Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg has been quiet in 2015 — but only on the music front. The A$AP Mob member has been steadily working behind the scenes on a slew of fashion and art projects and last month announced his new collaboration with adidas Skateboarding, set to drop Saturday along with a photography exhibit featuring previously unseen photos of the Mob taken by Brock Fetch at Art Basel in Miami.
The collab, dubbed the Traplord x Adi-Ease Collection, features two silhouettes of adidas Skateboarding’s Adi-Ease shoe and three t-shirts, all designed by Ferg, inspired by the streets of Harlem and dedicated to his late mentor A$AP Yams, who died in January of an accidental overdose.
In crafting the designs, adidas gave Ferg access to an art studio for a week, where he painted a portrait of Yams surrounded by A$AP iconography. The painting served as the basis for one t-shirt design and parts of it are incorporated throughout the shoe design as well.
But Ferg’s work behind the scenes hasn’t just been limited to the art and fashion worlds; he’s also been shooting music videos (he directed Future‘s “Thought It Was A Drought” visual) and has been prepping his second studio album, Always Strive And Prosper, due out in January via RCA/Polo Grounds/A$AP Worldwide. Before his Art Basel exhibit kicks off tomorrow, Billboard spoke to A$AP Ferg about his adidas collab, his tribute to A$AP Yams and his first album in over two years.
How did the adidas Skateboarding collaboration come together?
The whole thing happened initially through my manager Geno; he connected me with adidas. They’ve been wanting to work with me for a while since they’ve been working with [A$AP] Rocky and did the whole Jeremy Scott collab with him. They’ve been paying close attention to the brand and they love it, so they wanted to do a collaboration.
You’ve had your Traplord clothing line for a while now. So why did you want to team up with adidas?
Well I’ve been wearing adidas since way before they wanted to work with me. Way before I was walking up in them offices I was wearing adidas, from shell toes all the way down to Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3, Jeremy Scott, everybody. So it was a pleasure for me to finally get to work with them. And it was really a dream come true; I’m kind of speechless when it comes down to it, ’cause I’m still in awe.
What did adidas bring to the table to help you get this done?
They basically gave me the playground to create whatever I wanted to create. They didn’t limit me to anything as far as being creative. They gave me my shoe silhouette that I was working with and I designed everything that’s on it. We went through a few different designs, a few different ideas and then we finally agreed on one. Also I designed some t-shirts. They provided me with an art studio for a week to create some canvases and I created — I want to call it a masterpiece because it just means so much to me — the [A$AP] Yams painting that I did, with the abstract sitting in the background with him building a globe sitting at the table with the blueprint of the A$AP Mob at the bottom at his feet, “To change the world you must change it yourself” and just that vision coming out of his eyes, because he always had that vision. They just allowed me a huge platform to just work off of, and I’m just happy to be here with them.
How long have you been painting?
I’ve been painting for a long time. I went to Art and Design high school and my major was fine arts and my minor was fashion. My father was also an artist and he taught me how to paint, so I’ve been painting since an adolescent going into high school and I still paint now.
What was the most important thing you wanted to get across with this collection?
Just always striving and prospering, because I had to take it back to the roots. A lot of people don’t know what A$AP means. My grandfather, he kinda sparked the idea, ’cause he was like, “What does A$AP mean? As soon as possible?” And I was like, “Nah granddad, we gonna get this money as soon as possible, but it’s ‘always strive and prosper.'” I mean, that’s a very strong quote right there, always strive and prosper. That goes for anybody, because I think we all striving. So that’s why I named my album Always Strive And Prosper, and that’s why I put it on the side of my adidas, ’cause that’s what we represent, always striving and prospering.
I mean, look at where I’m at now, you know, working with adidas and doing these crazy collabs and going in the studio with Madonna and being able to shoot videos for Future and work with wonderful artists like Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign. I got a song with Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign that’s crazy for the album. I mean, Skrillex, working with him, going on tour with him and Diplo, selling out the Garden. It’s just crazy. It’s like, for real, this kid from Harlem? A$AP Ferg? Are you serious? A kid from my block just texted me today and said, “Congratulations, I never thought there would be somebody from our neighborhood that would come out with a shoe.” That’s something for like basketball players, football players. That’s huge for a black kid coming out of Harlem.
Tell me about your Art Basel exhibit.
This Art Basel exhibit is gonna be incredible. I’m a huge fan of Art Basel, I had fun last year, I shot a video for “Doe-Active” out there showcasing all the events. This year we’re gonna do it even bigger ’cause I’m doing the event out there with Brock Fetch and adidas Skateboarding. Basically, we got Brock Fetch with some very rare photos; he’s a photographer who shot us since we was broke, all living in the same house together, and he has a lot of really dope photos of me and the Mob, Yams. And we’re gonna showcase and exhibit these photos, sell them and all the proceeds are going to go to Yams’ mom and family.
Will your Yams painting be on display there?
Yes it will.
Have you thought about doing an exhibit of your own work as well?
Definitely. I mean, that was the original plan, but I wanted to put 120 percent into this album and make sure this music is right. I think these pictures will serve its purpose though, because these are pictures that nobody has ever seen before and it’s the perfect time to do it.
I know that Yams was a huge influence on your life, but why was it important for you to use this collaboration as a tribute to him?
Just for that reason. You always see screaming out Yams now. Every day I think about him, every day I speak to his mom. I have to wake up and thank him every day, because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. I used to look at rappers like, Man, I could never be no rapper, let alone be famous and successful doing it. He made me believe — we all was unique artists, but he was the one who was the mastermind and brought us together and came up with the marketing strategies and he knew the industry so he made it real.
How does your art and fashion relate to your music?
I think it goes hand in hand. Fashion designers get inspired by the music, and you see a lot more artists coming out now and linking up with different fashion designers to put out their art or do their videos or design their merchandise. I’m just an artist that uses all different mediums to express myself, so as I create the music, I’m already thinking about the visuals and writing the video treatment down. As I’m writing the video treatment down, I’m thinking about what I’m gonna be wearing in the video. And why wouldn’t I want to wear my own shit or wear some fly stuff in the video? So now I gotta design the clothes I’m gonna be wearing in the video.
You mentioned your album is coming in January. Is that still happening?
Yeah. The album is gonna be crazy. I got a huge record with Future, it’s called “New Levels.” I promise you, this is gonna be a bomb to the world. I’m not kidding — I put my best into this album. People can say what they want after this thing is out, but trust me, it’s gonna be crazy. And I’m not just saying that because everybody says their album is crazy; this album is really gonna be crazy. Like I said, I got Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign on a joint, I got a crazy joint with Skrillex, this “New Levels” we’re gonna use to break the walls down for this new beginning, this new Trap Lord. I’m entering the Hood Pope now. I was the Trap Lord two years ago, I became the Hood Pope on y’all.
Are you anxious at all about this album? It’ll be two and a half years in January since you released Trap Lord.
I’m very anxious. I’m very anxious because I got a lot of non-believers out there. Even with all the things I’m doing, they haven’t heard the music or they haven’t seen me sitting at these board meetings or going to these factories, touching these fabrics, sitting with these different companies and designing my shoelaces or my shoes. They don’t see me doing all this. But now I get to unleash it with the music. And I think it’s gonna be overwhelming. People are gonna digest it whenever they get a chance to, whether it’s the music or the fashion. I think they’re gonna be listening to the music while they’re wearing my shoes and checking the laces out. There’s just so much that’ll be coming at them that it’s just gonna be overwhelming. Perfect timing, I swear it is. And you’re gonna love this album.