A$AP Rocky is very high. We’re talking Jim Breuer in Half Baked. Brad Pitt in True Romance. Chris Tucker in Friday. Keanu Reeves in life.He’s holed up in his hotel room in London. When I connect with him by phone, I say, “Hello?” All I hear on the other end is breathing, then a deep drag, followed by an exhale. This lasts for about 10 seconds. Finally, a hazy-sounding A$AP reveals himself.
What’s up, man? How you doin’?
It’s the second week of June, prior to the tragic events of Charleston, and the 26-year-old rapper is flying high. His sophomore studio album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and Dope, which marks his feature acting debut, has been lauded by critics and audiences alike. Right now, A$AP Rocky doesn’t have a care in the world—except, that is, what he’s going to eat for supper.“For the most part, the food is pretty shitty here,” he says of London. “But whatever.”
This food quandary is partially my fault. I mentioned my time studying in London close to a decade ago, and how difficult it was—as a New Yorker, especially—to find a nice, cheap lunch in a city sorely lacking in delis, bagels, tacos, and pizza. But this generalization was qualified to Mr. Rocky by admitting that the food situation across the pond had improved dramatically in the years since.
Another thing we discuss is how, before a screening of Dope at the Sundance Film Festival—where it eventually sold for $7.5 million after a heated bidding war—the multi-hyphenate James Franco was outside begging the film’s rep for a ticket. This piques A$AP’s interest.
“Wooooord?!” he says, with a laugh. “That’s craaaaazy. Damn, man. He’s on my album. On that song ‘JD,’ it’s him that I’m talking to. Him and me did the voiceovers for that. Danger Mouse knows Franco and put me in touch, and I sampled James Franco’s part when he played as James Dean, and when I wanted to do it over on my own terms, we just made a skit together.” He adds, “I would love to do one of his movies, man.”
Then his attention turns back to the food—or lack thereof. “Shit, I’m sorry, brother,” he says. “You were talking about food, and now I’m hungry as a muthafucka. I told my man, ‘We gotta eat!’” A$AP has settled on a Jamaican food joint, and leisurely barks orders to his handler.
“Brown sea fish… with rice, plantains, macaroni and cheese, and a salad. They don’t have macaroni? Ah, that’s bullshit. What about those dumpling balls? What the fuuuuuuck! Ask them if they got coco bread. They ain’t got no fuckin’ coco bread? Man, that’s some fuckin’ bullshit. No coco bread? Ask ’em if they got coco bread nooooooow! We need coco bread and we need ground fish patties. Tell ’em I say pretty please with a cherry on top!”
Then a pause. “You gotta update your website!” he says emphatically.
OK. Crisis averted. Now back to the interview. A$AP was born Rakim Mayers—after the legendary rapper Rakim—in Harlem, New York, and has built up a steady following since joining the A$AP Mob crew back in 2007. He released his debut mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP, in 2011, and was quickly signed to a $3 million deal with RCA Records. Aside from his sartorial freshness and A-list dating history (Iggy Azalea, Chanel Iman, and Rita Ora), he’s probably best known for his song “Fuckin’ Problems” with its catchy refrain: “I love bad bitches, that’s my fucking problem / And yeah, I like to fuck, I got a fucking problem.”A$AP had a pretty rough childhood. When he was 12, his father went to jail for selling drugs. The following year, his brother was murdered in Harlem. His mother would move the family from homeless shelter to homeless shelter—eight months in North Carolina, another eight months in Alabama—before returning to New York. “It’s safe to say, yeah, I moved around a lot before I became famous,” he says. “That’s kind of what helped me adjust, and helped my point of view on society. I don’t know how it is to be the most popular guy, but I know how it is to be the new guy.”
He eventually attended the Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities in Chelsea, and began selling weed. He soon graduated to moving crack uptown in the Bronx.
“That’s what muthafuckas was compelled to do,” A$AP says. “It’s not like it was a choice; it was all that was available. It was almost an ultimatum: you sell weed, or you work 9-5 at a place that pays you bullshit and fucks up your pride and dignity. Some people don’t care about that. It’s all perception. I’m not satisfied with just working for McDonald’s for the rest of my life. That shit’s not my thing. I don’t want to smell like fuckin’ french fries. Marijuana and other drugs were around, I didn’t have no boss, and I did my own thing.”“It’s stupid. I see that now, and I saw that a long time ago,” he continues. “I was selling drugs when I became A$AP Rocky, and I had to make a decision. I wasn’t even good at it. Sometimes I made money, but most of the time we was broke. We were hustling to keep hustling, because at the end of the day, sometimes it would be slow.”
The character he plays in Dope is Dom, an imposing drug dealer in Inglewood with the hots for local babe Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) and an even hotter temper. When he’s not slinging Molly or getting into nightclub shootouts, he’s waxing philosophical on the U.S. drone policy or the meaning of a “slippery slope.” Dom eventually ends up in the slammer after a drug deal gone awry—one that leaves a backpack full of high-grade Molly in the hands of geeky high schooler Malcolm (Shameik Moore).It seems as though Dom’s fate is how things could have gone for A$AP if he’d stayed in the drug game instead of segueing to a thriving rap career.
“As far as the methods and ways to hustle and sell illegal narcotics, I thought, ‘Why not manifest all that energy into something more positive, and something more constructive than selling drugs,’” he says. “I had times where things were going really well and I was able to provide for my family, and times where it wasn’t. But that shit that I was out there risking my freedom for is of no use to me today.” He then takes a deep, audible drag, followed by a slow exhale. “There were a few close calls,” he says. “I just feel like God gave me a path to do something that I wanted to do. Selling drugs doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you’re doing something that the world doesn’t agree with. Look at the show Weeds. You’re just breaking the law. But even protesters are accused of breaking the law and get slapped with things like ‘disorderly conduct.’ Those aren’t bad people, either. People seek opportunities to be a part of something.”
Then, things get a bit incomprehensible. Without prompting, A$AP dives into a little spiel about “perception,” “pretentiousness,” and how “everything is a façade,” before catching (and admonishing) himself.“Most people feel like when you become famous, they just get the celebrity façade,” he says. “They want paparazzi following ’em, they’re corny as shit, and they feel entitled because they’re famous. They’re gassed off their own shit.”
A$AP is, presumably, not this. To pull him out from his rambling spree, I ask if he’s ever had a crazy Molly experience—the drug his dealer (and Malcolm by proxy) pushes in Dope. “I never did Molly,” he tells me. “But I’ll let you know when I do.”
One drug he’s definitely sampled is LSD. I know this because the first single off his latest album is titled “L$D”—an acronym standing for “Love x $ex x Dreams”—and because he recently admitted to engaging in three consecutive acid-fueled orgies at SXSW in March, after being hooked up with the drugs by ILoveMakonnen.
“I’ve definitely done LSD and mushrooms,” he says. “I knew I wanted the same psychedelic experience as mushrooms, just minus the stomachaches. So I got introduced to LSD through mushrooms, because as I was doing my research, I found out the similarities. And I discovered there have been no reported overdose deaths from LSD or acid. None in history.”
He says his first trip on LSD was a pretty eye-opening experience. “Mine was prolific. Like, word. It was next-level. I did everything, brother,” he recalls. “I remember lookin’ in the mirror and just freaking out, thinking, ‘My God, this shit is so much fun.’”
But A$AP’s quick to throw in a disclaimer: “I don’t want kids doin’ it because of me. If they do it, I want them doing it on their own merit, not because I made a song and they think they’ll be like me if they do it. That shit is kinda whack. I don’t fuck with kids that smoke weed. I’m cool with the kids that are into sports and get good grades. For kids of all colors, man, I just want muthafuckas to be in peace and harmony and shit. Like the sixties and shit.”
Or the final scene in Mad Men. But we’re not living in such harmonious times, and our talk soon shifts to the state of being young and black in America. We're talking in June, Charleston hasn’t occurred yet, but I mention the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and the pool party in McKinney, Texas, and whether he thinks young black people are being unfairly targeted by the police.
“Everybody is trying to make it out to be something that it’s not, man,” he says. “If you really think about it, man, in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend 56 people got shot. But that was just black people. You’ve never even heard about that. Don’t you think that’s crazy? Now, imagine if it was 56 people shot by white cops? Everything is perception, man. You gotta analyze it, and get with it, and not be so quick to judge.”
The story dominating the news cycle at the time of our chat was the strange saga of Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP president in Spokane, Washington, who’d not only claimed she was black, but also crafted an elaborate backstory for herself involving living in teepees and enduring a number of hate crimes. She was later found to be white after her parents released childhood photos of her with blue eyes and blond hair.
At first, A$AP is a bit confused by the situation. “I feel so bad for her, man,” he says. “The part where I felt she was pretty wrong at was lying on her job application and whatnot. That was a little fishy because that’s employment, you know?”
You feel bad for her? Really? He pauses. “If I’m not mistaken—correct me if I’m wrong—her mom had a child with a black man that she claimed was her father who’s actually her brother’s father who she claims is her son?”
No, I tell him. The black man she’d claimed was her father, Albert Wilkerson, was a total stranger, and the young man she’d claimed as her son was really her adoptive brother, Izaiah Dolezal. She was, indeed, the child of two white parents. What’s more, I tell A$AP that Dolezal unsuccessfully sued Howard University back in 2002—when she was identifying as white—for discrimination, claiming she was denied a scholarship and TA position because, yes, she was white.“Oh, man! That’s weird,” exclaims A$AP. “She’s fucked up, man. Man, it’s all fucked up! She’s confusing everybody, goddammit! This lady does have problems, man. I was laughing mostly at her pictures and shit, but she’s fucked up. There are some crazy people in this fuckin’ world.”