How A$AP Ferg Used Self-Care to Recharge His Musical Career
I Got It Made
With plans to release a flurry of music in late 2019, A$AP Ferg is taking the lessons he’s learned throughout his career and changing his approach.
Interview: Robby Seabrook III
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
On a lively, late summer Friday, A$AP Ferg is mingling inside Juke Box Juice & Salad Bar, a small, olive-painted eatery in Harlem. Decked out in a fitted grey tee and black Adidas by Stella McCartney shorts, the 31-year-old rapper chats up the shop’s employees under the watchful eye of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix paintings. In the midst of a post-workout meal, he offers up a round of cleansing juice bar shots for his team and reflects on his own health journey, which has included a three-month stint as a vegan (these days his diet is “more plant-based, less meat,” he says). Look closely at his career and you’ll see that he applies the same discipline and focus.
It’s been eight years since A$AP Ferg first entered the public hip-hop consciousness after appearing on A$AP Rocky’s 2011 mixtape, Live.Love.A$AP. Since that breakout verse on “Kissin’ Pink,” the Harlem vet has since continuously strived as the most prolific member of his A$AP Mob crew, dropping two studio albums (2013’s Trap Lord, 2016’s Always Strive and Prosper) and two mixtapes (Ferg Forever in 2014 and Still Striving in 2017), all of which have yielded a plethora of playlist staples (from “Shabba” to “Plain Jane”). Through it all, Ferg has remained grounded.
In August, A$AP Ferg dropped his Floor Seats EP, offering a fresh take on his boisterous-yet-polished sound (including a few songs that venture into full-blown R&B). It’s a rejuvenated restart after dedicating the past two years to prioritizing self-care. With Rocky back on American soil after his highly-publicized, nearly month-long detainment in Sweden due to assault charges, Ferg is pushing forward in his solo career while getting back into the swing of things with his newly freed friend. Ferg sits down with XXL to speak about maintaining his individuality within A$AP Mob, lessons he’s learned from Wu-Tang Clan and dealing with the anxiety of success.
XXL: Looking back on your career, you’ve made a lane for yourself despite coming up alongside another magnetic star in A$AP Rocky. Songs like “Shabba,” “Work” and “New Level” have stood the test of time. Why do you think it all worked out for you?
A$AP Ferg: When artists know who they are, it don’t matter who’s standing around. I can stand around Jay-Z. I can stand around Kanye West. I’m still gonna be Ferg. Ferg has his own brand. Ferg was Ferg before I met Rocky. Ferg was Ferg before I got introduced into the world of the A$AP. I think it’s a sense of pride, a sense of confidence. It’s my family, the way they raised me. I was doing major things before I even started rapping. I was screening T-shirts for Bad Boy [Records] and doing stuff for Jadakiss and The Lox. I was making belts and designing clothes for artists. I had a business running, so I already knew myself. I knew what I could do if I stuck my mind to it. It’s still nothing for me to stand around artists that’s big as me or bigger than me.
Your latest release, Floor Seats, sounds like your earlier work with a new twist. How do you continue to evolve as an artist?
That’s exactly what it is—it was made to evolve my sound and take people on a journey. Also, me taking time off, a lot of artists be feeling like they got to stay relevant and just put out music sometimes when they don’t got nothing to say. They fall on their face. They burn themselves out. They burn their brands out and they don’t feel special anymore. I refuse to do that. My whole thing is mystique and resonating with people.
The project’s title track sounds like it could have staying power akin to your aforementioned hits.
That’s the power of music. When I’m gone and I go into the next dimension, the music is still here. That’s why it’s so important that we put out things that [are] intentional and purposeful, because once we gone, the music is still here. That’s why I don’t rush to put things out. Not only does it represent you, it represents where you’re going.
You and Rico Nasty sound like a perfect fit on “Butt Naked.” Is she someone that you sought out?
She is. I didn’t have to look too hard because a lot of good artists and great music comes past me before it even hits the world. I knew about Desiigner [early]. I was hanging out with [Lil] Uzi [Vert] and putting him on music before he even blew up. I knew about Rico Nasty when she was brewing. She was hot underground before she made her appearance mainstream. When I heard her music [and] I got introduced to her look, everything was a character. I love working with characters. She wanted to paint the world her colors. She wanted to stylize her fans in a specific way. It reminds me of Missy [Elliott]. It reminds me of Aaliyah, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes. She definitely is a part of my tribe, a star on the rise.
I wanted to work with more females for this project [to] keep the movement that was happening with the success of the “Plain Jane” remix with Nicki [Minaj]. I’ve realized that girls love that shit. They love [me] being on songs with the girls they love. I wanted to make it a thing, so I started working with Rico. I had a song called “Wigs” with Antha, which is my artist, and Asian Doll, [and] another version of it with City Girls.
How has New York City rap changed since before you were putting music out?
New York City rap changed because we had just got our rack of new artists with a different style. There’s a lot of singing and they get younger and younger. We’ve got A Boogie, TJ Porter, Lil Tjay, [Jay] Gwuapo. Also, they respect what came before them, they just doing it they own way. Like we did it our own way.
Where does A$AP Mob land in the history of New York City rap crews like G-Unit and Diplomats?
I don’t know A$AP Mob’s legacy because we still writing it. That’s hard to say. I feel like we still early. There’s so much stuff that I’m trying to paint, pictures that I’m trying to paint, things that I wanna show the world. I know it’ll be big. We already have great careers so I could project that it’s gonna be a great legacy.
Did you ever think the crew would come this far?
I always knew that we would be big. I always knew that I would be big. I didn’t know what I would be doing or how I’d be doing it, but I always knew that I would be somebody influential and important. That’s the truth. Even before I knew I was gonna be a rapper, I knew that I’d be someone that can obtain things and have power of some sort.
Through A$AP Yams’ death, A$AP Rocky’s arrest in Sweden, how do you guys stick together no matter what?
I don’t look at it like we could get through anything; I just look at it like family. You might go through arguments or ups and down with your family, but at the end of the day, that’s still your mother. That’s still your brother. That’s still your cousin. The difference is, we business partners as well. When I look at Wu-Tang [Clan]’s stories and shit like that, they had business issues. I don’t ever want that to come between us. Even when Yams was alive. You can’t be afraid to talk and express how you feel about things you feel that ain’t right. Come to an agreement. We never allowed money to change us.
I always told Rocky, “This shit don’t mean nothing if we can’t be friends or brothers.” When you make it big, who are you around, who’s your community? You either gonna have a bunch of fake muthafuckas around—people that don’t care about you, you damn near passing out and dying and nobody cares to pick you up and get you better. You don’t wanna be around that. We should be showing up to each other’s weddings and [being] best men and shit like that. We don’t need to be breaking up over no music. Everybody handles fame differently.
We from Harlem; we was famous before we was famous, so nothing was a surprise for us.
Is it business as usual now that A$AP Rocky is home from his legal situation in Sweden?
It’s not back to normal because he’s still dealing with... He didn’t really hit press yet. He gonna get a lot of questions that people [are] asking me that they need to ask him. I won’t say it’s fully back to normal. It’s 75 percent there.
Have you two recorded together since he got back to the U.S.?
I did. We recorded some music together. He’s been gone, so we’re just trying to live a little bit.
How was it shooting the video for his song “Babushka Boi”?
We did that “Babushka” shoot before he got locked up. A production like that, that shit is a fucking movie. That shit took two days, hours of makeup each day. We shot that shit all in a studio setting. Them houses and stuff is not real houses. It was on a fake street. I knew that people wouldn’t know it’s me—it don’t look like me. If I looked like that, that would be a problem.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed about how well things have gone in your career?
That’s where anxiety comes from. You start to feel like, Damn, is this really my life? I’m pretty sure every artist has gone through it: No privacy, I’m this fucking mega superstar, I’m gonna have to take pictures when I’m not feeling so handsome. I don’t know if fans really realize that artists have to go through it. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of internal thinking. It’s a lot of wondering if you’re doing things for yourself or if you’re doing them for your career. My anxiety was coming from having to embrace and face who I’ve become. I had to go get a house because it’s overwhelming when I’m in the hood and people running up to me all the time. I can’t live in Harlem no more.
What has been the toughest stretch of your career so far?
The two years that I took off I was re-adjusting. I got a house. I had to switch accountants—just getting my life in order. Grieving; my first girlfriend passed away. Taking time to see family and getting to recording again. Who’s going to do merchandise, what’s the rollout for this album and how we gonna do it bigger and better?
How do you maintain your inner peace?
I meditate. I work out. I’m very militant as well. I’m not like one of these kids that’s out here with my head on a swivel just fucking doing anything. I’m very aware of myself. I’m always checking on myself, asking myself, “Do I really wanna do this? Am I doing it just because I’m trying to please the people that’s around me?” I just do more of what I wanna do. It’s so easy for an artist to get burnt out. We live a dream, right? But people don’t know that it takes militance, strength and willpower to live this dream. What happens when you have access to the world? It’s just like water. Water could kill you with too much pressure. The world could kill you with too much pressure. You can have anything you want, go wild, but is it really about that? Or is it about taking things that you can use to evolve yourself into a more enlightened person or the better you?
Some people don’t know they purpose. It’s so easy to get into shit and hard to get out of [it]. In Harlem, I’ve seen people do shit that they ain’t come back from. That shit is scary. It’s a scary world. I always been scared as a young man, but as I grew I was like, “Why?” That causes anxiety, too. I be like, “Yo, why these people look homeless?” Or I’d have conversations with homeless people when I was a kid. “Why you like this? What happened to your family?” They be like, “I don’t know.” I be like, “What do you mean?” I learned to be scared of it. I learned to embrace it and also how to use it to my advantage. Know that there are traps that you can step into that are fucking hard to get out of. I don’t play with that shit.
You turn 31 in October. Has getting older changed your perspective?
I have great parents that told me a lot of this stuff that would happen. Now, for me seeing it myself, it’s just validating it. I go back to a lot of those old lessons my parents used to give me: You see a fight happening on a corner, go the opposite way. You see fire, don’t touch it, you get burned.
What’s the most important lesson they’ve taught you?
It’s easy to get into shit that’s hard to get out of. It’s for everybody, but especially entertainers, because they try to use us as examples. They can’t wait for us to slip up, especially as a minority. So, we can’t. I can’t slip up. It’s like walking on eggshells. There was a time where I’d get into an elevator with a White person and feel like I gotta be completely quiet or smile and act out of my character because I was uncomfortable. I shouldn’t be uncomfortable, because I’m a human just like them. Those things that you see in the inner city for urban kids, that could ruin your confidence. It’s important for you to know yourself and have parents that teach you history.
The experiences you have with racism wear on you. You don’t just shake it off.
My parents putting me in Fresh Air Fund and me going to see my White family, the McCalls… I went to see them every year for about four years for two weeks out of the summer. They lived different. They lived in the country. We went to church. We drank milk for dinner. We went groundhog hunting. We ate deer burgers. We lived a complete different lifestyle and I saw how human they were. I saw their humor, the jokes, everything. They loved me; I loved them. I was more open and more perceptive to everybody. I went to art school. I dealt with everybody. A lot of people that don’t get a chance to experience that, it creates things that manifest in them later, hatred or whatever.
What’s next for you musically?
More videos. I’m gonna be dropping so much music. We going in a different direction. Sonically, it’s still Ferg, it’s just more fun-ish, more experimental-ish, more turnt up. It’s a breath of fresh air. I got a lot of music dropping. They gonna be like, “Damn, Ferg is back like he never left.”
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