Apr 13, 2014 3:52PM

Interview: A$AP Ferg

The hood pope talks BMX riding, Spike Lee and being an entrepreneur.

Harlem’s A$AP Ferg is the hood pope with a strong 'Work' ethic. Late last year, the NYC-born-and-bred rapper released his highly shab-shabba-ranked debut Trap Lord. A title that translates to mean divine hustling skills, it’s without surprise to learn Ferg grew up around an influential 90s hip-hop set – his dad designed the logo for Bad Boy Records and can count Teddy Riley and Puff Daddy as childhood acquaintances.  Last in Australia with fashion killa counterpart A$AP Rocky, the A$AP Mob member, with his own app and clothing line – is back for a second solo visit. 

Georgia Watson: Hi Ferg, what are you up to?
A$AP Ferg: Just finished lunch, and now having a look around Australia - looking through some stores, looking at watches. 

Are you in the market for a new watch?
Yeah, we went to a few vintage watch stores to see Rolexes, and all types of different watches. Cool watches.

You make reference to Shabba Ranks on Shabba, and to Petit Valley in Trinidad on your latest track [freestyle over Bunji Garlin’s 'Carnival Tabanca']. Are you a dancehall fan?
I was never really into dancehall music. It was just that I grew up on Shabba Ranks specifically. That was the only reggae artist I knew besides Bob Marley. The reason why I was seeing Shabba Ranks so much was because he would come on hip-hop video stations. It’d be the top ten videos, and he would be the only Jamaican reggae music artist on the countdown. He kind of merged a reggae scene into hip-hop, so that’s how I know about Shabba Ranks. I love Bob Marley, but as far as dancehall, I was never really big on it.

You made a recent trip to Trinidad, what did you get up to over there?
I went to Carnival. I wanted to take my grandfather back to Petit Valley, to the house he grew up in, and visit my family members out there. It was really a family vacation type thing. I enjoyed Carnival for the first time as an adult. I went a couple of times as a kid, but it was good seeing it now. All the girls were beautiful, half-naked. Now that was very enjoyable.

What does your grandfather think of your music?   
He loves it. The first show that he ever went to of mine, he was like, oh damn - because he didn’t know I was that big of an artist. He had heard that I rapped, but didn’t know that people actually knew my music, my songs. 

Growing up, you were surrounded by a lot of well-respected artists through your father. What did he teach you about the company you keep?
He taught me to be very observant, analyse people’s movements. Certain people do things for themselves. He taught me how to be a boss, how to do things for myself. He taught me how to hustle; he taught me how to grind - and as far as the company I keep, he was a man’s man. He only had bosses around him that make movements and power moves. So I try to surround myself around people like that, those who hold their destiny in their own hands.

I feel there’s a sense of entrepreneurship that comes across in what you do.
I went to college for marketing and management. I’m an artist but I’m also a businessman. It works hand in hand.   

Do you think it is important to bring that in to the game today?  
Yeah, it definitely is. A lot of kids, they are so caught up in the art - art this, art that, and just want to be free. And that’s all cool, fine, and dandy, but you’re going to wind up like most of these rappers, broke - can’t pay bills, can’t provide for their family. Once the lights go off, or once you’re not on that stage - what are you going to do to provide for your family? That’s a concern of mine - being able to provide for my family, and friends.

You went to art school as well. What kind of student were you?
I was a very popular student. I set a lot of trends, everybody knew me. I was fly. All the girls thought I was kind of conceited. I had a real nonchalance style about me, but I was definitely listening in class. I studied fine arts, and majored in fashion. I wasn’t a top student; I wasn’t getting hella good grades, but [they were] fine enough for me to pass. I would cut class sometimes, fuck with girls in the hallway. 

What made you want to bring out the Trap Lord app?
Well, I always try to take a different approach. Being a rapper, we’re stuck in a box, and people try to leave us in that box.  They try to say, ‘oh, you can’t do this as a rapper, or you can’t do that’. And that goes back to the whole stigma of rappers also being singers. Where they’re like, ‘well if you’re a rapper, you can’t come out with a shoe, because it’s corny. Or if you’re a rapper, you can’t come out with a clothing line, because it’s corny.’ Nowadays rapping’s Pharrell Williams - who’s a big influence on me. He uses different mediums to express himself artistically, and I want to do the same thing. The app is just another gateway for me to introduce the world into whatever I’m doing. 

You posted a video on your Tumblr of Pharrell and BMX rider Nigel Sylvester. Did you used to ride?  
Yeah, that’s what I was doing before I was rapping. I was riding a lot of bikes. I used to fix bikes - that was my thing. I used to have four or five bikes at one time, just to ride.

Could you do tricks?
Yeah, I could do tricks.

What was your most accomplished trick?
Well, the whole thing in Harlem was who can wheelie the longest. We’ve got these long blocks in Harlem, from 125th all the way to 143rd - and that’s a long way  - 30 blocks or something like that. If you could wheelie that long, or wheelie the longest, you were the best. We’d bunny hop on cars, bunny hop over cars. We used to make these dirt ramps and just fly off them. I feel like the culture is kind of fading away. I want to bring it back. Even skating like rollerblading and freestyle street skating is kind of fading away. There are only the inner city urban kids that are still doing it. There are a lot of kids that still want to ride bikes but probably feel it’s not cool enough; or they don’t have anybody to ride with. I kind of want to bring that back into play. 

You sample and make reference to the work of Spike Lee, particularly Jungle Fever on your track 'Cocaine Castle'.  Do you have a favourite film of Lee’s?
Jungle Fever is definitely one of them. Crooklyn is one of them. I love all Spike Lee films. It would be a dream come true for me to meet that guy. His film style is like art; he uses the same actors in every movie. He was one of the first guys, if not the first to use Denzel Washington. He made films his way. I’m pretty sure he had to go through hell to keep the style in which he does his films. He didn’t conform at all; he never compromised. The messages within his movies are dope.

There’s a particular interview on YouTube, where Lee defends criticism surrounding Jungle Fever, that the film didn’t give positive answers to the issue of interracial relations. And he was like, well that’s not my job really.

Georgia Watson