Exclusive: Harlem's A$AP Ferg breaks down his Battle Rap history, the internal competition on his "Work (Remix)" and recalls being called "gay" and "weirdo" by rivals for ushering in form-fitting, designer jeans.
Out of all the members in the A$AP Mob—a collective of rappers, producers, and cultural tastemakers mostly from Harlem—Darold Ferguson aka A$AP Ferg could arguably be the favorite to have the biggest year in Rap. That’s saying a lot considering his longtime friend and labelmate A$AP Rocky had debuted at #1 on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 Album sales chart earlier this year with Long.Live.A$AP.
However, the momentum has been swinging in Ferg’s direction lately. Since its release in mid-May, Ferg’s “Work (Remix)” video has amassed 1.8 million YouTube views. According to Billboard’s Rauly Ramirez, the single “has been bubbling under R&B/Hip Hop Airplay for a couple of weeks and will likely make its way onto the chart as the remix picks up momentum on-air.” Cameos from his fellow A$AP Mob member Rocky and French Montana—who have respectively gone platinum with “F**kin’ Problems” and “Pop That”—along with Trinidad Jame$ and ScHoolboy Q won’t hurt things. To top it all off, he’s set to drop his debut studio album, Trap Lord, on August 20, which will feature notable names in Onyx and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
If anyone needed a refresher, in February, Gucci Mane publicly came out and showed his discontent with the similarities in their album names (Gucci dropped a mixtape entitled “Trap God 2”). Ferg, not one who needs any reassurance to his reigning stance in the game today, spoke with HipHopDX over the phone while in NYC and pretty much summed it all up saying, “That just certified my hotness.” By the end of the summer, we’ll certainly have an indication if Ferg can hit the same pinnacle that fellow rapper Rocky has topped over the past couple years.
A$AP Ferg Details The Friendly Competition On His “Work (Remix)”
HipHopDX: You just dropped the “Work” remix. It’s been a long wait, but it finally came out.
A$AP Ferg: How you feel about it?
DX: It’s dope. I noticed you had a new verse on it.
A$AP Ferg: Yeah, you know what’s funny about that? I actually re-wrote that verse four times because I’m like, “Man, [A$AP] Rocky went in; ScHoolboy Q went in; French [Montana] is going to have the best club verse, and Trinidad [Jame$] is going to have the best club verse.” I said, “I need to write a new verse.” I wrote my verse about four times; I wrote four different rhymes for that one 16.
DX: How long did it take for you to decide on picking that final verse?
A$AP Ferg: It didn’t take long, because I remember—over the period of time—I actually recorded different verses, so I got different versions. Then I listened to it and was like, “I need to go harder than that.” I just wrote another 16. It doesn’t take that long for me to write. It’s just the point of getting it going. I felt like I could’ve went harder on the song at that particular time, so I just re-wrote the verse. I felt like I prevailed. I felt like I had the best verse on the song.
DX: I remember you talking to DJ Whoo Kid and telling him you had to write a new verse for this remix so you wouldn’t get killed on your own track. What type of mindset do you have when you’re about to hop on a remix and you know there’s going be a bunch of great rappers on it?
A$AP Ferg: You definitely gotta be competitive, because rapping is a competitive sport. Everybody’s on the track to beat out the best; that’s the one thing about being a rapper. All rappers have egos, so when you get on a track with four other hot artists that are hot right now. You’re talking about Trinidad that got one of the biggest singles, if not the biggest single this year, with “All Gold Everything.” And then you got Flacko, in which “Fuckin’ Problems” went platinum, then you have French Montana, who has full rotation on radio; he’s being played in clubs, strip clubs, everywhere. Then you have ScHoolboy Q, who is a lyrical genius from TDE. You gotta go hard. I play with the big boys. They’re really good artists.
DX: And when it comes to these records that have so many big names on them, people are always interested to see who ends up with the final verse to close out the song. Rocky had that one. How did that happen?
A$AP Ferg: No, it just happened that way, because Rocky wasn’t originally supposed to be on the remix. It was originally going to be French, ScHoolboy, and Trinidad Jame$. But then, Rocky was like, “Yo, I need to get on that.” I was like, “Nigga, you need to get on that. I don’t know why you act like I ain’t want you on it.” It’s the proper thing to do. He kicked open the door for me, so this is my song that’s going to blast off. Why not end it off with him?
DX: How last second was this?
A$AP Ferg: He actually just did a verse to it and sent it to me. He was on his tour bus, and he did the verse. He’s like, “Yo, you want to hear the verse?” I didn’t even know he did it. He sent it to me and shit, and then he went in.
How Battle Rap Influenced A$AP Ferg’s Style
DX: I always thought it’s interesting with someone like you because you have that Battle Rap/freestyle mentality. How does your mindset change when you’re forced to sit down and write lyrics to a record?
A$AP Ferg: I mean, it doesn’t change…it’s not that different. The difference between being a battle artist is that, when it comes to making songs, you get to be more creative. When you’re battling, you’re more aggressive. You’re trying to hurt your opponent through your words and lyrics. But when you make a song, it’s going to make people fall in love with you. It depends; you’re trying to get your point across or your art across. If it’s a girl song, you want the girls to love the song or love you on the song. If it’s an aggressive song, then you can put some of your battling influence into your music. Songwriting is way different from battle writing, because you’re just writing 16’s to hurt your opponent…32’s or 100 bars or more of battling. You can go crazy like that, because it’s one-sided. Sonically, you can bend and shape your songs on how you want your voice to sound…your voice tones, add different effects to your music. I love writing songs and making music, and I love the art of battling as well.
DX: How much battle experience do you have?
A$AP Ferg: That’s what I grew up doing. In Harlem, that’s what we did to have fun. We would go battle other crews from different blocks and areas. We used to just try and embarrass people. We started the whole go up to your opponent, rap back in his face mad loud, so that people a block away can hear you, and we can tour the crowd. We would just try to embarrass people, and we used to be fly. People used to just hate us. I used to be with a crew called Harlem Envy, because everybody in Harlem envied us. We were actually loved by Harlem, but it’s like, “Yo, we’re the envy.” We go to these battles and we show off.
DX: And Rocky was with Million Dollar Babies at that time?
A$AP Ferg: Yeah, he was with Million Dollar Babies. He was in a real flamboyant crew, running around with minks, clashing their cars, always getting into some shit, doing boat rides and all that crazy shit. We had a pre-game before this superstardom. We were pre-superstars back then.
DX: Did you and Rocky ever get into beef when you were in separate crews?
A$AP Ferg: Hell nah, it wasn’t like gangs. It was just fly, young motherfuckers that were into getting girls and making money. We used to want to strive for more. It was a circle in Harlem. Harlem was the place to be at the time where Brooklyn, Queens or Jersey would want to come out and hang out in this circle that we created with the crews, with Harlem Envy, Rich Girls, Team NERD. It was Teyana [Taylor] and her crew with Pharrell and all of them. Then you got Million Dollar Babies, which was Rocky, and me in Harlem Envy. It was me, J-West, Slim Dollars, and all these great people. This was the pre-game of superstardom, because we didn’t have to go out of Harlem to have fun. We just had fun in Harlem, because everybody wanted to come here and hang out with us.
A$AP Ferg Says He Was Ostracized For His Trendsetting Fashion
DX: How did the A$AP Mob then get introduced to you?
A$AP Ferg: A$AP Mob was a mixture of everything. We were always the black sheep within our crews. Even though we had our own separate crews, I was always different in my crew for different ways and misunderstood; Rocky was misunderstood in his crew. That’s how A$AP was formed. A$AP Bari and Yams started A$AP, and me and Rocky joined like two years later.
DX: What did you mean by being misunderstood? What were the misconceptions about you?
A$AP Ferg: We’re artists. We’re artsy people. So it’s sort of like the Jesus complex. You get called a “witch,” or you get called “weird” or “silly” for thinking a certain type of way, when in all actuality, artists look at the world differently. We have a head of genius in us, because we could foresee the future. We can plan ahead; we can come up with fads and different trends that people don’t come up with. Whenever we started the whole tight jeans thing; we were called “weirdos” or “gay” whenever we wore tight jeans. We wanted to wear Balmain jeans and wanted to wear $2,000 Rick Owens shoes. Now, it’s cool. Before it wasn’t cool, because how are you wearing that when you’re supposed to wear jerseys and a fixed up shirt? When we were ahead of our time, we were being bashed for it.
DX: Was it Rocky who brought out those white on white Timbs?
A$AP Ferg: Nah, that was me.
DX: How did you get a hand on those?
A$AP Ferg: I got them custom made.
DX: So you recently debuted the video for “Work (Remix)” on 106 & Park, and shot the video in Rucker Park...
A$AP Ferg: Yeah, I had to take off over there because—one thing about me is—I understand how much it means to Harlem to really take off. A lot of people from Harlem go and forget where they come from. That’s why, before I go on this journey of life, before I decide to go shoot videos in Africa, Brazil, or wherever I’m going, I want to let people know I’m still in touch with where I’m from. I wanted to take off from Harlem because it’s across the street from the Polo Grounds. So Rucker Park, Polo Grounds—I’m tied to RCA/Polo Grounds/A$AP Worldwide. It was only right.
DX: Although he wasn’t rapping, how did Wale end up in the video?
A$AP Ferg: Wale is a really good friend of mine. That was just inevitable. He calls me, and I call him. He was in the city at the time, and he just came through. That’s what happens.
DX: Are you guys ever planning to drop a track together?
A$AP Ferg: Of course. He’s the homie. That’s my homie before rapping. We just chilled.
DX: With him repping the DMV and you spending most your time in Harlem, how did you connect?
A$AP Ferg: On the A$AP Mob tour, we brought Meek Mill out in New Orleans. Meek came with Rick Ross and Wale. Wale was like, “Yo, I fuck with your music,” and I said, “Well I fuck with your music.” I ain’t had any idea they knew about me at the time. It was still early. We kept in contact. He’d always hit me up, asking me where I’m at or what I’m up to. That’s how we maintain that friendship.
DX: What’s the update on Trap Lord?
A$AP Ferg: Well, Trap Lord is going to be dropping early this summer. It’s a really, really good album. It’s put together very intricately, and I hand-picked all the artists I wanted to go on there. Nothing is mistakenly done. Everything is done on purpose, and everything is meant to be on that piece of history. I got Onyx on there; I got Onyx and then I put Aston Matthews on the same track with Onyx. I got a song called, “Lord” with the whole Bone Thugs family, and then I got a track with Clams Casino, which is crazy. It’s called, “Uncle.” That’s like a whole Tyler Perry movie within itself. I got a song with A$AP Rocky, which is stupid. I don’t want to quote it, but I saw a lot of good things going on with it.
DX: How long have you been working on the project?
A$AP Ferg: I’ve been working on it since last year while I was on tour.
DX: Did that upset you with the whole Gucci Mane, “Trap God”/Trap Lord situation?
A$AP Ferg: That just certified my hotness. Whenever you’re hot, somebody wants to be out and hate on you. That let me know I was on the right thing.
A$AP Ferg Says His Album Will Be “All Digital”
DX: Nowadays, it seems everybody’s dropping a ‘tape, but rappers always refer to them as albums. Is there even a difference between a mixtape and an album anymore?
A$AP Ferg: Well, I think the A$AP Mob mixtape—“Lord$ Never Worry”—that was a mixtape, because we all did the songs and tracks in different places, different areas, and it was kind of like, I put my two cents in, Rocky put his two cents in; everybody came from different angles on it. An album is original beats, and it’s produced in a way where everything is in a set order. A mixtape is more dysfunctional. Everybody just throws everything in the pot; it’s gumbo. But an album is a set disc. What I’m about to put out is an album, a set disc. There is a difference between a mixtape and album.
DX: Is there going to be an official Ferg studio album coming out soon?
A$AP Ferg: Yeah, this is going to be the official studio album. It was called a mixtape at first, but now we’re going to put it out as an album.
DX: How are you feeling so far?
A$AP Ferg: It’s going to be all digital…all Internet-based, and I’m definitely excited. This is the first piece of work I’ve ever put together, like ever. I never attempted to put a mixtape together; I never attempted to put an album together; I never thought I was going to be a rapper. This is the first project I’ve worked on. I kind of went extra out of my way to make sure it’s the best, because I don’t know…all I know is go hard, and all I know is how to win. I don’t want to be considered weak or a loser. I think it’s going to make history.
DX: It’s interesting you mentioned everything being all digital and Internet based. As you guys were entering the Rap game, was social media something you relied on to give your crew that extra push?
A$AP Ferg: Of course. That was our only way to the people. It was the smartest thing to do. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace—we already had thousands of followers so we knew if we had put a song out, we’d get all of those hits. It’s the smartest thing to do.
DX: How are you going to implement social media to give your album that extra push?
A$AP Ferg: We’re going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing.
DX: That’s dope because wasn’t it A$AP Yams’ Tumblr that caught fire and got the crew so much recognition throughout the Internet?
A$AP Ferg: Yams had like the top three Tumblrs in the world. It was called Real Nigga Tumblr.