Backstage at Madiba Harlem, A$AP Rocky sits on a small couch wearing a pair of worn black jeans, black boots, and a faded T-shirt. For a guy name-checked in Cosmo as much as Complex, it’s not very flashy. But then, Rocky (nee Rakim Mayers) says he’s putting less thought into labels these days.
“I wear what I want and what I like,” says Rocky. “Celebrities ruined fashion for me. I used to put a lot of thought into what I was wearing and then when all my favorite brands were being bought and worn by the biggest poseurs and celebrities with terrible taste … Now that’s why I’m wearing old Raf Simons jeans, beat up Alexander Wang boots, and a distressed VLONE T-shirt. I’m just over it. There are days when I get jiggy, but right now, I’m just not into the whole name brand thing so much. I have the brands that I like but the name brand doesn’t really concern me.”
That said, the 26-year-old Harlem native is still consulting with fashion labels (according to a recent Complex cover story) and sitting on that couch on May 7, he was about 30 minutes from taking the stage for a Red Bull Music Academy lecture series, not long after a similar event in London, so brands are still a significant part of the rise of Rocky. The most important of which, is the man himself.
On Monday, Rocky posted an innovative collage to his Instagram account, composed of more than 150 posts, coming just a couple of days after he revealed the album art for his new record At. Long. Last. A$AP. He’s part of a generation of artists who broke into music after that industry model was already declared broken. Mixtape culture, brand and artist collaborations, and a diverse set of creative output mean they must be creative artists beyond the mic. The A$AP crew first gained attention through Tumblr, and Rocky says being a brand was always the plan.
“A$AP is a brand, the collective is a brand,” says Rocky. “We’re a commodity so we’re a brand by default.”
When it comes to his new album, he considers himself the creative director. “I’m the one who markets it, who else? There are people at the label, but as far as the creative, the pictures, the videos, content, and all of that, it’s all me,” he says. “I’m excited about some of the new photos and videos that will put the pieces of the puzzle together if I’m right and people like it. And hopefully it’ll allow me to go on to keep making some cool fucking music.”
The new album breaks June 2, and in the last week Rocky has trickled out bits of content to keep fan excitement simmering. At the Red Bull event, he debuted a new song “Everyday,” featuring Miguel and Rod Stewart and produced by Mark Ronson, which was then quickly posted to YouTube. Over the weekend, it was the album art. And now a cool, arty Instagram project.
Rocky cites Mos Def, Andre 3000, and Snoop as multi-platform influences, and says everything–the Insta pics, the Sam Smith collaboration, work with brands like Alexander Wang, and even acting in the Sundance hit Dope–is all part of building the A$AP Rocky brand. But it all starts in the same place.
“Doesn’t matter who it is, you need to have a creative connection of some kind and then go from there,” says Rocky. “I’ve always felt the process of being creative varies. For instance, if you go into a music collaboration with intentions of winning over a certain crowd with a certain artist today, it doesn’t necessarily mean when you collaborate with another artist tomorrow it’s for the same reason. Sure, collaborating with certain artists, you definitely say to yourself, yeah this could potentially gain me access to new fans or a new fan base, but it starts with that creative connection.”
Dope hits theatres June 19, and Rocky says he’d like to spend more time acting. And turns out he’s not totally over the whole fashion thing. Lame celebrities may have ruined some brands for him, but don’t be surprised if he’s soon wearing his own name. “I think the clothes I’ll make, I’ll make for the fans, people who listen to my music and want to dress like me.”