$3 million bucks gives you a lot of confidence. And it just so happens that $3 million is the paycheck the rapper A$AP Rocky, born Rakim Mayers, was given when he signed to R.C.A. Records back in October. So today, the Harlem native is sprawled over the arm of a chair in MTV’s midtown headquarters, looking laid back and beaming. He’s talking to some of his entourage about a $9,000 Balmain jacket he saw while in Los Angeles. Nine grand may be chump change to Rocky these days, but he still laughs and calls it “way too much!” Although it’s a frugal way of thinking the artist who refers to himself in rhyme as “that pretty motherfucker” might not be able to retain for too long.
A$AP Rocky’s rise to record label riches seems like it happened overnight: Back in July, he uploaded a video of his song “Purple Swag” to YouTube. A hazy, Houston-hip-hop-paced ode to drug use, the song caught on; within a week Rocky was being courted by the major labels. Today “Purple Swag”‘s stats stand at just under two million YouTube views — it’s a trick his follow up, the motivational hustler’s mantra “Peso,” has also repeated. But before the labels came calling, Rocky had been plugging away with his attempt to launch a rap career for a few years, funding his hip-hop ambitions with money scored while hustling in the Bronx. So ahead of the major label re-release of his LiveLoveA$AP mixtape (Rocky promises both bonus songs and “better mastering”) Hive checked in with the leader of the A$AP Mob — which is made up of fellow rappers all rocking the same A$AP prefix to their names — to talk about the extent of his millions, the perils of hole-in-the-wall recording studios, and the record label that wanted him to rap over Kelly Clarkson songs.
You’ve received a lot of attention after signing to R.C.A. Looking back, what was the tipping point with your career taking off?
It was watching the YouTube views and numbers go up. I didn’t expect to get that many views, that much attention, and that much love — but I’m loving it. The numbers went crazy with “Purple Swag,” then “Peso” did the same. It felt great. I was just so happy that people really saw my vision and understood what I was trying to show ‘em.
“I didn’t have any videos, but I just thought it was supposed to be handed to me because of how good I am at rapping. It was like, ‘I’m nice at this — niggas need to know, everybody need to know!’”
You signed to R.C.A., as a solo artist and for your A$AP Worldwide label. Did you have many other labels trying to sign you?
Yeah, a few.
Why did you go with R.C.A? Did any of the others want you to change your image or music?
That was exactly it — at Atlantic. They told me to rap over Kelly Clarkson beats! I’m serious. It was like, beats like fucking “Since You’ve Been Gone” or some shit. It took me about five seconds there before I knew it wasn’t for me.
I think it’s 100% God, all the way. It was God, hands down. There are people in the world who don’t wanna be superstars, and there are people who wanna be superstars but they have no talent — they just want to be famous. Me, I want to be known for my art, my music, my culture. And now I’m starting to get that recognition. I really wanna touch a part of people and inspire people.
Is there a danger that people are now just going to focus on the size of your advance as opposed to your music?
I’m not concerned what they focus on from they standpoint as long as they focus on me. My image is my culture.
Have you found people now assume that you’re literally walking around with three million dollars in your pocket?
They do and I don’t! So I wanna make that clear. They don’t know the ins and outs of the industry. They just hear a number and don’t know you get advances and all that shit. But it’s great!
What the most lavish thing you’ve spent your advance on?
I mean, honestly, the shit that I’ve been buying now I’ve been buying anyway — it’s just expensive ass clothes, that’s about it.
What’s the most you’ve spent on an item of clothing then?
I bought a Balmain jacket — it was like a blazer almost — and it was four grand but I paid three grand for it. But then I just saw one, a Balmain jacket, and it was like eight or nine grand. That was in L.A. [Breaks off to banter with his entourage about the price of the jacket, which they end up agreeing was $9,000.]
What’s the deal with the hats you wear in your videos, with the one word slogans on them?
That’s Black Scale, who we’re sponsored by. It’s pretty dope shit. There’s the “Silence,” the “No Respect,” but the “Funeral” is the dopest one so far. I like the “Silence” one — that’s straight as fuck!
What’s the strangest reaction you’ve had while wearing one?
It’s from old women, like saying, “What does that mean?!”
Which other rappers out there now do you think have good fashion sense?
Um, me, ha ha. A$AP! I don’t watch these other motherfuckers.
So at what point did you start to take rapping seriously?
I’ve always taken it serious, but as far as wanting to have a career, I’d say around 2008 was when I started striving for it.
Were those years frustrating?
Yeah, it was like nobody cared! Nobody gave a fuck! I mean, I didn’t have any intentions on getting signed — it wasn’t important to me. I felt like it would have to be something really beneficial for my career to sign, but it was frustrating to not have anyone giving a fuck! I mean, I didn’t have any videos, but I just thought it was supposed to be handed to me because of how good I am at rapping. It was like, “I’m nice at this — niggas need to know, everybody need to know!”
Where were you recording your music?
Back then, the studios I went to were like hole in the wall studios. It was like people’s fuckin’ bedrooms and shit like that.
What was the worst studio you recorded in?
The worst place I recorded at was this place in the Bronx, in Castle Hill projects. Oh, man, the guy had his sister braiding hair, fuckin’ babies running around half naked with doo-doo Pampers on and shit, snotty noses, making noise, fuckin’ dogs and shit … The whole house smelled like chicken and grease. It was just the worst.
How much did you pay to record there?
Probably about $15 to $20 an hour.
Can you remember the first rhyme you wrote then?
I didn’t write it — I freestyled it. It was about my little sister; her name was Asia and she was just born. I was eight years old, my brother was banging on the table, and it was, “Asia, don’t play with no games/ I smoked the weed and I ain’t ashamed.” I was talking about fuckin’ smoking weed at eight years old and shit. It didn’t make sense, but it rhymed.
What’s your earliest memory of growing up in Harlem?
Ditching school. hanging with the boys, just dumb shit. We would hang out in Morningside Park and Central Park during school hours.
You rap a lot about being from Harlem, but you also spent some time living in the Bronx, right?
Yeah, I fuckin’ hated the Bronx! Bronx is cool but where I was at I hated it. I used to sell drugs over there. I was going back and forth; my grandmom lived on 140th and Lennox Avenue and my mom got an apartment on 182nd and 3rd Avenue in the Bronx and I would just sell drugs on Webster Ave and over by 187th Street, or over there by 182nd Street. In Harlem everyone was doing the same thing so no one was really making too much money so I would go off to the Bronx ’cause nobody really had that and [I'd] do what I did. Then this past June I said to myself I want to pursue music and I don’t want to ruin it with petty shit, so I just stopped and went cold turkey.
You’ve worked with Spaceghostpurrp. Is it true he stayed with you for a while?
Yeah, and that motherfucker’s messy! I mean, we had a bond and he came through to get some work done, so he stayed for a while, but that motherfucker is junky as hell! Oh, man, I could have killed him!
How bad was he?
It’s just his junk! He’s just junky as fuck! He made it worse than the place in the Bronx!
A$AP Rocky’s debut mixtape, LiveLoveA$AP is out now. RCA will re-release his mixtape and release his debut album in early 2012.