A$AP Rocky’s creative process is explored in the latest episode of HipHopDX’s “Deep Dive” YouTube series — watch it below.
The 20-minute video sheds light on the Harlem rapper’s hands-on approach in the lab, his often overlooked talents as a producer, and his Kanye West-esque ability to bring the right group of people together, from Hip Hop heavyweights to hidden gems.
Despite his love for fashion, Pretty Flacko is far from style over substance. The A$AP Mob frontman is often seen situated right next to whichever producer he’s working with in the studio and offering his creative input, right down to minor details.
One clip from 2012 shows Rocky putting the finishing touches on “Goldie” with Hit-Boy, instructing the future super producer to add extra “knock” to a specific part of the song to punctuate one of his braggadocious lines.
That eye for detail and commitment to quality hasn’t diminished, as seen in a more recent video where Rocky works on “Feel the Fiyaaaah” with Metro Boomin and encourages the multi-platinum hitmaker to stutter the vocal sample and pitch it out of tune. “You know how to get weird with it,” he tells Metro. “Get weird a little bit.”
A$AP Rocky has been known to get busy behind the boards himself. Since being taught how to make beats in 2011 by SpaceGhostPurrp and A$AP Ty Beats, he’s had co-production credits on each of his studio albums. At one point he was even planning to release an instrumental project called Beauty & the Beast: Slowed Down Sessions (Chapter 1), which he described as a mix of “really druggy, ambient shit” with “classical music and boom-bap Wu-Tang shit mixed together.”
Having rose to fame as a member of Harlem’s A$AP Mob, crew love is at the heart of A$AP Rocky’s approach to creativity. Much like his “Jukebox Joints” collaborator Ye, the 34-year-old has a knack for assembling an all-star cast of artists and bringing the best out of each of them, just as he did with “Fuckin’ Problems.”
In one part of the episode, 2 Chainz — who featured on the song alongside Drake and Kendrick Lamar — explains that he originally sent a “hard-ass verse” to Drizzy before Rocky got his hands on his vocals and shrewdly chopped them down to make them the hook of the track, which went on to crack the top 10 of the Billboard 200 and be certified 7x platinum.
But it’s not just A-list names Rocky is drawn to. While making his 2015 album AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP in London, the Harlem native plucked British musician Joe Fox from off the street (literally) and featured him on several songs on the project.
“He was a street performer … I was at Dean’s studio until 4 a.m. I came outside and we waiting for our Uber to go to Starbucks, tired. This kid comes with his guitar. He was out there playing and stuff,” Rocky explained during an interview with Hot 97.
“It was about 4 a.m. so there’s nobody in the streets. He tried to give me a CD and shit. I was like, ‘I’m not about to listen to that, man. Play something. You got your guitar.’ He played it and I was just like, ‘Stop, man. Come on, let’s go.’ That’s where it started.”
Similarly, A$AP Rocky was blessed to have a guiding figure in his own music career. That person was A$AP Yams, a budding executive, tastemaker and rap nerd who once described himself as the Yoda to Rocky’s Luke Skywalker.
“Rakim Mayers turned into A$AP Rocky in 2007,” Flacko explains in the episode. “I seen a bunch of jiggy muthafuckas in ’06, and I was like, ‘Man, I’m dressing like this. They dressing like me too, we need to be gang.’
“Next thing I knew, I started fucking with my boy A$AP Bari and A$AP Illz, and then they was like, ‘Yo, come fuck with us with A$AP, but you gotta meet A$AP Yams.’ At the time, his name was Stevie E … They were like, ‘He the truth!'”
Sadly, Yams (real name Steven Rodriguez) died of an accidental overdose in 2015 when he was just 26 years old. As producer Kelvin Krash explains in one clip, though, his spirit continues to live on.
“It was an experience I’ve never witnessed before,” he says while reflecting on the making of “Sandman.” “I had to step outside the room. It just felt weird, like someone was there, like a presence. I came back in and I told Flacko. He told me it was Yams.”
Even though Yams is no longer here in the physical, A$AP Rocky has remained committed to keeping his late friend and collaborator’s name alive while continuing their mission to move the needle.
“I was put on this Earth to make good music and inspire people,” he says in the episode while reflecting on his musical impact. “Change and shift moods. I’m a mood changer. That’s what I’m here to do.”