Billboard Cover Sneak Peek: 5 Reasons Why A$AP Rocky Is Hip-Hop's Renaissance Man

Wesley Mann
A$AP Rocky photographed at Academy Mansion in New York City on April 22, 2015.

For his Billboard cover story, out Friday, May 1, A$AP Rocky explains there are two distinct types of rappers -- celebrities and artists. The 26-year old star knows exactly which category he falls under.

"I'm famous, I'm popular -- I'm just not a celebrity. I'm an artist," Rocky (born Rakim Mayers) tells Billboard. "In my 60s, I don't want to be just remembered as that kid from back in the day that had cool shit."

For now, though, the Harlem native has plenty of it. As he readies his highly-anticipated sophomore studio album At. Long. Last. A$AP. (due May 12 on RCA), Rocky is fresh off his cinematic debut in the Sundance hit Dope and has his hands full with high-fashion endeavors. In his cover story interview, he waxes poetic on his taste in clothing and explains why we might not be seeing him in a film for some time. Rocky far exceeds the rapper's typical job description; he's a psychedelic free spirit who's got a mind for business too. Here are five things we learned about this true Renaissance man: 

1. His Taste in Music Will Surprise You
A$AP Rocky admits he's only skimmed Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly: "I got about two songs I liked." On the other hand, he can't stop talking about all things psychedelic, especially rock and trip-hop. For inspirations, he name-checks Portishead, Massive Attack, Thom Yorke and "old '60s psychedelic shit" like the Kinks and the Stooges. At one point, he breaks into singing Cream's "Free" and calls T. Rex's Electric Warrior "perfection." 

At. Long. Last. A$AP.  collaborator Mark Ronson once asked Rocky if he had heard of Tame Impala. "He looked at me like I was crazy," Ronson tells Billboard. "[He] proceeded to play me a chopped-and-screwed remix that he made of [the band's] 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.' He played me a lot of amazing music that I had never heard of."

A$AP Rocky Reveals Details of A$AP Yams' Death

2. But Rest Assured, He Has the Respect of the Hip-Hop Game
Since breaking through in 2011, A$AP Rocky has down a masterful job of balancing his left-field taste with money-making, mainstream acceptance. His 2013 debut album Long. Live. ASAP has sold over 518,000 copies to date and featured killer posse cuts like "Fuckin' Problems" with Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar.

 "We're both into a lot of obscure things that guys from our environment aren't normally into,"  Danny Brown tells Billboard. "What I love about him is he doesn't care what anyone thinks. He knows what he wants and doesn't compromise for anyone." 

A$AP Rocky Explains Meaning of His New Album Title 

3. When it Comes to Fashion, He's Fine With Being a Little Alt
By now, A$AP Rocky's fashion exploits have been well-documented. He's collaborated with Raf Simons and Jeremy Scott and when he explains his personal taste, he gives the impression that he's original enough to make a lasting impact. "I don't like doing anything anyone else is doing," he tells Billboard. "If leather's popular this year, I'm just going to have to go with suede. If you want to consider my shit alternative, so be it. I just look at it as eclectic." 

4. He's Breaking Into Film on His Own Terms
Rocky made his film debut playing a small-time drug dealer in Rick Famuyiwa's Dope, a smash at Sundance in January. Although he calls it "an amazing movie," he's taking his time in choosing his next project. He scoffs at his own past as a dealer and thinks the Dope character is "too typical" for a rapper. "I want something that gives me more of a challenge and is less cliched. Until I find something that feels right, I'm going to stay my ass off the big screen." 

His favorite film right now is Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. A grid of stills from the film adorn a wall of his apartment, and he says it's been serving as inspiration for a short film accompanying the new disc. 

Exclusive SXSW Interview: A$AP Rocky Reveals New Album Features Lykke Li and FKA Twigs 

5. He's Found Inspiration in Losing One of His Closest Friends
When A$AP Yams, aka Steven Rodriguez, died in January of an accidental drug overdose, the entire A$AP crew was obviously devastated. Rocky was particularly shaken up, as Yams was the seasoned hip-hop veteran who'd groomed him since he was just out of his teenage years. At the time of his Billboard interview, Rocky had been logging nightly studio sessions, trying to finish an album his mentor conceived before his death. "He left his notebooks, he left his blueprint. His album's f--ing -incredible. I want to finish what he started."

Read Billboard's full A$AP Rocky cover story when it's out Friday, May 1.