It took nine years for people to start calling Jay-Z the "King of New York." It took A$AP Rocky nine words. From the moment the charismatic rapper drawled, "I be that pretty motherfucker/Harlem's what I'm repping," bloggers, label brass and teens buying blunts in bodegas started sizing him for the crown.
The video for "Peso" went viral and incited arguments about what New York hip-hop should sound like in the second decade of the 21st century. Rocky emerged as an avatar for the post-regional era – a synthesis of slick uptown slang, humid Houston screw music, morbid Memphis crunk and Midwestern double-time. His fluid style and sartorial flair started a label bidding war even before the release of his acclaimed 2011 mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP. The winner, Polo Grounds/RCA, offered a deal worth almost as much as the Basquiats on Jay-Z and Beyoncé's walls.
This week should ostensibly be a stress-free coronation for the gold-grilled 24-year old. It marks the official unveiling of Long.Live.A$AP, which Rolling Stone's Simon Vozick-Levinson praised as a "great sequel . . . upping the ante without losing what made the original compelling." Its lead single, "Fuckin' Problems," has become a coast-to-coast radio juggernaut. Yet the celebration has been bittersweet, with Rocky's father passing away over Christmas.
But sorrow can't dim the implacable confidence of the self-proclaimed "Pretty Flacko." During a gap between two photo shoots, Rocky talked to RS about his new record, his relationship with Rihanna and how he wants to become "the greatest artist of his generation."
What are you most proud of about the new album?
That I've reached beyond people's expectations. A lot of people were anticipating and waiting on what I'd do next. There were doubters, and there were others who had a lot of faith in me. And I did beyond what they wanted. I'm singing on these records. People think that's Pharrell singing, or they ask me, "Is that Auto-Tune?" But I went beyond what people thought were my limits. It's a masterpiece.
When you did you decide to start singing?
The moment that I decided I could do anything I wanted.
When was that?
When I saw my record deal. I wanted to do anything that I wanted to do . . . no ifs, ands or buts. Now I'm doing that.
Did you feel pressure to make a record with pop appeal?
I did whatever felt right for me. I'm not the best at choosing what's good and what's bad. I wouldn't even know what's a good pop song and what's a bad one. With that said, I wanted to say what's true to me. Some people might say that the Skrillex record was pop, but that was just about the chemistry between me and my boy.
Do you listen to a lot of Skrillex?
I love going to his shows. It's like a rave every time. Everyone goes crazy.
Fashion is very important to you. Do you see it as going hand in hand with your music?
Fashion goes with everything in life, because we're human beings and we have to get dressed. Whether we like it or not, we're institutionalized with fashion. We all have to get dressed one pant leg at a time. People have a sixth sense when it comes to fashion, and I think it compliments the music – especially when it comes to music videos.
How important is it for you to be trendy?
I feel like everything I do in the hip-hop world has an influence. People don't really notice what I did until somebody else does it. As far as hip-hop goes, I want to continue to make good music, and good art. I don't really follow the state of hip-hop.
I listen to old shit. I know that sounds strange, me being a new rapper, but I just can't get down with a lot of the new stuff.
How did the song "Fuckin' Problems" come together?
Well, 2 Chainz was for sure going to do the hook. It was all about chemistry, because you know, even though Drake is a big pop artist, he can spit his ass off, Kendrick Lamar is a fucking spitter. We all just wanted to make a party track and have fun. And that's a true story – I fucked a lot of bitches. I got a fucking problem.
How much of a competitive element is there for you on a song like "1 Train," which features Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T. and Joey Bada$$?
You gotta be competitive. As far as me, I laid my first verse with confidence, and everyone else went from there. Everyone spit in order. After I laid it down, we sent it to Kendrick, and then to Joey, and it went on down the line. We just wanted to make a posse cut that people would relate to.
You mention Kurt Cobain twice on the album and the scrutiny that he went through. Do you identify with that?
Throughout this whole thing, there has been a lot of scrutiny and rumors and antagonism. On "Phoenix," I talk about thoughts of suicide and my whole life. It's called "Phoenix" because it's talking about dying – but when a phoenix dies, it's reborn from its own ashes. I related to that.
What sort of statement do you think you made on Long.Live.A$AP?
I want people to say he's the best artist – not the best rapper of his generation, but the best artist.
You've featured the American flag on both of your album covers. What were you trying to say by doing that?
That's a political view. Society lives by rules and laws that are man-made, but anything man-made can be broken. When you break rules, sometimes it's justified for the penalty. And there are always certain forces that are trying to restrict you.
We're all misunderstood, and the flag represents that. We're trying to represent for the wars that our generation faces. I want us to all be united. It's bigger than music, straight up.
Do you feel misunderstood, and if so, about what?
I feel misunderstood about my art. I feel misunderstood about my fashion. Let's start there. I wore a long shirt in the "Fuckin' Problem" video, and people were saying that I wore dresses. Then there's my image: the gold teeth and the braids. People say he's from Harlem, but he looks like he from Houston, or he looks like he's from Cleveland, or from Cali.
You co-produce a few beats on the record. What made you start doing production?
Man, because I felt like I could do anything, If I could produce videos, I could produce songs. I produced [the track] "Long Live A$AP" with Jim Jonsin and "Jodye" along with Joey Fatts. I added the sound effects of the storms in the middle when the hook drops – the filters on it. That was all me. I also co-produced "Fashion Killa."
How has "making it" been different than you expected?
It's not much different than I expected. There's still the same lame weird shit. Fuck-the-superstar shit. I'm not actually saying fuck it – it's a plus. But it's really about the art. I don't care about anything but the art. Music is supposed to inspire. We don't really want to inspire anymore. We just want to hate on each other. You even catch yourself doing it. There's no more love.
I'm not gonna say that I'm at the top of the rap game, but I can say I'm at the top of my grind. I'm doing really well to not yet have put out a commercial record. I chose to deal with the underdogs on "1 Train." I could've got the biggest superstars in the rap game, but why do that when you can let the young boys shine?
What's your relationship like with Rihanna?
Rihanna is a pothead and so am I, so we're real cool. Weed is going to bring us together as a generation. Drugs is what created Woodstock. Let's be clear about that.
What do you want from your future?
I want to do movies. But not only that, I want to be a motivation for people. I want to be an activist and really inspire the hopeless youngbloods. I want to let them know that there's hope out there. Life is a bitch, but there's always hope.