Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky is blowing open the doors of perception with the forthcoming At. Long. Last. A$AP, an album influenced by his recent psychedelic-drug use as well as the trippy sonics of producer Danger Mouse. Rocky cut more than 40 songs, primarily in London, working with guests like Miguel, Mark Ronson and the former Mos Def, Yasiin Bey. "Trust me, it ain’t no cheesy shit," Rocky says of his mind-opening new direction. "It's that fire."
With his slender frame draped across a chair at a restaurant in Harlem, Rocky speaks in low, concise, stoned sentences. When asked, "Do you get tired doing of these interviews?" he responds with a one-word answer: "Yeah." He lights up for a moment when discussing his recently-deceased friend A$AP Yams. "He was different," Rocky says, intending that as high praise. Later in the night he would debut its first official single — the Rod Stewart-sampling "Everyday" — at a Red Bull Music Academy event, but first he talked to Rolling Stone about the record, Baltimore and Yams' lost LP.
Do you plan out breaking news, like the new track, in advance of interviews or events?
Nah, I just get there and depending on how I feel I may leak some shit or drop some shit or not. I don't want to make a spectacle about a lot of shit. If I'm about to put out a song, it's about the fucking song. If I put out a video it's about the fucking video. You don't gotta make press around it and shit. Obviously people want to talk — I guess I got a lot to say.
Let's talk about your album. You've said you want to focus on your lyricism in a serious way.
I always been in that direction, I just got slept on. My swag overshadowed everything. I'm tired of motherfuckers like, "What is he gonna wear, some wack shit?" or something. I hope they're watching.
As a writer, do you feel like you're underrated?
Sometimes. That's just something that I gotta work hard at. If I want a different outcome, it's that simple.
What inspires you creatively right now?
My life situations. I'm just. . .living. I'm not concerned with being the best rapper. Being the best I can be, man. I'm not a role model, you know what I'm saying? Lead by example. By default I'm not perfect, but. . .
What is challenging you as an artist?
I think the world challenges me to stay sane. I haven't gotten in any trouble in so long, and I'm just saying to myself, like, I've always been a good kid but trouble always found me. So the clock is ticking. We all gonna die — some shit is just inevitable. Gonna remain a cool cat, trying to stay away from trouble. That motherfucker might come find me. I just feel like my biggest challenge is doing things the new way. The smart way. Be responsible.
Do you think it's a strange question to ask a musician about what's happening in Baltimore right now?
I just think in general it's an ideal question. I think like everybody else thinks: I think it's fucked up. That's all I can really say 'cause I'm in New York right now. It's fucked up man. I'm tired of hearing about all these police brutality shootings and shit. I don't even be in the country. Come back and hear about all this shit. It's sad, if you ask me.
Do you feel it's something you want to address in your music?
It depends. I mean, for sure. Of course. That's our platform to voice our opinion, speak up. Just make it be about the right thing, not for attention or money. Do it because you mean it.
Do you ever think about where you'd be if all this hadn't happened.
Yeah. All the time. All I can imagine is that I would be where I last left off at. Before I started. And that wasn't a good position.
You recently appeared in the movie Dope. Do you ever see yourself doing the Will Smith or Ice Cube thing and going all in on movies?
Not knocking what they did, but I'm really comfortable with music right now. I'm definitely gonna stick around for a bit before I just totally leave. Start doing something else.
Are there a lot of guests on the new album?
Yeah. Mos Def, obviously. He gave me my name about four years ago; he allowed me to have Pretty Flacko. 'Cause that's his. We met through my manager Jason, that's one of his best friends, so it's some regular, genuine shit. Got Rod Stewart on the record. It's actually dope, believe it or not. Miguel, Mark Ronson. I ain't gonna do no cheesy shit.
I heard a rumor that you were working on an album for A$AP Yams and that you'd recorded with him for it. What else can you tell me about that project?
Yams was starting making an album. Before he passed, he had all these notes. We already discussed what he wanted, I just want to carry it out. He started the album, he passed. Chief Keef was one of the various artists.
Who were the others?
Key from Atlanta, FatManKey. The typicals, man. My album didn't even come out yet. I'm getting ahead of myself.
When you do finish a record, who's the first person that you play it for? Who do you trust?
No one. Just me. I played it for my boy, my DJ J. Scott. Whoever made it. They love it but nobody's like, unbiased — and A$AP.