You've got to hand it to A$AP Rocky: the man doesn't waste time. Just two months and change after exploding onto the scene with single "Peso" and its accompanying video, the 23-year-old Harlem native signed a $3 million contract with Polo Grounds Music and RCA Records. The contract's ink barely had a chance to dry before the artist's major-label debut, LiveLoveA$AP, was unleashed upon the 'net.
Having dropped one of the most buzzed-about street releases of the year and secured a front-runner's spot in Best New Artist lists across the blogosphere (Not to mention scoring two Best of the Booth nominations—click here to cast your vote!) in one fell swoop, he somehow ended 2011 on an even higher note, getting selected as an opener on Young Money megastar Drake's Club Paradise Tour. What might he accomplish if he keeps his momentum going into 2012? The rest of the game must be trembling at the very thought.
In the exclusive interview below, A$AP Rocky steps into the Booth to discuss his relationship with Drizzy, how Houston hip-hop came to have such a profound influence on an artist hailing from the Big Apple, and why he and his A$AP crew need a major-label platform in order to shine.
Your buzz began with “Purple Swag.” What exactly is purple swag?
Purple swag is a dimension that you go into when you’re really high off that codeine promethazine or purple drank. The song was inspired off drugs.
“Purple Swag” is a feeling you get from codeine promethazine, which is known mostly as a Houston thing. Being that you’re from Harlem, who is responsible for influencing your music and lifestyle in this manner?
Growing up in the '90s and early 2000s, Houston had a huge influence on hip-hop around 2005. I was fascinated with the culture [down] there. I just wanted to embrace it in my music.
Who in particular caught your ear? The Swishahouse roster? The Geto Boys?
Scarface and everybody else influenced me heavily. “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” That wasn’t really the [DJ] Screw era, though. ['90s Houston hip-hop] did have an influence on me, but it really wasn’t my main influence. I’m talking about the Screw era and even the UGK era, guys like Devin the Dude, Lil' Keke and Z-Ro.
Your latest single and video for “Peso” has really elevated you to another level. Tell us about that record.
“Peso” was produced by my in-house producer A$AP Ty Beats. It was my breakthrough record and video because I got a lot of good feedback and attention off of it. It’s currently on MTV and all over the radio right now. That’s my special song right there. It’s basically about Harlem and the video is showing you what Harlem really is.
Speaking of breakthrough, lets discuss LiveLoveA$AP. What is the meaning behind the title?
It goes way back. "A$AP" has a lot of meanings to it. We have a cult following and we’re a cult within ourselves. Instead of Live Love Laugh, it’s LiveLoveA$AP. Instead of "Thug Life," I have "A$AP Life" tattooed on myself.
Are there plans to take the tape to retail?
We’re gonna put out a deluxe edition nationally. It’ll have different songs, different features, and consist of better quality tracks. We’re gonna revamp the track listing, but [also] make some new records.
Who have you been working with? You mentioned better features.
Personally, I’ve been working with everybody [laughs]. It’s not one of those things where I’m gonna get a bunch of fuckin’ features. I’m working with different producers and everything. I’m at a point in my life where I’m getting out of New York and I’m meeting people around the world for the first time. It doesn’t mean I need to put them on my album. I don’t want to say who I’m working with because people may think that’s whose gonna be on the album and that may not be the case. I’ve never been out of the country; all I know was dropping out of high school and selling drugs. Now that I have the opportunity of a lifetime to do what I’m doing, I’m just enjoying it.
You might just need a few Houston features, though...
Of course I want to work with Scarface on this record. I really wanna work with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, though. My brother was killed when I was 13, but he influenced the shit out of me. I grew up on Bone Thugs; my mom listens to those guys and blasts the music. I wanna tell those guys that their music influenced me.
You mentioned "A$AP" having a cult-like following and that your crew is a cult within yourselves. There are a lot of hip-hop artists who are currently blowing up with that cult feeling to them; Tyler, The Creator and Odd Future come to mind. It seems like it has to be a movement; how important is that in hip-hop today?
I think it’s very important because you have to distinguish yourself from that typical mainstream sound. If you give the people that authentic, raw, genuine shit, you can really tell the difference and that’s what it takes to create a movement. Nobody is gonna roll with a movement that’s fuckin’ generic. People can identify real from fake and if you have a movement, that’s just a stamp of approval.
On top of that, I don’t really do things concerned that people will approve of them. When I was making these videos, I wasn’t worried about having them on TV. The “Peso” video is so raw. I have 40 ounces and blunts. I’m putting crazy shit in my videos. This is what we do for fun and I felt like my shit is better than the majority of what’s out there. I love other people’s music but I feel like mine is different. For the people to appreciate it and embrace me, it was a blessing.
What did you like about the approach of your new label home at Polo Grounds Music/RCA Records?
They were pro-Rocky with everything. Whatever I wanted to do, Bryan Leach [Polo Grounds Music CEO] backs me up 100%. It doesn’t feel [like] business; I’m not just another artist to him. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything, but it feels like a real family and we move like a unit. I see Bryan every day of my life so I feel like I made the best move because they wanna make sure I win and they’re out for my best interests.
Besides the money, what attracted you to sign with a major considering the huge indie buzz you already created?
Besides the money, it was the money [laughs]. I wanted to create a platform for my boys to get on too. A$AP Ferg, SpaceGhostPurrp, A$AP Nast, A$AP Twelvyy—I wanted those dudes to shine too.
And you feel like you couldn’t do that without the help of a major?
I feel like with the help of a major, they can get to the next level quicker than us just working by ourselves. It’s gonna happen naturally and it is what it is, but I feel like I haven’t changed my style since signing with a major. I’m not compromising my records; that’s not what we do. I just have more support by signing with Polo Grounds so everybody should be able to understand why I made that move.
You’ve done some touring with Drake on his Club Paradise Tour. What was your first interaction like with Drake?
He was out in New York to DJ during fashion week at the Versace store and he called me to come. When I saw him onstage DJing, he sent his boy to come get me from the crowd. He brought me up on stage and just showed me love. He was playing my records and shit. I had a show in New York later that week and he came through. The venue wasn’t really a place you’d see celebrities at either. Words can’t explain how much I appreciate what Drake is doing for me because he doesn’t have to do it. He’s really a good-hearted guy. I don’t see how anyone who knows him personally can hate him.
Has he given you any words of advice?
Truly, he doesn’t give me advice because he tells me to keep doing what the fuck I’m doing because I inspire him. He doesn’t need to give me advice because he knows I’m watching him. I just appreciate that dude.
In closing, what’s up next for yourself and the A$AP crew?
We’re just gonna take over next year. The real raw shit that you loved in the '90s is back. Real hip-hop is back. We are hip-hop.