When I was first hipped to A$AP Rocky back in the summer of 2011, it was primarily because my homeboy Travis (a.k.a. my music store/magazine) wanted me to check the ambient Clams Casino production Rocky was rocking over. This was around the time that the kid was blowing and a lot of that had to do with things I found gimmicky – the grotesque and seemingly arbitrary label name-dropping and, of course, the silly novelty of this Harlem kid flowing like he grew up in Texas.
Then I saw his debut video, “Purple Swag,” and it featured a white girl rocking gold fronts, mouthing the word “nigga.” Word, though? There was also his turn as a black John Kennedy in Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem” video, which seemed like another stunt/ploy. To me, the young homie came like a Lil B-type amateur provocateur with only moderately better bars. The differences being that he had better production and he was born in Harlem, USA, so he wasn’t a cornball.
Gradually over the past year, however, Rocky’s shown himself to be not only an artist of merit (I dig LongLiveA$AP), but also a precocious, thoughtful young man.
Late last year, in a video interview with Hard Knock TV, he dropped some nuggets on homophobia and interracial dating that were notably self-assured and progressive when you recognize he’s a product of an environment that can often breed a narrow worldview.
Recently, though, he was the subject of a profile in men’s style journal Mr. Porter where he offered a gem that I thought belied a self-aware kid grounded in a respect for craft and, dare I say it, some well-placed humility. Peep it:
A$AP arrives at the MR PORTER shoot wearing clothes by Jil Sander, Balenciaga and Junya Watanabe, but, again breaking the rap mould, says he has no plans to set up his own fashion brand. "I don't want to. It would be disrespectful to take my stardom and bully my way into the fashion industry, because I didn't go to [fashion] school to learn about design, sketching and fabrics. I just enjoy it; I'm a consumer."
Celebrities are known for delusional leaps into industries they have no business in. Hilary Duff made an album. Rihanna just won a Razzie Award (the anti-Oscar) for her leaden performance in Battleship. But nothing has tugged celebrities into too-deep waters more than the fashion industry.
A couple of years ago, Complex.com compiled “The 20 Worst Celebrity Clothing Line Fails.” It’s full of cover-your-eyes blasts from the past. My favorite being Cam’ron’s Vivali line, which, he said, translated to “I’m fly” in Italian. Cam claimed, “I’m not doing a sports clothing line. I’m doing a straight up couture line.” Now that’s some audacity. The line premiered in 2005 and it was shutdown in 2005.
Hip-hop has had some pretty special offenders of this conceit. For the past 20 years, it seems like if an artist sells even 100,000 albums, they’re coming out with a clothing line. There’s certainly something admirable about hip-hop’s entrepreneurial spirit. It’s become a tenet of the culture. And we should be careful about clowning young men and women interested in making their own wears and lining the pockets of the designers these rappers and singers mention ad nauseum. But, come on, fam…there’s no justifying Busta Rhymes’ Bushi Sport or OutKast Clothing. For every Sean John, there’s a Vokal. And, of course, it’s not just hip-hoppers. The Situ-freaking-ation had a clothing line.
These celebrities need to take some cues from young Rocky and have a few seats when it comes to fashion design. Those seats can be on the front row of some Fashion Week premiere – but take a seat nonetheless.