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A$AP Rocky: father of a generation

With the arrival of the world’s flyest newborn, and a new album on the way, our summer 2022 cover star A$AP Rocky discusses his ‘fairytale with a street twist’, his Bajan heritage, and influencing a generation of creative young people

Taken from the summer 2022 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here.

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It began as a “fairytale with a street twist”, says the Grammy-nominated rapper and style icon A$AP Rocky.

Rocky, 33, is not just referring to his trap-leaning hit from 2013, “Fashion Killa”, a paean to the icy, downtown fashionistas of his city, New York. He’s also referring to the star of its video: the Barbadian pop superstar, Fenty Beauty mogul and future mother of his child, Rihanna

The pair were just friends when they shot the music video, sometime after wrapping up the North American leg of Rihanna’s Diamonds world tour (Rocky served as the opening act). Rihanna had just moved into a penthouse in New York City’s SoHo neighbourhood, where, under the direction of the late fashion luminary Virgil Abloh, she and Rocky strolled arm-in-arm past an array of designer stores, draped in matching Supreme jerseys – the ultimate look du jour.

Versace, got a lot, but she may never wear it / But she save it so our babies will be flyer than their parents,” rhymed Rocky on the track and, as if an invocation of a spell, he set in motion the course of their next decade together.

“I like to think that the stars were aligned,” Rocky tells me sanguinely over the phone from Los Angeles. Per the request of a very pregnant Rih, whom he almost exclusively refers to as “my lady”, the couple have just thrown a raver-themed baby shower, where attendees reportedly walked away with commemorative tees reading, “I went to Rih & Rocky’s Rave Shower and all I got was this amazing shirt”.

The way Rocky sees it, there were indeed larger cosmic forces at play in 2020, when he and the “Needed Me” singer solidified their longtime friendship-turned-romance. It never seemed realer than when Rihanna brought Rocky to Barbados for the first time to meet her family and relatives of his late father, who immigrated from the island. “It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime,” he says.

Rocky was born Rakim Athelaston Mayers in the storied Black enclave of Harlem, New York. At 16, he found home in the ragtag crew of streetwise yet starry-eyed rappers, producers and designers known as the A$AP Mob: modern-day bohemians in New York City. Founder Steven ‘A$AP Yams’ Rodriguez, who died in 2015, gave the group its acronym, which stood for his guiding mantra: “Always Strive and Prosper”. A smooth-talking Cheshire Cat of an MC, Rocky came to be the group’s star player, before signing a $3m record deal with Sony in 2011. He earned the rights to his distinctive braggadocio when his 2013 solo album, Long. Live. A$AP, and its 2015 follow-up, At. Long.Last. A$AP, both debuted at No 1 on the American Billboard chart. Rocky was soon tapped to work with high-profile designers like Abloh and Raf Simons; he eventually founded his own creative agency, AWGE, and on his 2018 LP, Testing, he conducted sonic experiments with the likes of Moby, Frank Ocean, Skepta and FKA twigs.

In the four years since his last LP, Rocky has flitted in and out of studios and Zoom calls to wrap up an album he swears will be out soon. But with the arrival of the world’s flyest baby, Rocky is poised to take on his most offbeat experiment yet: starting a family. 2022 marks a decade since Rocky landed one of his first ever cover features, courtesy of Dazed. Between contributing to the most iconic baby bump in living memory, and his debut foray into whisky-blending, Mercer + Prince, Rocky has done a whole lot of growing up since he first arrived on the scene. In an intimate conversation, he meditates on his Caribbean roots, his evolution as an artist, and the future he’s eager to manifest.

You’ve been spending a lot of time in Barbados with Rihanna. What’s it like getting to know the place where your father was born through your partner?

A$AP Rocky: It was honestly so unbelievable. I had family there that only came up [to New York] once every five years, family I only spoke to over the phone my whole life. You remember those one-dollar, five-dollar phone cards? I was raised to know about my heritage, but I was missing the actual experience. I didn’t get to experience it until I was an adult. It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve encountered in my lifetime.

What’s your relationship like with your Bajan heritage? Did you feel like a part of the Caribbean community in New York?

A$AP Rocky: Caribbean culture is big in New York. We had J’ouvert [also known as the West Indian Day Parade] down in Brooklyn, but we were all over the Bronx, Harlem, Queens. Growing up, my dad, my aunts and all my cousins, everybody around was Bajan. We all grew up together. I had the food, the history, the music – calypso and all that shit. Bajan heritage is cool as fuck.

How do you like soca music?

A$AP Rocky: It’s weird, but soca’s a little too fast for me. I like my music slowed down, like Houston chopped and screwed. I should chop and screw some soca and calypso, that might actually be sick.

Speaking of family and heritage: how do you envision yourself as a father? What kind of parent do you want to be?

A$AP Rocky: I will always remind my children to never lose their imagination, even as adults, no matter what. I actually love to watch cartoons – I’ve watched like, Teletubbies, Blue’s Clues, Yo Gabba Gabba, Peppa Pig and Baby Shark. I hope to raise open-minded children. Not people who discriminate. And I’m not trying to describe a saint, but realistically, I just want a cool child with cool parents.

That can’t be difficult – you and Rihanna have already influenced a generation of creative young people.

A$AP Rocky: It’s beautiful that we can even do that. Things like diversity and versatility are important, and they’ll be embedded in the household.

When you dropped ‘Babushka Boi’ in 2019, it seemed like a clever way of addressing the scars on your face and the scarves you wear over them – to me, it’s a song about working on your body image. How did you come to embrace your scars and, as Tyra Banks says, ‘make it fashion’?

A$AP Rocky: I think scars are like war wounds, they just remind you of where you came from and what you have to show for it. The average person doesn’t have one kind of look. There are plus-size models, people who are heavy-set modelling lingerie now. My lady hires them all the time. We all have scars or imperfections. I think sometimes your scars bring you back to reality. Embrace it. Make it work for you.

I want to talk about the untimely passing of your friend and collaborator, Virgil Abloh. You and the A$AP Mob inspired him a lot in his career, from his label Off-White to the brand Been Trill. What about him was so inspiring to you?

A$AP Rocky: Virgil was an oracle for a lot of us Black kids and young creatives. Even if you take ethnicity or nationality out of it, he influenced so much culture, whether hip hop, fashion or Louis Vuitton. You can’t really distinguish streetwear from high fashion at this point. Look at Balenciaga, look at Hood By Air. He pushed all of us creatives to just get our ideas out there into the world – and [to not] take time for granted. Because if you left it up to me, I would be working on one project for as long as it takes, whether it’s months or years. We all assume time is a given, but it’s really not promised. You’ve got to get your creative thoughts and urges out immediately – A-S-A-P, no pun intended. We needed someone like Virgil.

Virgil was also an expert curator. What makes something art is not just the raw expression, but the curation of it.

A$AP Rocky: I agree! It’s all about execution and curation. There is an oversaturation of so many forms of art now. Like, someone can make a really cool painting, but if they do a gallery show and it’s not curated right – it could look like shit! That plays into music and movies too; how you roll them out is part of the curation.

It’s been almost ten years since you and Virgil directed the video for ‘Fashion Killa’, with Rihanna as your co-star. It was more than a music video – it was a mission statement for your milieu of artists and designers in New York. Can you talk about making this video and its impact?

A$AP Rocky: I was just on tour with my lady, you know? We wanted it to feel like a love story, a fairytale with a street twist. I expected my core following to be receptive, but with Virgil in the mix, its success was a no-brainer. I was living in New York at the time, too.

“I think scars are like war wounds, they just remind you of where you came from and what you have to show for it” – A$AP Rocky

This was the era of the GHE20G0TH1K parties, the punk and hip-hop fusions in street fashion.

A$AP Rocky: I miss those days. I was definitely a poster boy for it. Streetwear, skateboarding, Raf Simons, Maison Margiela and shit. That was my leather era. It was an incredible era, and it’s still in my DNA.

I can’t help but think back to the 2021 Met Gala – the time you and Rihanna debuted as a couple in public, wearing these cosy blanket-esque garments. Did you two have a conversation about what you would wear before going out?

A$AP Rocky: I didn’t know what she was wearing, she didn’t know what I was wearing. I went to Eli’s spot – Eli Russell Linnetz, he owns the label ERL – and when I walked in there was this quilt just sitting on the couch. I was like, ‘Can I have that quilt?’ And he was like, ‘Well, I actually just thrifted it.’ He had picked out a few looks for me, but I was on his ass about that quilt. And so he stitched it together and made it a custom piece. That’s how I decided to wear a quilt to the Met Gala.

Do you and Rihanna generally have an unspoken understanding that you’re gonna do you and she’s gonna do Rih? And it just works?

A$AP Rocky: I think it’s just natural. We happen to look good together naturally. You know, it would take a lot of work to have us forcefully match before we leave the house. Sometimes we match to a T, or we just wear the same clothes. If I buy a shirt that she likes, I expect to get it stolen... but then I gotta steal it back.

Do you have any collaborations on the way that we should know about?

A$AP Rocky: Me and ERL got a collaboration dropping in August. I also have a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz [and PacSun] that’s dropping – the second one, we sold out the first.

What can you tell us about your upcoming album, All Smiles?

A$AP Rocky: One thing I can tell you is that the name isn’t gonna be All Smiles – you know, I never publicly said that my album was called All Smiles! That one is more of a concept project, it’s music and more. I’m wrapping up the new album now; I’ve been shooting so many visuals for it. I don’t want to be cliche or sound like a salesman, but I’ve pushed myself to the limit on everything. Going from that industrial, subversive sound from [2018 album] Testing and then graduating with a more polished sound... I just like where it is.

You have expanded your palette so much in the last few years. You’ve played with psychedelic sounds, electronic sounds – on Testing you sampled Moby’s ‘Porcelain’. What are you listening to these days?

A$AP Rocky: I’m listening to a lot of hip hop, but also the classics. The 60s is my era. I listen to The Stones, obviously. The Zombies, The Monkees, Jefferson Airplane. Jimi Hendrix, of course! James Brown. This is technically [from the] early 70s, but my favourite rock album is Electric Warrior by T. Rex.

It doesn’t surprise me that you’re going back to the 60s. It was a huge turning point for culture. What about that time speaks to you?

A$AP Rocky: You know how in the 50s, people watched TV in black and white? Guys like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and The Beatles wore suits, fresh cuts, uniforms. Then the 60s brought colour TV, and The Beatles took all the money they made and splurged on what they loved: going to India, tripping out on psychedelics, playing the sitar and spinning records backwards. They were experimenting because they could afford it, and doing something so weird it became a new genre... People [are] still trying to catch up with the 60s.

Popular music felt more experimental in those days. Do you think it’s being encouraged in the industry now?

A$AP Rocky: I don’t think this is a time where experimental shit is accepted. You won’t hear it on the radio. Shout-outs to the pioneers who still take risks and do what they want.

Suzy Exposito is a reporter for the LA Times