By Aaron MatthewsIn seemingly just a few months, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky has ascended to rap royalty. After building a deafening buzz through viral videos and blog hype, Rocky and his ASAP Mob crew inked an astounding $3 million record deal through Sony/RCA. The rapper's intoxicating blend of sing-song Midwest flow, Houston druggy sonics and Big Apple swag made his debut, LiveLoveA$AP, one of Exclaim!'s best hip-hop albums of 2011. With the A$AP Mob crew album dropping in February, Exclaim! sat down with the exceedingly charismatic rapper to discuss his favourite DJ Screw tapes, rapping about weed at the age of eight and what he learned from Snoop Dogg.
You grew up in Harlem. What were you listening to as an uptown kid? Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, that's about it.
How did you get introduced to Houston rap? It was mostly through [crew member/business manager] A$AP Yams, it hit the scene pretty hard in 2003 until 2006. It stuck onto me. When I joined A$AP, they were into the whole Houston culture, sipping lean, all that other shit, so it was just natural.
What about the Houston sound and culture clicked for you? Because nobody else was doing it no more. I really love it, I enjoy it. I spoke to a wise man not too long ago, he said he didn't make up the "Fo shizzle nizzle my dizzle", but he said it was a rapper in the Bay [Area] by the name of E-40. But he said that he created it, and people kinda said he was the creator of [that slang]. And that's all I'm doing right now. You couldn't tell the Wu-Tang Clan that they weren't influenced by the Shaolin Temple. They never been there before, they probably didn't even know any Asian people! But they went hard with that. That's how it is with A$AP and Houston. Same thing.
What are your top five favourite chopped-and-screwed projects? I mean...mine, OG Ron C [laughs] A$AP Twelvy's, OG Ron C. A$AP Nast, OG Ron C. A$AP Ferg, OG Ron C, A$AP Marv, OG Ron C.
Every A$AP Mob project, chopped-and-screwed. Every A$AP Mob project, chopped-and-screwed.
Favourite DJ Screw tapes? The one he did for...[A$AP Twelvy chimes in: "Aaliyah!"] Nah, not that one. What was the one with Missy Elliot's "I Can't Stand The Rain"? I don't remember, it was one of 'em. It had that Missy Elliot [sings Elliot's "The Rain (Supa Fly)"]. It had the Aaliyah one there too, pardon me youngblood. [Rocky is talking about the DJ Screw tape Chapter 05: Still A G At 27 (Howard B-Day Tape '97)]
We were talking about the Houston sound earlier, is there something you look for when you're picking beats? Nah, whatever appeals to me. It could be a Southern-sounding beat, it could be a futuristic-sounding beat. I don't look for one type of sound in particular. I don't want to be boxed in or categorized, so I'm always willing to listen to other sounds. If it fits me, I fuck with it.
I'm about to box you in again. As far as Harlem rappers working with people outside the five boroughs, I think of the Diplomats, who worked with Twista and Master P when New Yorkers weren't messing with them. Do you see them as precedent? I really appreciate them for doing that, because I like to go left. I like to do stuff that no one else is currently doing at the moment. We know who don't, the trend-followers. This is for the trendsetters. [The Diplomats] were trendsetters, and I salute them for that. It's always a smart thing to do, to involve yourself with something that's not currently happening because you can make something out of it. Make something big out of it.
You remember the first verse you ever kicked? I didn't write it down, it was off the top. It was my first time rapping, eight years old, my little sister was born... the first line was [rapping] "Asia don't play with no games/I smokes the weed and I am the shame." I don't know what that means, but it rhymed.
You already knew more about weed than most eight-year-olds. I ain't know shit about weed, but I was just saying it to rhyme [laughs] I used to watch a lot of gangsta movies and listen to a lot of gangsta music.
Shaft In Africa! [points to the movie poster behind Rocky] Whoa, yo! [laughs] That's nice, that's a classic right there. [points to the movie poster] The Mack! I have a song on a tape coming up called "Goldie" [after The Mack's protagonist].
So you're bringing out that character. I love Goldie. I used to want to be Goldie. I'm serious. When I was in 3rd grade, I used to wear an afro and a lil bit of high waters, like some khakis on some '70s style. I used to keep my hands in my pockets, trying to mack the girls, but they wasn't trying to hear it at the time. I'm serious, too! [laughs] This is a true story, put that on my dead brother... when I was in 2nd grade, our substitute teacher asked us, "What do you want to be for Halloween?" And I didn't know what a "pimp" meant, but I got on the microphone and I said, "I want to be a pimp." And I got in so much trouble. She was like, "You need to say 'ninja'! You should say 'ninja'!" It was so crazy.
You were basically the kid from "Interlude #3" on Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle. He was following you. Oh, word. That's funny. I guess you could say that [laughs].
What are your favourite Harlem records? Big L, "Put 'Em On." That's one joint I enjoy. A few Dipset joints, that's going to be cliché but it's typically Harlem shit... we got McGruff, he did a few dope joints. You ever heard of him?
He's very slept-on. He did, he did. How you know about McGruff, man? Holy shit [laughs].
You also got chemistry with the West coast sound. You and Schoolboy Q have natural chemistry, are you planning to do a full-length record together? Yup, me and Schoolboy Q. That's going to be trill as fuck. A$AP X TDE. [No release date] yet, just an idea. A good idea.
Since we are in Toronto, this local group Badbadnotgood did a crazy cover of "Peso." You heard that yet? Oh, the kids on the piano? Yeah, those dudes are crazy as fuck. Man, I want to meet those guys. Please. Those guys are dope. That was creative. I thought somebody was going to come out and start rapping the lyrics, I'm like, "Oh shit!" I was waiting for it [laughs].
What do you love about music? What I love about music is what I'm doing to music. I'm making it more diverse and open-minded. I'm changing the way everybody thought [whispering] Swag, swag, swag.