By Natalie Gempel
A dangerous mix of obnoxious and influential, A$AP Rocky is on the forefront of a generation of rappers fusing subculture and high society. Actually, do not call him a rapper — call him an artist. Orders from the man himself.
Considering his endeavors in modeling, producing, directing music videos, a rumored collaboration with designer Raf Simons and his acting debut in 2015 “Dope,” all on top of his second album to be released this May, he may be justified in his title. A$AP’s influence over modern culture is about much more than his music.
That he has maintained — if not risen in — relevance throughout the two-and-a-half year period since releasing his debut album, Long.Live.A$AP, is a testimony to this fact.
Somewhere between pushing crack in Harlem at age 15 and starring in an Alexander Wang commercial, Rakim Mayers willed himself to become an icon, and from the look of things, it is going favorably. His upcoming sophomore album is him “claiming ownership of [his] legacy,” as he explained in a interview in GQ. He also explained that the title of his album — At.Long.Last.A$AP — has to do with its acronym, A-L-L-A, slang for Allah.
“It’s the return of the god MC,” he said in his GQ interview. If you find this lesson in egomania offensive enough to scare you away from listening to his music, it is probably for the best that you refrain.
The two singles that have been released from the album so far are teeming with the same perverse charm. The first track to be released, “Multiply,” uses a clean yet novel beat as a base for A$AP’s signature, unapologetically arrogant lyrics. Perfectly fitting as the first single of the album, the song is studded with gems like “I’m the original Balmain bad—…I’m the original Margiela madman.” While self-praise and criticism of others is a cliché of rap lyrics, A$AP carries it off so stylishly that it sounds new.
The music is the effortlessly rough kind of sound that you could hear blaring out of rolled-down car windows or streaming from some kid’s headphones, or pulsing on the subway or on a runway in Paris. It is offhandedly cool, and that is a very valuable quality at the moment.
Whether it is a fad or a cultural revolution, the fashion world is embracing the same rawness that A$AP’s music so clearly exemplifies. The new breed of fashion wonder-kids reshaping the industry — Alexander Wang, for example, climbing from an edgy namesake label at a contemporary price point to creative director of classic fashion house Balenciaga — have brought the worlds of fashion and hip-hop closer than ever before.
A$AP Rocky — both in his music and his persona — characterizes this cultural shift better than anybody else. While many rappers have an affinity for luxurious designers, A$AP shows himself to have a taste for design apart from the status of designer labels. Fashion is an integral element of his music, from the lead single, “Goldie,” off his first album (“My Martin was a Maison, rocked Margielas with no laces”) to his latest single, “Pretty Flacko 2” (“I’d rather stand out / Raf Simons, Stan Smith edition with my bands out”).
His vocal interest and involvement in fashion — he has dabbled in designing as well as modeling — are just more puzzle pieces of this complex figure. A cameo in indie film “Dope,” screened at this year’s Sundance with great reception, was yet another credit-building stunt for A$AP’s artistic repertoire. More importantly, these creative ventures keep up the artist’s obsessively preened image.
His image as a pretty “Fashion Killa” is just as significant a part of his identity as his music is. From dating runway models, to making an appearance in a Lana Del Rey music video, to the absurd and pretentious way he conducts himself in interviews, every move of his personal and professional life seems to be calculated to contribute to this image.
Despite his fixation with image, A$AP remains intensely focused on his craft. Not only does he rap, he directs music videos, and also produces under the pseudonym Lord Flacko. His music ranges from coarse and delightfully ludicrous to hauntingly fragile. Judging from his latest work on At.Long.Last.A$AP, his product is consistently choice.
More than an artist, A$AP is a character. He is too unorthodox to be confined to any one art form, and he is sophisticated enough to transcend many. A$AP Rocky is a powerful force in our cultural climate, whether you like it or not.