“Can you not be so loud?”
The sound of popcorn-chewing is beginning to run its course for A$AP Ferg. The affable MC isn’t one to pick fights, but in this case, during a recent sit-down at the Billboard New York offices, he looks like he’s two seconds away from clotheslining one of his homeboys.
A few seconds later, it’s the crinkling sound of his friend’s popcorn bag that gets his attention, and causes him to halt the Q&A. “Bro, how about you pour the popcorn onto the table? We’re trying to do an interview. Everybody wants to make noise and shit when you’re trying to be quiet. The fuck.”
Laughter ensues, and Ferg’s smile quickly eradicates any tension in the room. At 30 years old, Ferg isn’t looking to stir up drama; he simply wants to be fly, handsome and happy.
“They say if you wanna be rich, you be around rich people,” he explains while discussing his decision to remove toxic energy from his life. “They say you are the company you keep. They say whatever you put into your body, it’s what you become. So if you eat beautiful things, you’re going to be beautiful.”
Thanks in part to the hit single “Plain Jane” in 2017, the Harlem star solidified his standing as A$AP Mob’s definitive No. 2 star, behind his brother-in-arms A$AP Rocky. Known for his brash, high-energy flow, Ferg is now aware of his role within the Mob: making club bangers that will not only smash the tri-state area, but the entire nation. “I know what people can kind of expect from me and everything that I’ve done, I can trust myself because I have good taste,” he says. “Everything that I like, people like.”
Earlier this month, Ferg released an eight-track EP, Floor Seats, and in the process, nabbed a formidable lineup of women MCs to stop by the project. Rico Nasty, Asian Doll and City Girls’ Yung Miami not only make guest appearances, but serve as exceptional co-stars during Ferg’s 20-minute crusade.
Billboard spoke with Ferg about the project, his first conversation with A$AP Rocky after his recent release from Swedish custody, and what he wants his legacy in Harlem to be.
On Floor Seats, you seemed to make it a priority to have several female MCs on the project.
As far as the female movement that’s happening now, I just wanted to be a part of it, because I wanted to see the camaraderie for so long. As a kid growing up, I always wanted to see Foxy Brown make songs with Lil’ Kim. I always wanted to see Monica do songs with Brandy more often. Like, “Ladies Night” [Lil’ Kim’s 1997 all-female “Not Tonight” remix] was amazing, and that’s what I feel is happening now with the “Hot Girl Summer” [record] with Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj. You also have Cardi B, Asian Doll and City Girls. It’s a great look, and I just really wanted to be a part of that energy.
Plus, after witnessing what Nicki Minaj did to the “Plain Jane (Remix),” and how girls reacted to that, I realized that I didn’t really have to make a slow jam to turn up with the females. Like, I can still maintain myself and turn up with the girls.
I feel like from an energy standpoint you and Megan would sound great together on a track.
We hollered at her about some stuff, so, you know, hopefully, one day we get one of those joints in.
You and Rocky paired up on “Pups” and flipped DMX’s “Get At Me Dog.”
I feel like that one, you gotta have an acquired taste for that, especially if you’re 30 years old like us. I feel like our age and our generation, we know what that is, we get it. I feel like people who love hip-hop, they get it. The people who love DMX, the people who love East Coast hip-hop get it and people could just appreciate it. I feel like we get it too because we come from that era of music. That’s a golden era for us.
You have a knack for doing both — you can rock with a DJ Premier, but also do a “New Level” with Future. Is that easy or difficult, in terms of trying to play both sides?
That’s just my mind. That’s just how it works. I’m really a fan of Premier, so I went and shot a video with him. I mean, I’ve been overseas, like [in] Japan, with Premier. Like, we woke up having breakfast and flew on planes together. He knows my family. He knew my pops. So it’s only right that we got together and with just me being a fan, we worked on songs.
I know how to turn up, too. I’m a battle rapper. I come from writing lyrics. I wasn’t writing no hooks as a kid, I was just writing straight bars. I used to watch Cassidy, Kaboom, Meek Mill, when he had the braids, all of the guys from Philly. T-Rex, Murda Mook, Jae Mills, Vado, mad cyphers on the public access channel. Like this is what I come from, so it’s nothing for me to rap and get the shit poppin’, but nowadays, you gotta be able to adapt to the BPM of what’s happening now and I love it.
That’s where a lot of battle rappers struggle, though. They tend to focus on the bars so much that they can’t write a song.
But you can also add bars in your song. I got bars. If you take the beat away, I’m saying some shit. If you listen to “New Level,” that’s poetry. If you listen to “Plain Jane,” that’s poetry. [Starts rapping] “Rest in peace to my superior/ Hermes link could feed a village in Liberia.” I went to Liberia and really put kids in uniforms. I came back and gave my jewelry away because I felt so bad. Like, this Hermes like could really feed kids in a village. So I’m dropping bars.
From afar, I’ve always wondered whether you and Rocky still loved the art of rapping as fiercely as when you started, because you guys are active in so many different areas, from fashion to art to video production.
I just think we have other interests besides rap. I’ve been blessed with a gift of creating through different mediums. So I went to art school. I’m an all-around artist. I used to perform at school for talent shows and shit like that and rap, but I went to Art and Design for fashion and fine arts. That’s just natural. I can’t help it if I know how to dress nice and brands want to collab with me for different things or make me the face of Tiffany’s or fly me out to Valentino’s show. That’s just the swag, but I don’t think that should be taking away from the music.
I think that we can probably delegate it a little bit better, because me and Joe [Budden] had the same conversation. We need to let motherfuckers know that we ain’t forget about the music because we’re constantly recording, but they just see us doing so much fashion and art. Sometimes, it may seem like the music has fallen to the waste side ’cause we don’t have nobody pushing it out. So what I did was I hired somebody to be designated just for the music side of things. So you don’t have to worry about just seeing Ferg on billboards for fashion and ain’t no music coming out. All of the shit is cool anyway, because it’s music. The music is why the world knows about A$AP Ferg, so we can’t forget about that. It’s not cool if the music is not right. Music is always priority, everything else comes second, because music gave me the platform to express all my other mediums and interests.
You’ve proven to be a strong singles artist, with records like “Work,” Plain Jane” and “New Level.” How do you plan to translate that energy and become more of an albums kind of artist for your next project?
I’m always in album-mode. I don’t know how to just make singles, so whenever I’m creating, I’m always trying to strive to make the B-side record a popping record. I’m trying to make the B-side single pop.
How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist with Floor Seats, in comparison to Trap Lord and Still Striving?
We all know A$AP Ferg is now the big-time platinum-selling artist. I’ve chosen all my singles. I’ve never let the label choose any of my singles, except for one. It was “World Is Mine” with Big Sean. We shot a video to that, but after that, I was like a partner, choosing my stuff. I’ve chosen all my singles my whole career. I have an ear for it, I have an eye for it. I even have an eye for other artists. You know, I’m working with MadeInTYO on his album.
You ever think about executive-producing?
Hell yeah, because I be seeing things in other artists that aren’t necessarily for me. I can do certain things and create certain things that’s not necessarily my aesthetic that can fit somebody else better. So I can definitely see myself being a creative director, or helping someone musically on some A&R shit as well.
You brought up MadeInTYO — I feel like you, him and Big Sean have a lot of chemistry. What makes your friendships with them so unique?
We have that calm energy. Also, we’re all really like brothers. It’s funny, because Sean and TYO have a brother relationship without me, but we’re all brothers. We’re not problematic people. We’re stylish. We have all of that shit in common. MadeInTYO out here right now, he was running around with me yesterday. We listened to music and was creating together.
Sean, I was on the phone with him all night until like 4-5 in the morning, just talking about different shit like his album, his rollout plans. This n—a will send me a picture, like, “Yo. Do you think this shit would be cool to post?” MadeinTYO, we’d be in the studio and he’ll be like, “I’m shopping right now. You fuck with this? This some shit you’d wear. I’m gonna get it for you.” We got a real bro relationship. That’s why I’m happy he’s going on tour with me again.
You wrote an Instagram post that highlighted the stress of anxiety. How often do you face that battle? And how is battling anxiety as a celebrity different from when you were growing up in Harlem?
I’m glad you brought that up, because a lot of people don’t know that that’s a huge thing. I came into the game and I always wondered why so [many] artists take drugs, or why they always wind up looking like they’re down and out. Like, you can obtain so much. You can earn millions of dollars, millions, and still be looking burnt out. I always used to think about that shit. … Like artists overdosing, especially like Yams, being our brother. I’ve seen it first-hand what mental health was. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t even think mental health when he passed away [of an overdose in 2015], but now that it’s such a big thing, I think about it, and he might of been battling something he should have been talking to somebody about.
It’s very important for everybody — we should talk to somebody. We all need community. I’ve learned to not be so macho and talk to my mom, my family, my uncle, and it makes you feel like that people are there to support you, no matter what, because this world can be a huge pressure, especially if you a huge artist, or even a janitor. It’s a pressure that’s put on you, because you’re trying to support your family. Anxiety is a real thing.
What was the first conversation you had with Rocky after he was released from Swedish custody?
He showed me his nails — he showed different things he had painted on his nails. He had a smiley face, he had a broken heart. He had different shit. He was like, “Yo. Check the nails out.” [Laughs] We were just partying when we seen each other. We partied all through the night, and when we broke day, I had woke him up to go to Kanye’s Sunday Service.
On our way there, it was kind of quiet. He was just talking about his experience being in there and how he was happy to be home, but then, when we got there, the preacher was preaching and the people were singing and he got quiet. Two other people that were locked up with him, one of them started crying, and [another] was just quiet and was in the moment. We all just hugged it out. We were just happy to say that our brothers were home.
I can only imagine his headspace after that situation. Did you have a conversation with him to see if he was mentally good?
I always do. I mean, out of all people, I don’t know everybody’s relationship with Rocky, but I got a real relationship with Rocky. It’s so real that every time we’re together, we don’t post we’re together. Some people just think we don’t fuck with each other sometimes, because they don’t see us together and shit. Like, no, we have a real relationship and shit. Regardless if I was A$AP or not, that’s my brother. That’s my brother. Nobody can’t talk to him about what we’re going through the way I can. Nobody else on the team can really have certain conversations with Rocky except for me, because I’ve experienced certain things on a certain level.
Also, nobody on the outside is close enough to talk to Rocky the way I talk to him. So I’m talking to him like, “You good? How’s the family?” Just everything. His home being invaded, and just, everything — that shit can drain you out mentally, and that shit can make you mad paranoid. If you smoking mad weed, that shit can make you go on 10. I know how that can feel.
We spend time together, too. I spent time at his crib. We were working out and was chilling for like two weeks together. He came to Harlem and stayed at my crib. He stayed for about a week. We make it happen and I always make sure my brother is good. All of my brothers.
Did your opinion of Donald Trump change after he showed support to Rocky and his situation in Sweden?
No, it didn’t, because that stuff is entertainment to me, honestly. I don’t know what his reasons for doing what he do is or what not, but for me, me and my brother got a real relationship. It’s not on entertainment. I’m really trying to get this man out. I mean, if he got him out, then good, he’s out. He deserves to be out.
Has his run-in with fans changed your own demeanor about how you approach your fans on a face-to-face level?
It happens, bro. This is the life we live, like Biggie and Tupac. This is some real shit. We out here risking our lives to entertain people. Like n—-s getting caught up on the road with guns, and police fucking with people, that’s a real thing. Like people are mad that we made it to a certain level and they can’t take it. They’re like, “Man. What the fuck?” Hate is a real thing, man. Hate is a real thing for anybody. You can be handsome and broke, and a broke ugly n—a can hate you. Or a rich ugly n—a can hate you.
What do you want your legacy in Harlem to be in the next 10 years?
It’s showing what we do in Harlem around the world. It’s painting Harlem around the world in all cultures. It’s like what Snoop Dogg did for L.A. I can’t think of a bigger artist that did it bigger in L.A. than Snoop Dogg. … I feel like that’s what I am: I’m the boy that came from Harlem, that took a voyage throughout the world and I just painted that swag all over the world. I painted that swag on that Tiffany building in Austrailia, performing for the flagship store on Fifth Avenue, I painted that for Revlon at The Apollo, I painted that for Hennessy and Cognac and going liquor tasting. I painted that in the world for us.
I’m showing that it’s possible. I might be the first one in Harlem with a sneaker [that isn’t] an athlete. I never thought that I’d come out with an album. I’m showing kids that it’s possible. I was confused, because I had so many talents. I’m like, “Man, when are they going to take me serious in?” I’m showing kids that you could be a millennial, you can use different mediums to create art and you can make it. That’s my legacy.