own. THIRD IMAGE: Jacket by Alexander Wang / T-Shirt by En Noir / Pants by En Noir / Hat by Black Scale / Sneakers by Nike.