The 1,000-square-foot Wedgewood Suite at London’s opulent Langham Hotel, all antique bookcases and porcelain horses, looks like the sort of place minor royalty would stay if Buck Palace was overbooked. The sofa alone probably costs more than a decent family car, but this is no time to get distracted by the upholstery.
“Do you mind if I roll up some bud?” asks 26-year-old hip-hop icon A$AP Rocky. He grins and heads off into another room to retrieve a bag of weed and a pack of Backwoods cigars, one of which he deftly unrolls so he can make a blunt.
Rocky is sharing the suite with Joe Fox, a young British singer and guitarist who featured on five tracks on Rocky’s most recent album, ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’, which came out at the end of May. The story of how Rocky and Joe Fox met is so good that most people assume it’s made up, but both men swear this is how it happened: Rocky was leaving Soho’s Dean Street Studios at around 4am after a long night of recording. Joe approached him, not recognising him, hoping to sell him a CD. Rocky asked Joe to play a song. He did, Rocky loved it, they jumped in an Uber and the rest is history. Joe, who was homeless at the time, moved into Rocky’s hotel room and jumped straight from busking on the streets to appearing on an American Billboard Number One album.
“When I met him, he had this weird energy,” Rocky says of Joe, who’s currently out. “He was so full of hope and light. We totally disregarded the fact that he was homeless. What mattered was that he had a voice and I knew that the world needed to hear it.”
It’s also clear that Rocky sees Joe as a kindred spirit. “He has so many chicks, man,” Rocky says. “It’s weird, because he always had chicks but… Jesus, man. I’m impressed because I never seen someone get chicks like him – unless they were A$AP.”
Meeting Joe in London just one of the reasons Rocky has come to think of the capital as his adopted home. He recorded 15 of ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’s 18 tracks in the city, either at Dean Street or Red Bull Studios. It had been his dream to come to the city since he was 14. “I really love it, man,” he says. “I don’t know what it is. The energy kinda reminds me of New York, but better.”
Rocky has built a circle of London-based friends and collaborators that takes in everyone from cloud rap crew Piff Gang to Sam Smith, who he ran into late last night at Soho House. “Coming here feels nostalgic to me,” he says. “There’s some sort of connection, like I belong here. I can’t really explain being from somewhere else and claiming another place! I never thought I would have to explain that in life, but apparently here we are.”
Rocky was actually born in Harlem, New York, named Rakim Mayers after hip-hop legend Rakim. He made his name with the woozy 2011 mixtape ‘Live.Love.A$AP’, which demonstrated his ability to assimilate numerous rap styles, while also introducing the rest of Harlem’s A$AP Mob (including rappers A$AP Ferg and A$AP Nast) to the world. 2013’s major label debut ‘Long.Live.A$AP’ was a more conventional affair, spawning international mega-hits ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ and Skrillex collaboration ‘Wild For The Night’ (62 million and 42 million YouTube views respectively). Yet Rocky’s experimental new record ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’ feels like another left-turn. This is deliberate: he’s intent on rejecting the pop world he courted on his last album.
“Think about where mainstream is, and how far from mainstream my music is,” he says. “The biggest artists have to make pop music. I know how to make that music, I just hate it. Pop sounds like some Space Jam bubblegum fucking shit. If you listen to my first mixtape and you listen to the last album, they kind of connect. That middle project had a few mainstream joints on there. Whatever. I had a song with Florence + The Machine on there [‘I Come Apart’].” He gives the impression that the Florence collaboration was a label exec’s idea of what he should be doing to cross over, whereas the collaborators on his new album were strictly hand-picked – even Rod Stewart, who he calls a “jiggy motherfucker”.
Rocky draws languidly on the blunt. While smoking weed everyday isn’t rare in the rap world, his musical experimentation has been coloured by the embrace of more psychedelic drugs. “LSD freed me from a lot,” he explains. “Where I come from, recreational drugs are like marijuana or something like that. Shit like acid is foreign. Only white people do it, that’s the mentality in the hood.”
He begins to tell me the story of the first time he ever had a proper acid trip – here in London, with LSD – when he’s interrupted by a knock at the door.
“This is the infamous Joe Fox,” says Rocky, by way of introduction.
“Are you doing an interview?” Joe asks.
“Yeah, but sit down, chill,” says Rocky. “It’s good vibes, man.”
Fox spots the blunt. “Oh, it’s lit.”
“It’s always lit. You know it’s always lit,” chides Rocky. Joe sits down on the sofa, but barely has time to get comfortable before Rocky asks: “So you fuck both of them bitches last night?”
“Just one,” says Fox.
“Ahh, shit!” sighs Rocky. “It’s weird, motherfuckas don’t just want to be fucking one bitch no more. It’s two or better.”
“You have to remember that that’s not how society does it,” laughs Fox. “Sometimes you’re like: ‘Oh yeah, threesomes aren’t normal’.”
“You want to know something though?” asks Rocky. “I think threesomes are normal now.”
“They’re normal to you,” says Fox.
“I’ll tell you this much,” says Rocky, “before I was famous, they weren’t normal but I damn sure was trying every chance I got, and I got lucky sometimes. Now it’s common. It’s just sex, man. I love a woman with confidence who’s comfortable with her sexuality. I’m a weirdo: I don’t want a virgin. I don’t. That’s boring. You’re gonna cheat on that girl, man. What about a girl that’s open-minded? What about a girl who knows that you’re a man and sometimes you might slip? I need to be honest enough to be able to tell that girl: ‘I messed up last night, and I fucked another girl.’ I don’t expect it to be OK, I expect repercussions, but I expect the friendship to be able to stand it.”
Rocky’s talk of women and sex is not held back by the recent furore over his song, ‘Better Things’, which contained the following lyrics: “I swear that bitch Rita Ora got a big mouth / Next time I see her might curse the bitch out / Kicked the bitch out once cause she bitched out / Spit my kids out, jizzed up all in her mouth and made the bitch bounce.” He must have known how nastily misogynistic those lines are, so was he expecting the repercussions?
“I thought it was going to be like the ’90s,” he shrugs, “and people would let art be art.”
He laughs at his own faux-naivety, but continues: “You know, when you had Eminem saying all types of shit he didn’t have to explain that shit in interviews or on the radio or on camera or shit. People just said what they said and you had to listen to the next song to hear how they felt.”
Does he understand why people call him a sexist? “No, not at all. I think it’s a misunderstanding. When I talk about an experience I’ve had with a woman, I’m talking about an experience. That’s that. I don’t go around saying women are just hos. Do I think they’re less of a person compared to a man and the human race? No.”
Rocky argues that he doesn’t even talk about sex that often in his lyrics. “I don’t really talk about the orgies too much. I do love bad bitches, I do have a fuckin’ problem, but that’s really old. The only time I talked about orgies in the press was that one time doing LSD at SXSW. That was a big deal because I was high. Man, it was incredible.”
How often does he sleep with a new woman?
“I meet chicks. I don’t fuck a new chick every night… or do I?” Rocky seems genuinely unsure at this point. “I don’t… do I, Joe?”
“If you average it out, man,” replies Fox, sagely. “Sometimes I think you do that shit to be time effective. You’ll sleep with six girls in a night just so you can work for five days.”
That’s too big a claim even for Rocky’s ego. “Nah, he’s lying! I do not sleep with six girls a night. I might sleep with three girls at once but not every day. That’s lying on my own penis if I said that.”
When he reflects on his behaviour, Rocky suggests he’s motivated by a sense of mortality – particularly after the deaths of his father at the end of 2012, and his friend and collaborator A$AP Yams, who died in January this year. “I’m 26 and people try to pressure me to be like this role model,” he says. “I’m not no role model because I’m not perfect. I’m only human. When you ask a guy who’s 26, who’s been famous for barely three years, really, and who lost his father and his best friend and Robin Williams in that whole time period… I look at life like I need to be having motherfuckin’ orgies!”
As such, he’s reluctant to comment on politics. Referring to his recent talk at the Oxford Union, he says: “I was asked a question about whether I think it’s important for as an artist like me to talk about what’s going on in Ferguson and Baltimore, and the police brutality towards urban people in America. I was like: ‘I have an opinion on that, but as far as the subject matter I don’t really think that’s something I should be talking about unless I’m making a difference. I was in London recording the whole time this shit has been going down. For me, I’m in it because obviously I’m from America, my people are from America and I’m black but at the same time my reach isn’t only to them. If I have a responsibility, it wouldn’t only apply to black people. Right now, why are people trying to pressure me to be a fuckin’ spokesperson when in reality my art reaches out to all people of different backgrounds? The culture, the movement, is bigger than one race.”
So what does Rocky see as his artistic responsibilities? “It’s my responsibility as a black man and as an artist to inspire and to make a way and shed light on how to be successful or artistic and express yourself to the youth. That’s what my job is.”
Rocky feels at home doing that job in London. Here in Britain, he’s found plenty of like-minded souls willing to indulge his appetite for sex, drugs and making trippier music. While recording ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’ he stopped worrying about trying to please the world. “If people like pop music, and the masses love it apparently, then I think the masses like shitty music. How many billion people were listening to ‘Gangnam Style’? This album I think is dope. I think it’s hard. Either you like it or you hate it, and that’s fine. I don’t expect everybody to like it.”
He drops the dying blunt into a fine china teacup. “A$AP Rocky is not for everybody, clearly.”