It’s been a long afternoon, but A$AP Rocky has just gotten a second wind. The rapper is sitting in a swivel chair in a control room at Jungle City Studios in Chelsea. He’s in the middle of a nonstop press day, giving consecutive interviews to promote his new album A.L.L.A. — an acronym for “At. Long. Last. A$AP” — and despite the fact that we’ve been here for hours, the Harlem native is bright and alert…although he’s lost track of time.
“What’s today?” he asks, holding an almost-smoked joint to his chest. His hair is pulled back neatly into braids and his smile glistens from a gold bottom grille. He’s wearing all black and what appear to be red slippers — both comfy- and very expensive-looking — on his feet. His amnesia is understandable; it’s been a whirlwind week. On May 26, he dropped his sophomore album a week early with a party at Milk Studios. A family affair, the event was attended by his A$AP Mob collective, relatives of his late former manager Steven “A$AP Yams” Rodriguez, and his mother. “She just be chillin’. She’s happy for me. She keeps me humble,” Rocky laughs about his mom. “She kind of had something going when she named me Rakim. She was onto something!”
Named after one of the greatest rap lyricists, the 26-year-old has always held high his expectations. Rocky ushered in a new wave of New York City hip-hop with 2011’s Live. Love. A$AP mixtape along with stellar singles “Peso” and “Purple Swag.” Combining uptown flair with downtown sartorial sense, A$AP Mob was a fresh movement shaping the cultural zeitgeist, with the charismatic and photogenic Rocky as its face. Although drawing musical and style inspiration from elsewhere — especially Houston and the Midwest — A$AP has been a source of Harlem hip-hop pride that hasn’t been felt since Dipset in the early Aughts.
“I be that pretty motherfucka, Harlem’s what I’m repping,” rapped Rocky on his opening salvo in “Peso.” Rocky’s 2013 debut album, Long. Live. A$AP, expanded his purview with mainstream-friendly collaborations like “Wild for the Night” (featuring Skrillex) and “Fuckin’ Problems” (featuring Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar), but it was the aptly titled “1 Train” which showed that his heart didn’t stray far from 125th Street.
The city’s imprint is undeniable on A.L.L.A. whether it was an intentional move or not. Rocky was clearly in a New York state of mind with song titles like “Canal St.,” “West Side Highway,” and “Max B,” although the album was recorded in London.
“I went to Paris for my trunks, one hundred thousand spend on Goyard/Used it once, couldn’t give a shit, damn, or fuck about ’em/Hit Canal Street, vintage gold medallion,” he raps on “Canal St.” “Subconsciously, I’m from New York,” he says. The globetrotter currently lives in Soho and previously rested his head in midtown; he left because it was too boring for his taste. “[Fifty-eighth Street] is the first place I moved to after I got my deal,” he explains. “It wasn’t popping. The neighbors, everyone was hating in my building. It’s not cool.”
When you’re a superstar gracing DKNY campaigns and bedding supermodels and singers on the regular, it’s easy to phone it in on your sophomore album. But Rocky is rapping with more conviction on A.L.L.A. than before.
“I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove on this album. I just wanted to make art, man,” he says. “People lost the appreciation for something different. I can’t help that I’m different, man. I just hope that people appreciate it. I had fun making it.” Rocky dismisses the notion that his extracurricular activities — including a very formidable performance in the upcoming coming-of-age flick Dope — have hindered his music-making. “That’s the most important thing to me. Because it is. Some things are how they are. We don’t know why.”
The Rocky reign looks as though it will continue unabated. Some industry insiders wager that A.L.L.A. will be number one on the charts this week, with sales exceeding 100,000 copies. “That’s dope,” Rocky says calmly, his voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t know what to expect. I only hope that it does very well.”
Don’t get it twisted: A$AP Rocky knows he’s a star, or in his words, a “rock star.” Humility aside, he’s aware of who he is and where he’s going. “I say I’m a rock star for a reason, man. There’s a lot more music people didn’t hear,” he says. “And what’s to come is even better.” Just wait on it.
A$AP Rocky Lights Up the City (2013 profile)
A$AP Rocky Releases A.L.L.A. Album Early, Remembers A$AP Yams
The 10 Best Forgotten New York Hip-Hop Records
House Party: Where New Talent Keeps NYC Hip-Hop on Its Toes