A$AP Ferg grabbed most listeners' ears in 2011 with his jubilant, unhinged crooning on A$AP Rocky's "Kissin' Pink." Son of Darold Ferguson, the designer behind the Bad Boy Records logo, design school graduate Ferguson, Jr. went from making chains and gear to rapping for a living. ASAP Ferg possesses a hybrid rap style enabled by a technologically linked society; equal parts Ma$e, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Screwed Up Click, the Harlemite shifts seamlessly from singing to rapid-fire spitting. Following star turns on the A$AP Mob album, Rocky's LongLiveA$AP and solo singles like "Shabba," Ferg has finally released his RCA debut, Trap Lord. Sporting his signature bulletproof vest, A$AP Ferg explains his fascination with death, the importance of aesthetic in rap and how his writing style draws from Johnny Depp.
What was your first experience with rap?
My first experience with rap was doing poems at school...I remember that 2Pac was a poet, I just thought he was so good that maybe it was because he wrote poetry. I always wanted to write poetry.
What was your first verse?
[Reciting spoken word] "History is above me / I do not see / From the sea from out the door / I'm not for / It's time to go / Cuz it is cold / Cuz it is North Pole." It don't even make no sense, but it made all the sense in the world to me, back then. I had to be nine or eight.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I listened to everybody from M.O.P., Mobb Deep, to Jay-Z, 2Pac to Mary J. Blige's [What's the 411?], the Lost Boyz...When my moms was getting her hair braided with her friends, they were listening to R&B music. R. Kelly, a little bit of Biggie. My pops was listening to more hip-hop. You gotta understand, my father was IN hip-hop, because he designed the Bad Boy logo for Puffy and [Uptown Records founder] Andre Harell. [My father] did all of Heavy D's merch. I was always around those guys. We had CDs before they came out, we was invited to exclusive house parties and that.
On "40 Below," you're paying tribute to Biggie, on "Death B4 A Million" you have that 2Pac emphasis.
I did that on purpose because I wanted to speak through Pac's voice, but it was a dedication to Aaliyah, 'cuz it was "Death B4 A Million." I wanted to say, "If I die, this is how I want to be looked at." Around that time, I was infatuated by death for some reason, [with] all the people that passed away...just because I felt if they were still alive, imagine the impact they would have on the world now. That's why [sings the hook from "A Hundred Million Roses"]: "If I die / Bring a hundred million roses / pretty bad bitches making love to my posters."
When did you start rapping?
I started really rapping...for fun [at first], then thinking I could do it, probably around 11. I guess when I would see Jadakiss or Styles P and feel like I gotta rap to them in the street. We used to go around Harlem, battling around age 12 or 13. Go to different neighbourhoods and put people to shame.
You and A$AP Rocky have chemistry like Jadakiss and Styles. Why do you work so well together?
Just because of the chemistry we have artistically. I respect his music and he respects mine. When we first met each other, we were going to do a mixtape called Rugged War 1994, because we had that '90s style, wearing Forty Below boots. Everybody was looking at us like, "Why you got them old-ass boots on?" They ain't understand it, but we was really just living in the '90s. We were going to have a rapping duo [originally], but it just worked out good. It's one of those things you can't really pinpoint, it just feels good.
Will you and Rocky do a collaborative album?
Definitely. We haven't had too many conversations about it, but all of our management and everybody around us think we should. We're just working on our projects, trying to master our craft before we hit the world over the head with the duo.
You went to an arts and design high school, you made chains and designed clothes. Why is aesthetic in rap important to you?
Aesthetic is definitely important because people can easily not get your point of view. I feel like a lot of problems with rappers, why they don't work, is not that the music is not good. You have to have the whole package together for people to believe. Your believers are buying into your album because they are buying into your lifestyle. If you're hollow on the inside and people don't see what you look like, how can they want to be like you? They want to relate to you. That's why they buy into your merch, or things you wear, because they want to feel like they're part of you. If you don't got that straight, and it's not matching up to the music, you're doomed.
That's why A$AP Mob has certain accessories like the herringbone chains and the gold.
Exactly. That's Rocky. Rocky is known for his French braids. Wearing his hat backwards. All black, with the herringbone chain. Me, it's my bulletproof vest, my white gold teeth.
Most people first heard you on A$AP Rocky's "Kissin' Pink." Are we going to hear that Big Moe-type singing again?
Definitely, that's the Fergenstein. I break out with that sometimes. Sometimes I be the Trap Lord, sometimes I be the A$AP Ferg. I wasn't even trying to be on no Big Moe type stuff. I didn't even know who Big Moe was at the time, until I heard the song "Purple Stuff." I knew he was from Houston, so I referenced him in the song. I knew who Pimp C was, I was well aware. After I started listening to more of his music, I understood why people compared me to Big Moe and stuff like that. Really I was just flowing however I felt at the time.
Were you up on other chopped and screwed music?
I heard it the lower-pitched voice, and I was like, "This is what I want on my song", but didn't know where it came from until Rocky told me, "This is the Screwed Up Click and they the ones that made it up." I didn't know about the [screw] culture before I started using it. As I got deep into the culture on my first trip to Houston, my homie OG Che$$ put me up on Big Moe, Barre Baby, Southside, Screwed Up Click, and all of these guys. That's when I got schooled to a whole purple movement.
You use a lot of different rap styles. How do you decide how to approach a song?
It's like Johnny Depp, which is one of my idols. He could be in Alice in Wonderland, Blow...whatever the theme and the topic is, you got to be able to play that character. I read an article on him...if there was [a character he had to play], he would wear their clothes or live in their house to get into that character. And that's like me. Trap Lord is the Robin Hood for the hood. He'll rob to give back to the hood. He has all of these homeless kids that he'll give clothes, food and money to. That's basically what I was trying to depict in the first "Work" video, where you see me in my environment, in an abandoned school, which I live in. You see my son with the nappy hair, and [rapper] Kilo Kish is my girlfriend. It's this fucked up place but it's our home at the same time. It's ghetto fabulous, because if you're poor, you're wearing anything you got, but what I'm wearing is a Versace robe with gold teeth. That's the visual for the Trap Lord, and what I was into at the time.
What are you most excited about on your new album?
I'm just trying to be innovative with the music, I'm trying to create my own genre. I wanted to make music from my dreams, and music everyday people can relate to. I feel like I achieved something on this album, and I'm really happy I'm able to put it out for the world to hear.
Which songs would you say are representative of the album?
You got "Hood Pope" too, which represents Trap Lord, and "Let It Go"... Everything is a part of it, but I feel either "Lord" or "Cocaine Castle" because that's the kind of sound that hones the album. That's the type of sound I wanted to put out to the people, that's going to change the sound of music.
What do you look for when you pick a beat?
It gotta have that sound. It gotta be innovative to me...I take that back, because "Work" wasn't a real innovative song beat-wise. Boundary-wise, where this record went, it was innovative. We went from performing to the Pitchfork, Coachella crowd, and then it broke boundaries to the street neighbourhoods in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. I seen that actually happen, I didn't know those two worlds could collide and be one.
What's your favourite verse on Trap Lord?
"Hood Pope", the first verse [raps]:
And we sick, cause we hurting
Pull a chrome fifth when they murk them
Then murk off in Excursion
All cause a nigga be lurking
Big money shit we earning
A bunch of hooligans need churching
I'm the Hood Pope, these my children
And I'll be their Donnie McClurkin
Gold teeth when I'm smirking
Bunch of little kids running 'round need nuturing
Lord know that I ain't really perfect
All of these clowns run around this circus
Lord please what is my purpose
Besides fucking these Persians
Popping these bottles and popping these models
Please tell me where is the Sherman
And I'm smoking my weed, put me in my zone
Demons chasing me, cause they want my dome
And I carry the heat, and I sleep with the chrome
Cause I'm in some beef, and they want my dome
I'm talking about being the Trap Lord, that Hood Pope, the Robin Hood for the hood. I'm putting out who I am, the voice to talk to the hood, because a lot of them ain't sitting in churches, ain't enlightened but I'm letting them know how to do it.
When's the A$AP TV show?
I don't know. We're focusing on the music, man. We still have a lot of work to do, a lot of nonbelievers. We don't want to jump to conclusions even though we have a lot of opportunities. I feel like that's when people fuck up, when they start focusing on movies and acting. It's cool, but let's worry about that later.