I ask what makes him intriguing.
“You tell me, motherfucker!”
Although A$AP Rocky has an irascible energy—his voice will jump from distracted and demur to commanding in seconds—it hadn’t yet been directed towards his guests, and although he can be unpredictable, it isn’t fear-inducing. Although conversations often slip into light sparring and profanity, he is unfailingly polite. But he is also completely uninterested in discussing his rain-soaked Pitchfork Music Festival performance hours before, which he had just watched in its entirety online. Nor did he want to discuss how he adjusted to the sudden fame, dismissing the question with, “I’m over that phase.” More than being interviewed, A$AP Rocky wanted to be entertained.
His impatience with interviews is understandable; the rapper went from a few leaked tracks last summer into one of the genre’s most hyped artists by Halloween, 2011, sought after by every publication in the hip hop world. Rocky, born Rakim Mayers, grew up in Harlem, and lived through the incarceration of his father and murder of his brother by the time he was 13 years old. He formed the A$AP Mob in 2007, although it wasn’t until summer 2011 that his music career began in earnest. It was a few tracks leaked online that kick-started the buzz, bolstered by the video for the beloved single “Peso.” The video summed up the A$AP aesthetic, an aggregation of influences—a blend of hip hop history and iconography. Visually, he and the A$AP Mob sought out the common ground of street and cutting-edge fashion, while referencing the presentation of late 1990s hip hop like the Hot Boys and No Limit’s CEO Master P, as well as Harlem’s own Diplomats. Musically, they were similarly interested in mixing and matching influences, incorporating the sound of Houston and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony with a New Yorker’s cosmopolitan flair.
It’s a humid July night at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago, a week before Rocky’s arrest in New York for his alleged involvement in a Manhattan brawl. He and the rest of the A$AP Mob are gathered around a laptop watching the Pitchfork stream, while an ignored, muted episode of A&E’s Parking Wars plays on the TV. Nearby, Rocky himself is quiet, grinning when his crew makes jokes or snaps on each other in the performance footage. The entire crew was in attendance, sans A$AP Yams, who is in New York finishing up mastering for the as-yet-unnamed A$AP Mob album. There is a sense of camaraderie, but everything seems to revolve around Rocky, who begins to crack on one of the Mob members for inadvertently inviting a 17-year-old girl to hang out in their room; Rocky had courteously turned her away at the door, apologetic.
Leaving the rest of the crew behind, we trail Rocky to his personal suite. He seems hurried and a bit anxious; he hasn’t told his manager of the interview or photo shoot, and is trying to get it all done before meeting with him to go to a nearby club. “Personally for me, what I want to talk about right now is this club I’m about to go to. You guys should join me. There’s gonna be some bitches there. That’s what’s really on my mind.”
He comes to life when talking about clothing, and his appearances in fashion magazines, which he recounts easily: Vogue Italia, Vogue Homme Japan, American Vogue. Rocky falls naturally into poses for the photographer; he seems to understand, whether by nature or through experience, how to mold himself for the camera. At one point, he leans forward in the chair at the foot of his bed, his hands clasped in front of him, looking intently into the lens. He’s comfortable in front of a camera, seemingly lacking in self-consciousness, only stealing quick glances at the mirror to make minimal adjustments and admire the clothes. It seems to grant him a certain serenity, making him more reflective. His dreams of fucking a billionaire heiress led to a discussion about trustworthiness. “I’m not going to go around not trusting people,” he said. “I trust you unless you give me a reason not to trust you. You can’t prevent certain shit. It’s human nature... I don’t stress shit any more.”
It seems hard to believe; there’s an edge to Rocky, so I push the issue. “I’m not stressed, bro. At all. God is good, man. Stress is living in a shelter, stress is getting shot at just because you want to make a little money for yourself on a street corner.”
But isn’t it also a motivator?
“I agree, to an extent. But I didn’t lose motivation. I want to make a legacy for myself. I want to make a legacy for those niggas, ASAP. I just want to be a pioneer of something new. A whole new demographic.”
Rocky’s relative lack of airplay nationally, when compared with his omnipresence in New York City, seems to cause him no undue stress either. “I don’t think you hear me at all [in Chicago]. But what’s weird, you walk down the street and you might see people panicking and fainting. You know why? Because I’m not a fucking mainstream radio head, I’m a fucking artist who’s a cultural figure, I have a lifestyle that everybody can relate to. A lifestyle [coming from] nothing, a lifestyle of being rebellious, a lifestyle of being fucking young and pretty and trill.”
I ask if he’s worried about sales. “My label is. If I’m worried about sales I’m gonna fail. That’s in God’s hands. What am I gonna do next, that’s all that matters. It’s time to play chess. Fucking Nicki Minaj’s album flopped. Who the fuck is A$AP Rocky coming out the gate? I’m not worried about sales. I just bought a house in Beverly Hills. I’m good, G.”
I ask if show money is his main source of income.
“I don’t think that’s really something I want to talk about, my finances. That’s a personal question. Like asking me do I wipe my ass with what kind of tissue.”
The photographer speaks up, perhaps attempting to steer the ship into friendlier territory. “I’ve got a question. Who is your celebrity crush?”
“That’s a good one,” Rocky says, finally pleased by a question. “Now I can answer that. You sure you don’t want him to take this over?”