A$AP Rocky, prince of hip-hop
Numéro meets A$AP Rocky, fashion icon and figurehead of a new generation reinventing the codes of hip-hop.
Born in Harlem and raised in the ghetto, A$AP Rocky is the figurehead of a new generation that’s busy reinventing the codes of hip hop and broadening its horizons. Fiercely exacting in his music, the rapper also stands out for an innate sense of style that’s rendered him a coveted fashion icon. It’s a unique position at the convergence of different worlds, and one the young prince rightfully claims as his own.
He first appeared on the radar in 2011 with his mixtape Live.Love.A$AP with the effect of a bomb going off. Rap specialists were beside themselves with joy to see a young cat (he was 23 years old) so casually sweep aside the old rifts that rage in the bastions of hip hop (New York vs the Southern States of American). Born in Harlem, A$AP Rocky (his real name is Rakim Mayers) respects his elders in the Big Apple but isn’t following their footsteps. From the south he borrows a swaying flow and slowed down rhythms, all while inventing a new sound that belongs to him alone: “If hip hop is dead / Fuck, let is rest / Reincarnated through me / When she resurrect,” he raps on in the track Out of This World, almost like a founding statement.
In the wake of Purple Swag, which dwells on his love of da weed, the track Peso reveals another key element in the world of A$AP Rocky: fashion. In this domain too, a well-informed Rocky scorns the mainstream in favour of more daring, confidential choices, most notably the designers Rick Owens and Raf Simons. In the press the rapper has expressed allegiance to Ann Demeulemeester, tracing the lineage of Belgian style. “She’s a Belgian designer, like my other favourite designers, Raf Simons and Martin Margiela.” His natural charisma, beauty worthy of a modelling contract and very personal way of wearing Adidas trousers or Nike Air Jordan sneakers with pieces by his fetish designers, soon earnt him the status of style icon, whose outfits are scrutinised and frequently copied by other musicians. When he wears a Dries Van Noten jacket the house is flooded with calls from celebrity stylists desperately trying to get hold of the same one. And when he played at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2015 he wore a sweatshirt by the young Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, known only by the most obsessive of fashion fans.
Like Jay-Z and Kanye West, who also proclaim their love of Martin Margiela, rappers have only just been knighted by the saint of fashion saints, who’d never before felt implicated by the bling contests and ultra-baggy jeans – an issue so crucial that Kanye West recently Tweeted: “I made it so we could wear tight jeans.” On the question of style and its origins, A$AP Rocky – despite the humour he demonstrates in his lyrics and videos – doesn’t mess around. “Why do journalists talk to me about Kanye?” he retorts when asked about his tutelary figures. “Sure he influenced me when I was young, but you all forget Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, they way more successful than Kanye, they really succeeded in making money from fashion.” Shamelessly glorifying money, sometimes violence, and undeniably sexist, rap has long puzzled an elite repulsed by its provocations. By renewing these codes with intelligence and irony, all without renouncing the transgressions that give this genre its flavour, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rocky have testified to the wealth of their culture, its capacity to reflect our era and above all its ability to constantly evolve.
By Delphine Roche, portraits by Vijat Mohindra.
Check out the full article in the Numéro Musique from March 2016, available February 24 th in newsstands and on iPad.