On August 16, 2019, nearly two years to the day since his last body of work, A$AP Ferg released his latest project, Floor Seats. The EP, containing nine songs and running for nearly twenty-eight minutes, includes production from some of music’s biggest names, Timbaland (Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Aaliyah, Justin Timberlake) and Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse, Nas, Alicia Keys, Miguel), as well as vocal features from MadeinTYO, Asian da Brat, Antha, Rico Nasty, A$AP Rocky, Ty Dolla $ign and Brent Faiyaz.
Born in Harlem, New York, A$AP Ferg grew up surrounded by Hip-Hop and fashion. His dad was responsible for creating the iconic baby logo for Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records in his boutique in Harlem. Taking inspiration from his dad, A$AP Ferg launched his own clothing line “Devoni Clothing” in 2005. The main focus of this line was high-end belts that went on to be worn by artists such as Chris Brown and Swizz Beats. Only a few years later, spurred on by his high-school friend A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg paved his way as a rapper, eventually, along with Rocky joining the A$AP Mob.
Prior to his stop in Indianapolis for the Floor Seats Tour this week, I had the chance to chat with A$AP Ferg about his latest release, the state of Hip-Hip and how entrepreneurs can develop their brand and stand out in an ever-crowding market.
Euan Makepeace: Congratulations on your new EP, Floor Seats. Has it been received as you had hoped?
A$AP Ferg: Yes man, thank you for the congratulations. It has been received as I hoped. Initially, this project was just a way to get out new music. I didn’t have any huge expectations for it. I just wanted to put out great music, put some music back out for the streets. It just wound up going where it did, people have been loving the songs.
EM: You’ve spoken about working with intention before, it seems like the intention behind this was to keep the ball rolling with music, and for the most part of the project there seems to be an emphasis on higher tempo tracks with heavier beats. Was this something you wanted from this release, or was that just what accumulated as you created these tracks?
AF: I intended to use the different types of beats because I just wanted to push my sound forward and get more freaky with the music. That’s what I did. I’ve always wanted to really experiment with sound and find a dope place where I think that it’s ready to release into the world. That’s what “Floor Seats” was to me. That song [Floor Seats] was just a different track. I’m rapping on it different. As well as WAM, as well as Butt Naked, these are all songs that are sonically different, but they aren’t so far removed from what people expect from my music.
EM: Do you think that this experimental sound has come out because you’re more of an established artist now, so people give you a little more leeway in what they expect from you or were you inspired by the way the genre has transformed whereby we’re seeing a lot more experimental music out of Hip-Hop and its subgenres?
AF: I’ve always tested my listeners. If you go back and listen to Trap Lord, if you listen to Cocaine Castle, to Hood Pope, or Shabba, it’s all different production. I’ve never really followed the expected path in terms of production. You’ve never really heard me work with the hottest producers. I have yet to do that. Most of the producers have been in-house producers or producers that I found, who’s music I’ve loved.
EM: Now, Hip-Hop has become the new Pop in a sense. Do you think as with any genre that has become so dominant that Hip-Hop will eventually meet its downfall? Or will the evolution that we’ve seen throughout Hip-Hop’s history keep it relevant?
AF: Hip-Hop will never die. It’s black people. We are so many things. When you think about the urban communities, so many things make up Hip-Hop. When you think about Brooklyn, when you think about Harlem, you think about the West-Indian people that live there, the Jamaican people, Chinatown in New York, the Indian culture, that’s what we draw Hip-Hop from. When you think about the different genres that built Hip-Hop, from electronic music, with Kraftwerk, all the way down to how gang culture birthed break dancing, the graffiti culture, it’s all being pulled from different angles. Hip-Hop is a breathing thing. It’s very much alive. It can never die. It’s so well represented. It’s not just music, it’s clothes, it’s fashion, it’s the way we walk, it’s a language and it’s almost like a race of its own. And inside of this race of Hip-Hop, there are all races.
EM: Asides from experimenting with the instrumentation of your music as well as being an icon in Hip-Hop with regards to fashion, how else do you perceive that you have helped develop the genre?
AF: I’ve pushed the idea of being a face in Hip-Hop and showing the kids that you don’t always have to go and buy all of the jewelry and the diamonds and all that, we can actually get a Tiffany deal, and get that for free. Or being in catalogues and commercials to represent a well renowned brand. We can partner with these brands and do campaigns and have those things that we always admired. If we can represent them the right way, these brands love to work with people like us, artists like us. So, I’m showing kids that they can partner up with somebody like Redline, and create their own bike, or do deals with Adidas, who have the connections so that we can intertwine with the Messis, the James Hardens and the Pharrells of our time. They can open up all these doors to be seen by these different demographics.
EM: You’ve taken a bit of a break from music since the time you released Still Striving. During that time was there anything you were able to reflect on in order to grow in preparation for Floor Seats and any future endeavors you have planned?
AF: Yes, just where I wanted to go, what I wanted to talk about, what my mission was. Just having the time to think, having the time to live, having the time to spend with my family. I always want to have something to talk about because I don’t ever want to be repeating myself. I allow myself to grow, and allow myself to take a break, a bit, from the actual business of music, because that’s what was really driving me to take a break. I was taking a break from the music business and actually getting back to creating.
EM: Do you find it difficult considering how the digital landscape has changed, with social media and streaming, how it has become such a pressure on artists to release on such a constant basis, is it hard to switch off?
AF: I actually think it’s a good thing, the streaming sites and the rates that kids are putting music out nowadays because I record a lot, I just don’t put out a lot. I think it will force me to be more comfortable with putting out music that I thought was dope and that I second guessed. Just like how when you freestyle it just comes out of your mind and out into the world. I think that creatives shouldn’t overthink it. Those songs that are great songs that you think 100 times about putting out, just put them out now. That could be a song that streams well, or it doesn’t have to be that, but it could live in a world where somebody will like it and just listen to it.
EM: That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve read a lot that artists get frustrated with the demands for projects, it’s very insightful that you’ve perhaps recognized that from looking at a younger generation.
AF: I feel like the younger generation just thinks different. I think that’s the gap. As a millennial I grew up looking up to albums and projects and making the perfect project with skits and production. But I feel like this new generation they looked up to having more access, more music, more behind the scenes. Millennials also looked up to that, the behind the scenes, and how was things were made; we love that shit. But we also appreciated the mystique, but these new artists don’t care about that shit. It’s more about shop value and more about accessibility, wearing your emotions on your sleeve, being more transparent.
EM: That’s so true. Speaking on the EP a little more, your beat selection has a few nods to 90s Hip-Hop and your catalog in general uses a lot of sampling. The 90s was the time period you grew up in and its had a large influence on your life. Do you feel any responsibility as a New York artist to keep the work of New York legends alive to new audiences, or is that just you doing what you want to do?
AF: I’m just a fan of Hip-Hop. I don’t feel like I’m trying to keep anything alive, I just love the genre. When I did a song with Bone Thugs [sic] or when I did a song with Onyx and B-Real, or putting Busta [sic] on the Shabba remix I don’t feel like I’m keeping anything alive, or anyone alive, these are just artists that I genuinely listen to. I’m probably listening to more older music than newer music, so it’s fresh on my mind. These artists are still huge artists to me. I feel like they’re doing me a favor versus me doing them a favor.
EM: Do you think there’s a track on the EP that is underrated?
AF: “Hummer Limo.” It’s produced by Timbaland. Timbaland is one of my favorite producers, and I really want to reeducate the world on Timbaland. He’s one of those guys that did so much for music. He changed the sound and pushed new sonics. I feel like Timbaland is a very similar artist or producer to Pharrell. Pharrell has used his platform to do different things though, like movies. He [Pharrell] really expanded and Timbaland really kept it to music. Everyone has their own path, but I would love to reeducate the world on Timbaland, because he’s such an amazing producer. One of the biggest.
EM: Were you able to get in the studio with him at any point, or did “Hummer Limo” come about through the internet?
AF: Timbaland actually helped me curate the album set list. We spent time in the studio in Miami, working together. Initially I heard the beat on Instagram, and I was just like, “I need that” and he was like, “it’s yours.” I’ve been reaching out to Timb forever, but I guess it was just time. When I got to Miami, I flew out to mess with him, we went to the studio for a week straight.
EM: So there’s a lot of Timbaland and A$AP Ferg collaborations stashed away?
AF: Not a lot. We spent a lot of time talking and built this little brother; big brother, thing. I would just call him talking about shit that was going on in the world. I asked him what he was thinking when he did certain songs for Missy, or certain songs for Ludacris, where his mind was when he did this, how did he come up with this certain idea, what is he inspired by right now, or what can we revisit making music going into the next project. That’s what we talk about.
EM: That actually leads me into my next question, you’re a member of A$AP Mob, and that group and its affiliates have become synonymous with fashion. I guess you can talk to music about this as well, but how important was it for you to have a collective around you to help push you to where you are today to find where you can push boundaries?
AF: It’s very important that I have my community around me because I wouldn’t know what’s hot really. Sometimes you can second guess it, if you’re making music by yourself, you can be like, “oh this is dope,” but you love to see your counterparts move to it the way you move to it, as this basically validates what you’re feeling.
EM: Working with PATTERN I’ve had my eyes opened up to the resurgence of demand in the city for art, music and entertainment. It can be difficult though as a young entrepreneur starting out and finding success, something you managed to find prior to music through your endeavor into fashion. What advice can you give to people who are trying to establish themselves in this capacity?
AF: Go with your ideas and be unique. We’ve got Instagram now, so you don’t really have to travel to get your ideas out to the world like we used to. You’d have to go to New York, or Vegas for the MAGIC show or to put your shit in the trade shows, or if you ain’t have money to put your clothes in a trade show then you’d wait outside, or do what FUBU did and tell people, “yo, come up to my hotel room, we’re showing our clothes up there,” because we couldn’t afford to pay for a table at the MAGIC trade show. Instagram is the new portfolio. We have Instagram, we have Tumblr, we have Pinterest, there are all of these different platforms now where you can share your art with different people. Just communicate through that, keep putting original stuff out, start by building a small line, don’t try to build too big, and do parties, fashion shows and cool stuff with your friends first, that will build a buzz and it will catch on sooner or later.
EM: Is there anything, a strategy or technique, that you used to use during the pre-Instagram era, that still holds weight today with regards to building that brand?
AF: It’s always good to go out and to touch the materials. To go out to art supply stores and to be with the community because that’s where everyone goes. You might bump into a KAWS or a Scott Campbell, or a Kehinde Wiley, you might bump into these guys, or bump into their interns, and make friends with them and that’s how you get to learn more information and learn more about their craft. You can’t really do that on Instagram because it’s impersonal. When you go out and you go into an art supply store and you’re looking at canvases but then you see somebody with some dope shoes on and you’re like, “oh you’ve got some nice shoes” and “oh, you’ve got a nice jacket,” and then you wind up talking and seeing who they’re connected to and they see who you’re connected to and that’s a dope way to build.
EM: And that’s a little how A$AP Mob came together, you were hanging with one of the A$AP dudes, who was hanging with another dude from the Mob too and you eventually connected the dots to realize you all knew each other, just through different areas of interest.
AF: I remember when I started making belts I was going to look at leather at Global Leather, which is a store in the Fashion District in New York, and I was looking for a belt place to make my belt and I bumped into a guy who I think was working with Donna Karan as an intern, and I would ask questions, because I knew they were working with someone. It was basically a hub for creatives and designers. It was almost like a school. I would just ask the questions, “What are you doing here?,” “What are you making?” and that’s how I would get my information on where to get my stuff sewn at or where I could go to get cheaper leather, or where I could find free leather scraps. It was all through community and communicating.
A$AP Ferg will be performing on the Floor Seats Tour supported by Murda Beatz and MadeinTYO at the Old National Center, Wednesday 13th November 2019. Tickets are available through Live Nation, and can be purchased here. Stream his latest EP, Floor Seats, here.