Bringing Harlem to Cognac | A$AP Ferg on Hennessy, Legacy, and Growing Up
That dim afterglow of late-evening shown through the windows of the greenhouse set just beside the dining room. Above us, the light from the chandelier illuminated family portraits on either side of the room. A lavish spread of delicate, French cuisine and buttered bread set before us, exquisite selections of white wine, red wine, and Hennessy, resting in our glasses. Darold Ferguson, affectionately known as A$AP Ferg, to Maurice Hennessy-- the eighth generation of the Hennessy lineage--queried, “What should someone experience when drinking Hennessy?”
“It is not made for anyone to enjoy one way—there is no law saying, ‘This is how Hennessy should be enjoyed’”, Maurice Hennessy continued. Without hesitation, the man embodying the Hennessy legacy in name, breath and bone, revealed the remarkable simplicity of the Hennessy philosophy. A philosophy of a brand that does not shape a narrative to live into, but instead invites their consumers to arrive and shape the narrative as they experience it. A philosophy that A$AP Ferg, as a partner of the luxury brand, emulates.
At an intimate dinner at Hennessy’s Château de Bagnolet in Cognac, France, A$AP Ferg became rooted in a legendary heritage. Having first collaborated with Hennessy in 2018 where the brand’s, “Never Stop, Never Settle” mantra served as a platform to celebrate A$AP Ferg’s own limitless potential--in his work as a musician, painter and cross-disciplinary artist--this immersive trip to Hennessy’s seat at Cognac was both a nod to, and expansion of an already striving partnership with the Hennessy brand.
The following afternoon--succeeding a morning spent touring the distillery, vineyard and cellars, a visit to the Cooperage to witness the art of forming the barrels that the eaux-de-vie is aged, and an expert led tasting--we returned to the Château de Bagnolet for lunch where I had the privilege of sitting down with Ferg. A breezy, Wednesday afternoon, we sat along the back porch--the property’s lake just ahead, former stables beside us--in an elegant paradise of subtle and pristine opulence. French buoyant in the air, Darold Ferguson had a language of his own. Those of us that were non-French speaking struggled to hold the language on our tongue but he carried Harlem in his mouth--his roots in the grooves of his teeth.
In this moment, under a high sun, and over the clatter of Hennessy on ice, I was introduced to a deeply humble man of audacious authenticity and uncompromising moral convictions. A man laying the foundation for a legacy of his own.
There's legacy in the Hennessy name, and based on what I've been able to observe in hearing you talk about your music and your work, your father--you seem like someone that legacy is important to. Whose legacies are the ones that guide you?
My father for one, and my mother for two, my stepdad for three--all of them inspire me to leave a legacy.
For a long time I was only my father’s son, only my mother’s son. But as I grew older I knew it was something really special about being their son because everybody knew [my father’s] name. He looked out for a lot of people, provided jobs. He brought equity to the neighborhood. So that gave me a path. Because if I would have a father that was the complete opposite, then I wouldn’t have had anything to really look up to growing up. He planted a seed in my mind to work hard. Taught me not to take loans and I saw a working man in my life--so I wasn’t lazy. All I knew was to work and create something bigger than me--which was a legacy for my family.
And then, Pharrell and Jay-Z-- guys like that, that really made a stamp and took the business of hip-hop to another level--showed us that it’s cool to be behind the scenes as well, and to have leverage and ownership. A lot of artists are scared to grow up. I’ve noticed that in hip-hop. It’s alright to show people your growth and that you’re into new things. I don’t believe in getting into this business, and talking about the same thing for 10 years of your career. Like we know you traveled the world you can’t possibly be talking about the same exact thing, like what are you teaching or who are you fooling? It’s just not real. I feel like you die once you don’t grow.
When producing Hennessy Cognac, there is special attention paid to craft and refinement. As an artist yourself, I feel like that’s something you can relate to. Could you speak to that?
Seeing the craft and refinement of the product teaches me how to be patient. It teaches me that it’s a process. You see a business as huge as Hennessy and-- I don’t know what the revenue stream is but we can only imagine because I’ve seen this spirit since I was born and it’s everywhere around the world, and it’s been here way longer than I existed--but it’s still the family that runs it. It’s still crafted in a very unique and exclusive way--everybody can’t do it. You have to be taught it, and you have to be a part of the family to actually practice the craftsmanship.
What feels the most special about the partnership? Because it is not the typical, arrangement of just representing a brand, it’s very much a relationship.
For me to be a part of a brand like this means a lot because I get to learn a lot. I sat down with Maurice Hennessy, Bernard Peillon, the global CEO--I just asked them a bunch of questions about owning such a legendary brand and also the infrastructure. I want to know how to condition myself to build something as big as they did. It’s more than just the spirit I’m out here experiencing: it’s the family, it’s the knowledge. Like I get to call Benard and ask him questions. That access is not for just anybody; that’s very valuable to me.
In the spirit of that craftsmanship and refinement, I do want to talk about your EP that you have coming out. I know that with your last project Still Striving, you mentioned in your interview with The Breakfast Club that for that project, it was very much an “open-door-policy”. And so I’m wondering is it the same for this upcoming project? And what can we expect in terms of sound and content?
I think with Still Striving, at that point, I’d made such a serious album-- Always Strive and Prosper-- with such a strong narrative about my family, with songs like “”Psycho and “Let it Bang”, and “Grandma” and “New Level”--these are all strong family narratives. So by the time Still Striving came, I just wanted to party. And that’s basically what it was. My studio session was a party. That was the “open- door-policy”. But with this next EP, it's not an “open-door-policy”. It’s way more exclusive and it’s more curated sounds. I went into this project with a certain vibe that I had in mind--a groove per say--and introduced a lot of hip-hop and R&B into the repertoire.
Sounds like what you mentioned about growing and evolving. So if you had to describe the EP using just a color what would it be?
If it was to be a color...I mean I have synesthesia, so I mean, I see pictures of like images, not just colors. I see a tunnel with the light at the end of it. So I guess it represents hope. It represents the yin and the yang, the dark and the light. It’s called Sewer Sounds, so it’s like, we got it from the sewer and we see where we’re at now. And on my cover its me wearing these very rare Tiffany stones, but I have very dirty hands. It’s like these real precious stone, but still keeping it gutta, with like the gold teeth and dirty hands--like not forgetting where you came from. Like we came out of this dark place, into the light.
This has been such an incredible, electric experience just being in Paris, in Cognac, in France and really being able to immerse in the environment. I know you have a lot going on with your EP coming out. What’s your current state of mind?
Stress-free. I’m thirty years old so it doesn’t make sense to stress anything at this age, because I’ve worked so hard up to this point in my life. It’s time to start enjoying something. I just bought a house--my first house--I’ve been preserving myself this whole time. I never moved out of Harlem and I haven’t moved out of Harlem. I moved my family out of Harlem like four years ago, but I stayed because I wanted to show kids that you can make it out of the neighborhood or to the big screen and still be here and bring equity to the neighborhood. I was doing so much for people but really wasn’t doing much to celebrate myself, so this year is like smelling the roses and actually not taking everything so serious. I think that’s when people can really enjoy the brand and what I bring to the table when I’m not so uptight about everything. And you know, people smile when they see you smiling.
Do you find that your creative process is the same as when you started making music?
I think I made music a for long time, alone, by myself. And now, I don’t like making music alone, because I feel like when you think about slaves making music, or in tribes, they all did it in harmony, together. Wanting to be bigger and better, I’m more open to taking ideas and direction and being produced and manicured. Before, I never had an A&R. I never had a producer, produce me and say “yo try this”, or “try different flows”, or “let’s create a concept album”. Let’s pull out a white board and map out and write down goals of the beginning and the end. I haven’t had anybody do that and I’m realizing the best had groups of people help them create a masterpiece album.
It’s a collective effort.
For sure. Like you have vocal coaches, you have producers sending beats to get extra violins and orchestral sounds on music. You have great engineers telling you what mics to use. It’s so intricate. I was just using my voice and turning up on anything, beats, any mic, whatever. But if you want a great product, like Hennessy, that makes a very good, quality product, you have to have an intentional way of going about everything you do. From the mic you use, to the people you work with--everything.
Beginning at the vineyards, the process of producing Hennessy Cognac is no less an art form in and of itself. From vinification through distillation to maturation, to selecting and blending-- the impeccable care taken to craft Hennessy Cognac is unparalleled. Rivaling in importance next to quality, is the method attached to turning grapes to eaux-de-vie--translated “water of life”. From distillation, it is aged in barrels replicating the same barrel-making techniques dating back to the company’s inception 250 years ago. It is then blended under the watchful eye of 8th generation Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde --a member of the Fillioux family who has been in partnership with the Hennessy brand for over 200 years, and remains the only family trusted and charged with the undertaking. This age-old relationship ensures the art of its production, and the consistency of the taste and quality that fosters a timeless and unwavering experience, remains. Hennessy preserves the integrity of their exceptional taste because they have harnessed tradition and remained loyal both to it and to those, like the Fillioux family, who have been alongside them since the beginning.
Because of the art-form behind its production, it is only natural for Hennessy to uphold a commitment to honoring artists that take the same special care and attention to their own craft. In the maturation process of Hennessy Cognac, they have what is called the, “point of elegance”. This is the peak of a blend’s profile--the best it will ever be--selected, blended and aged to it’s sublime quality. Reaching the “point of elegance” requires patience, intention, and is grounded in a loyalty to tradition and of course, to legacy. A$AP Ferg is a man, an artist, that invites this process into his own evolution. One that is proving to be utterly divine.
Under the flecked sparkle of a crystal chandelier at Château de Bagnolet in Cognac, France, Maurice Hennessy beside him, Darold Ferguson as the guest of honor, stood and raised a glass to those in his company-- to Maurice, to Hennessy--for the opportunity. His humility was familiar, and in it, a story of origin. Legacy makes it so that our stories begin long before we are ushered into them. As he, his body of work, and his narrative age to a “point of elegance”, it is clear he will take others with him. He will set the table and invite them to join. This partnership is not solely an opportunity to represent the brand, but to share an intimate relationship with a brand that, like A$AP Ferg, exemplifies what it means to set an uncompromisable standard rooted in the place where you began. In a mint colored suit, the stones adorning his hand and encrusted in the gold adorning his teeth, tossing glint between himself the glittering light above us, he reminded us, “At the end of the day, I’m still just a kid from Harlem”.