Last night, Oxford University invited A$AP Rocky to their world-famous debating society, the Oxford Union, to give a talk on "constructing the hip-hop artist." The Union has been embroiled in a race scandal recently after advertising a "Colonial Comeback" cocktail for its debate on the British Empire, which led to a backlash and protests, and in the aftermath, the Union condemned itself as "institutionally racist." In an effort to work against this record, they invited Rocky to speak to a hall full of Oxford University students, and others, before he tours around Europe with his new album, A.L.L.A.. Rocky talked about the anti-police brutality protests, the charges against him of misogyny, and the trade-off between commercial success against authenticity. Here are six things that we learned from his talk.
Words by Tom Goulding (@TomGoulding)
He Won't Be Leading a "Black Lives Matter" Protest Anytime Soon
We might not quite be in a golden age for political rap (for every Kendrick Lamar, there are 10 Migos), but in a year's news cycle dominated by anti-police brutality protests across A$AP Rocky's home country, you might expect his mind to turn toward the streets at some point when he writes. On new album, A.L.L.A., Rocky made small forays into political and social commentary ("Gentrification split the nation that I once was raised in/I don't recall no friendly neighbors face on my upraising"), and when asked whether he felt a duty to rap politically, he told the students:
"Not everybody should be like Kendrick or talk about political things just to stand out. Also, not everybody should be like A$AP Mob and talk about drugs and girls and clothes. We don't all have to talk about the same topics."
Rocky was pushed a second time on his opinion of the anti-police brutality protests, but said, "I have been recording an album in London for a year, so I really wasn't there [protesting] so I can't speak about it." But his further criticism is unlikely to win many activist friends:
"Why are we exploiting the beef between the urban community and the police force when 60 people got shot on a Friday and Saturday [on July holiday weekend in 2014] in Chicago in black-on-black crime? So one cop shoots a black person...that kind of shit is inevitable. Not to glorify it, but that's nothing new. Let's talk about the black-on-black crime. If you're not gonna talk about the main topic, then don't talk about it all."
He's Extremely Grateful for His First Major Label: The Internet
Rocky famously signed a $3 million deal with RCA Records in 2011 off the back of hits from his debut mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP. Here he spoke about the early, Tumblr-heavy days of the Mob with a misty-eyed nostalgia, without explicitly criticizing the last four years he's worked under a major label.
"You don't need a big label to get exposure, you just need the biggest platform in the world right now: the Internet. People like me with no experience, the Internet gives them a platform, a voice. We didn’t know the power of the Internet, and now, it's like the wild, wild West out there, like an open market. You can do whatever you want, but you've just gotta use the Internet properly."
He Believes 'Long.Live.A$AP' Was Too Focused on Making Commercial Hits
When asked what effect working under a major label had on his sound, Rocky admitted he had wanted to prove he could make "mainstream commercial hits without having to compromise my whole style," referring to "Fuckin' Problems," "Wild for the Night" and "Goldie."
"I wanted to prove I could go from underground mixtape king to mainstream success. People just saw me from 'Problems' and 'Wild' and I got collaboration requests for songs that were just awful. I didn't wanna be a part of it, but offers were coming in because that's what I had put out there."
Rocky said for his second album, A.L.L.A., he didn't want to go too mainstream, so he isolated himself in London at the Red Bull Studios and surrounded himself with some of his favorite artists.
"I wanted M.I.A bad, but also people who weren't even on the album; Skepta, and other grime artists, just to have them around for the energy was dope. I'm actually working with a lot of grime artists right now."
He'll Defend His View of Women, But Only to a Point
Rocky has repeatedly been asked, in nearly every public appearance since the release of A.L.L.A., about his lines on "Better Things" in which he spits: "I swear that bitch Rita Ora got a big mouth.... Spit my kids out, jizzed up all in her mouth and made the bitch bounce." One female student asked whether the misogyny in his lyrics isolated women; Rocky admitted it does, at times, but that he also does it to men:
"How many times you hear the line, 'I don't fuck with you niggas'? That's the same thing. Do you really want to talk about Rita? You want to battle? Do a whole 'women's justice' thing?"
After the event, the female questioner, Aamira, 20, said that it was "the worst possible answer he could give." Though clues about A$AP's relationship with women were spread throughout the talk, such as saying that "a female's vagina is the most addictive thing in the world."