Ever since his mixtapes and homemade music videos started appearing on the internet A$AP Rocky has been a force to be reckoned with in, not just hip hop, but the music scene as a whole. The 24-year-old rapper from Harlem, New York is not your average rapper, he has no time for rap stereotypes and don’t even think about calling him a gangster. Instead A$AP Rocky (it stands for Always Strive and Prosper in case you were wondering) champions fashion, art and individuality, passions that have lead to the artist being on the receiving end of a slew of negative comments and judgement from musical peers. But when we meet Rocky, a mere three weeks after the death of his father, we’re not met by another rap cliché, or an egotistical personality that one might expect from someone of his fame, but instead a charming, dedicated and overall fiercely intelligent individual. Hip hop could do with borrowing A$AP Rocky’s notes.
YOU STARTED GETTING INTO RAP SERIOUSLY AFTER THE MURDER OF YOUR BROTHER, HOW MUCH DID YOU POUR YOUR EMOTIONS INTO MUSIC GROWING UP?
No that’s a misconception, I was always rapping and I took it seriously from the age of about nine, after starting at eight. When my brother died I was alone for a while but I had my Dad so I was okay. For the most part rapping has always been part of my life. It was more of a hobby at first but it became a lifestyle.
WHO INSPIRED YOU GROWING UP?
Oh man, everybody – Wu-Tang Clan, Geto Boys, NWA. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were the ones that I looked up to the most though.
YOU’VE BEEN CALLED A GANGSTER IN THE PRESS BEFORE, IS THAT A TERM THAT ANNOYS YOU?
I’m not a gangster. If I’m a gangster, people don’t have the right definition of gangster. I could show you some gangsters but it’s not me. I think that it’s ignorant to say that. The only thing about me that says gangster is my braids and my gold teeth. Gangsters are gangsters because they have to be, it’s their way of getting finances to support their family, but that’s not me.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT RAP GETS STEREOTYPED MORE THAN ANY OTHER GENRE?
My theory is that it’s because most rappers only talk about gangster shit. Rock stars are known for Lamborghinis, long hair, models, leather jackets and cocaine right? They perpetuated that stereotype. Rappers talk about bitches, money, cars, clothes, guns and killing. That’s what they contribute so it’s natural that people have that perception of rappers. I’ve seen gangster shit and I’ve done gangster shit but I’m not no gangster. And I don’t ever want to be.
HOW DO YOU ESCAPE THE STEREOTYPES THAT COME WITH RAP?
Who’s running? I don’t think I need to escape. My mind is on a whole different level, I don’t need to concern myself with this small state of mind or rapper shit, I’m beyond that. I just did a fucking song with Florence Welch, I’m not thinking about rap shit at the moment. My music speaks for itself. I want to be an individual, and an artist, I don’t want to just be considered a rapper.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOU AND YOUR ENTIRE PERSONA THAT YOU THINK MAKES YOU STAND OUT?
Because I actually give a fuck about the craft and I don’t give a fuck about nothing else. Ask anybody around me and they’ll tell you how passionate I am about the craft and the art of music. Other than that I don’t really give a fuck. I smoke weed, I’m young, I’m chilling and trying to take it easy. My career is the only thing I care about. I’ll tell you the truth even if it sounds blunt or embarrassing, I don’t care. I don’t think anybody else is going to do that but I bet you’ll see a lot of other people getting real from now on – or at least pretending to. Entertainers can’t be themselves because they’ve got to live up to this façade. But it’s one of those situations., it never changes.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PEOPLE THESE DAYS THAT WANT TO BE FAMOUS JUST TO BE SEEN, AND DON’T CARE ABOUT TALENT?
That’s their business and good luck with that, I can’t tell you how to live your life and I don’t really have anything to say about those people. They do what works for them, but for me it’s nothing to even question. I’m not concerned with other people. My mind is only on my new album, art directing amazing songs and producing my music. It’s not about what the next man is doing, it’s about making a change in, not just the hip hop world, but the world in general for my generation. The message is that we’re all one people, and one generation. Stuff like religion, ethnicity, beliefs, race, colour – it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s the message that I’m trying to push. At my show you’ll see a huge mix of people – whites, black, yellows, even fucking purples! – everybody’s there for one reason. Discrimination needs to die with racism and all that other shit.
AND DO YOU THINK THAT’S WHY YOUR MUSIC RESONATES?
Maybe. I feel like a lot of people can relate to me. And believe it or not fashion is a lifestyle, and the fact that I’m one of the most fashionably wise, young jiggy motherfuckers out here, they can’t fuck with me. People know that I didn’t just start dressing like this yesterday. I’ve been this way for years and I won’t change. We used to have to fight, physically fistfight, because people used to say that me and my crew were gay. Now you’re not going to see me punching someone for calling me gay. They’ll say what they want to say, but back then I had nothing to lose. We used to chill in Soho and then go back to Harlem and get that abuse. That’s not common. In hip hop it’s not common to accept people like Jeremy Scott or Alexander Wang as friends because they’re gay but I’m trying to say that it shouldn’t matter. People keep asking me about this subject and I’m not a gay rights activist but I just want equality. And not just for the gay community, what about Africans getting killed by their own people, what about people facing racism – everybody needs love.
FASHION IS A HUGE PART OF YOUR CRAFT AND YOU COME UP WITH THE ART DIRECTION OF YOUR VIDEOS – WHAT INSPIRES YOU CREATIVELY?
I get these visions and I want them to come out how I imagine them, so I have to do it myself. I don’t want anybody else to be responsible for my music, or the way my videos look except for me. It’s all from inside my head.
YOU WORKED WITH FLORENCE ON A TRACK AND YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU WANT TO WORK WITH JESSIE WARE, WHO ELSE IS INSPIRING YOU?
MGMT. I want to work with them. I like people for their creativity and individuality. I don’t like clichéd shit. I hate being predictable. I don’t want to look the same, dress the same, walk the same as anyone else. I’m working on a short film at the moment. Believe it or not a lot of the things that I want to do are for personal gain, not financial. I know time is money but most of the things I want to do are to fulfil me creatively. I’m doing collaborations with designers and I’m just like, don’t pay me just give me clean new clothes every season, that’s all I want. What am I going to do with £100k, especially after taxes! I’m being real with you.
WHERE DOES THIS INTEGRITY COME FROM?
It’s just me, I don’t even know how to explain it. I’m really militant when it comes to things like this, I really am content with just being an individual. I don’t want to be like the rest of these corny motherfuckers. I’ll say it, rappers are fucking corny. Want to know why? Because they don’t have any creativity. All of it is just cars, girls in stripper heels and a thong, champagne bottles and necklaces. There’s nothing different.
WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE RAP GAME FOR PEOPLE TO VIEW IT DIFFERENTLY?
I’m not saying it needs to change, I’m just saying that I’m not going to do it. It’s corny and it’s not for me. But I don’t lose sleep over what other rappers do, it’s whatever.
YOU’VE BEEN IN THE UK FOR A WHILE – HAVE YOU PICKED UP ANY UK SLANG?
Yeah – wanker. And innit. You’re a pretty motherfucker innit. Or hey bruv. I like that one.
THE ALBUM CAME OUT LAST WEEK AND IS ALREADY NUMBER ONE IN THE STATES – IS IT A RECORD THAT YOU’RE VERY PROUD OF?
I can’t believe it’s number one in the States, I want to be number one in the UK too though man. Lana Del Rey was number one over here, but I guess it did take her a few months. I want to work with Adele too but she’s too big for me – I don’t know if she likes rappers either.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR MUSIC IN THE FUTURE?
I do whatever feels right, it has to be organic. I don’t plan anything, it’s my craft. What’s giving me ambition at the moment is my Dad, and his passing. I never talk about this usually, but it’s making me really ambitious. Now I’m saying I’m going to keep my foot on these corny motherfucker’s necks, and just go hard. I looked on the internet and saw comments like ‘Oh he gave his dad to the Illuminati and sacrificed his father’, and I just think how could you say something so harsh about someone who is still in mourning? My Dad hasn’t even been gone for a month and people are saying that to me. They’re cowards, and that’s why you should never take anything about yourself too seriously. I don’t usually read comments about myself but I saw that one. That shows me that I’ve got a lot of work to do. It was a young kid that said that you know. Any one with common sense or any kind of heart would never say something so harsh to another person. The fact that you say that means that you’re an evil person, it makes me wonder what this world is coming to. I want to enlighten the youth, and that comment made it clear what I need to do.
DO YOU WANT TO BE A ROLE MODEL?
No I don’t, I just want to inspire and motivate. I’m not a role model. That’s pressure because I’m not perfect. I’m addicted to women and weed, but I do have integrity. I’m not about to hide the fact that I have vices. Obama has to be a role model, we’ll never know if he’s ever smoked weed but I’m not going to hide who I am, I can’t.
WHAT SCARES YOU?
I’m not really scared of much these days you know.
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
Understanding. Everything is misunderstood but I think that people are slowly starting to understand me. In the States there’s a rumour going around that I’m a cross dresser because I like fashion, and they say that because they can’t say that I’m not talented, they can’t say that I’m not inspirational, they can’t say I ain’t pretty and they can’t say that my music is whack so they’re clutching at straws – they’ve got to say that I’m part of the Illuminati or that I’m gay. But why insult people? The mentality of the hip hop scene is really closed minded and a lot of times it’s oblivious and ignorant, and I want to enlighten people. Gianni Versace said that he was in love with Tupac and he was the most beautiful man in the world, and that’s the gayest shit you can say about another man, but they became really good friends and after Tupac wore Versace everyone followed – Puff Daddy, BIG, everybody! And because I’m not trying to be a thug or a gangster people try to bring me down. I’m proud to have gay friends like Jeremy Scott and Alexander Wang, because Jeremy Scott is a way better man than any of those ignorant motherfuckers. Everybody has an opinion and that’s okay but what’s wrong is to voice prejudice. People need to understand.
A$AP Rocky’s debut album LongLiveA$AP is out now.