Harlem Native A$AP Nast on Creating, and Dealing With, the World He Exists In
- Interview: Kevin Pires
- Photography: Saamuel Richard
A$AP Nast, the rapper and 26-year-old cousin to Rocky, stands by a rack of clothing. He inspects the fabrics and fits with unusual precision and tries on a pair of ballooning Yohji Yamamoto pants. Nast’s love of fashion is emblematic of a movement in rap, one that the A$AP Mob collective has popularized and propagated. At this time, the job description of the hip hop star has ventured into areas previously unknown—from mentoring fans in his Instagram comments to preferring thrift shopping field trips over breakfast. Nast’s grunge-inspired music taps into the soul of ultimate teenage angst to create work that represents the hybridized magic that is the future of hip hop. And the collective that surrounds him has perfected the solitary art of this rewritten rule: loneliness is fun when you do it together.
Kevin Pires spoke to A$AP Nast on a rainy LA evening about what it means to be a rapper for the new millennium, the communal listening habits that define us, and the style that took him worldwide.
One of the cool things about your generation of rappers is that you're pretty different from those that came before you. What do you think it means to be a rapper these days?
Being a rapper is just being who you are. It's not who I woke up and said I wanted to be. The main thing about rapping is having a story to tell. My favorite MCs are really lyricists that have something to say. It's about listening to the next man's story, and taking from it what you will. Knowing what this guy says on his rap, and what his story is, may help you with your own life and have it play out the way you want it to.
What do you think makes your generation different?
You say my generation, but I don't know. I'm cool with this generation of music, but music is just sound to my ears. You either like it, or you don't. Who can't make a rap these days? Everyone's hopping out the woodwork like, "Yo I'm a rapper." It's disrespectful almost because you don't acknowledge the greats and the pioneers and the people who've paved the way for you to be an MC today. Hip hop has changed. I don't want to say whether it's for the better or worse. But it has changed. I can accept both sides though. I love the golden era, and the boom bap era of hip hop. That's what made me pick up a pen and that's what made me want to get to the nearest studio and lay down my raps and my story. I can also appreciate the new generation and their music. It's feel good stuff. It's stuff that makes you want to dance. You dab and you get your 1, 2 on. Some of it’s really cool to hear out in the club, or when you’re with your friends. Sometimes these songs can really help you out, they can brighten up your moment. You feel better just from hearing your favorite Migos song, or your favorite Lil Yachty record. It's all music to me.
When I make music I know my brothers are going to genuinely like it. That's who I'm doing it for.
I hadn't thought about it like that. That the rap that's being made these days is about communal listening. We might have gotten away from that with the birth of headphones, but there seems to be a return to the human connection that music creates.
Exactly. In the past, it was listening for a personal reason. Now it's about riding with your friends. Obviously you're still going to have those moments where you throw your headphones on, and you listen to your favorite jam, but I feel like this generation is all about listening to music together. You’re out and hear a song and hit up your friend like, "Yo have you heard this?” Most of the music I want to make is real golden era hip hop kind of shit. That's the sound that made me want to make music. That's where I really shine. That's when I'm at my best lyrically and musically. I think my fans want to hear more of that from me.
And do you want to do more of it?
I would definitely rather do more of that then the shit that's going on now, but I can appreciate it.
Who can't make a rap these days? Everyone's hopping out the woodwork like, ‘Yo I'm a rapper.
A$AP Mob changed the way people think about the intersection of rap and fashion. What do you think makes you different?
We just don't give a fuck. We're not really trying to make sense. You either get it, or you don’t. We don't really care if anyone else listens and says, "Oh right this makes sense." We make music for ourselves.
Being a rapper in 2016 requires being a performer of course but also having a distinct fashion presence.
It's all about style these days. Time has proven that you have to really be the whole package. People have to want to do everything like you. Because there's so many new people coming out nowadays, style is everything. If you don't have style, kids are like: "Who the fuck is this guy? I don't care what he's saying. What are you wearing?" A$AP Mob played a major part in that because we came in on some fashionable rapper shit. We’re not average, and that's what gave us eyes. Style took us worldwide.
Do you think you're born with it?
100%—this is something that we've always been doing. If we weren't rappers we would still be in fashion. The world would have discovered us somehow. Not to take this fucking interview up a mountain—
I remember being out in fashion week and thriving off one another. We felt like we were the only ones. We couldn't go a day without finding something new. It was a new Raf, or a new Margiela, or some emerging brand that we were just discovering for the first time. It was a competitive sport to us. That's part of the reason why we felt like we were alone. We didn't look for anyone else doing the same thing. We were just always trying to impress one another.
I watched the video you made calling out people for copying your style and was thinking about the fact that people talked shit when you wore brands like Raf and Rick back in the day. Now every rapper name checks all those brands in their songs. What changed that?
Us. That's probably the reason why lately we've been calming down on a lot of that. When you're doing something good, people are going to follow regardless. You're not always going to get credit for it though. If they aren't biting, if they aren't copying, then what are you doing? I've come to really start to notice that myself. I remember being in the club and getting into fights. This one got his hair pulled, and this one got punched in the eye. We had to beat a dude up all because of the way we dressed. We've always accepted who we were, but it was very difficult back then for us to be the way we were, and be as stylish as we were, and not get teased for it. The fact that we were picked on, and had to get into fights over that, yeah of course we’re going to be fucking angry if we see a guy trying to do the same exact style. You would too.
It's like taking one of your rhymes.
Exactly. If a dude steals your rhymes you’d be like, "That's mine." But the proof is in the pudding. You can go back to that record: “What did he say? Okay, fast forward. Now what did he say? Okay cool, he stole that, got you.”
What do you feel is the difference between someone copying you and someone being inspired by you?
When you're inspired by something you have no problem showing that you're inspired by someone. When you copy someone, you don't give them credit.
You hide it.
You hide it. It's like, "Wow I'm going to jack this one." It's not, "Yo, dude I'm inspired by what you did." You can clearly see it.
You don't get a selfie with a man while he's buying his under-wear.
Do you ever look at it from afar and see your influence, and then get upset that you're not given the credit for it?
That's the reason why I love guys like Wiz Khalifa and Kanye. As big as Kanye's ego is, he'll call you up and say, "I'm inspired by you." As big as Wiz’s ego may be, he'll be interviewed and say: "I genuinely love those guys. Those are my brothers. I appreciate what they were doing. They helped me out." You know what I'm saying? Hats off every time.
Sometimes you post vintage pieces that you're looking for on Instagram. Do you think that you do that in an effort to not be copied because vintage is one of a kind?
No. I just like vintage, because I love vintage. That was always me. I love to go thrift shopping. I don't know if people know, but I'll wake up in the morning and go shopping. I don't even want to eat. Me and my girl will go searching around and find some things. It's just that.
Do you think it's the search element?
Yeah, I'm the type of person that can go into a shop that doesn’t have shit and come out with something.
That feeling is unbelievable.
Yeah, it's like a small orgasm.
You often use your social platforms to talk about the issues that are important to you. Recently you posted a video of a man disrespecting a woman at a Russian airport. Do you feel a responsibility to do that because you have people paying attention to you?
It's me being me, and it caught me in the moment. I wanted to share it to the world and let the people see that. Like: “This type of stuff is going on. It's not cool, it's not okay.” I went back to my hotel and was really fucked up after seeing that. If it wasn't for women we wouldn't be here.
You've also posted about disliking both of the presidential candidates—
I sure do.
I think the reason things ended up the way they did was because people felt really uninspired by both of them.
I think neither one of them were. I don't care to say why. I have my own reasons for why. It’s crazy how neither one of them is fit, but they want people to go out and vote. When you say go out and vote, vote for who? Who am I voting for?
Who would you want to vote for? What's that person look like in your mind?
I’ll tell you one thing, they wouldn't look like any of the presidents that we've had in the past.
Is it another Barack?
I can't say it's another Barack. I respect Barack but I also know Barack's position.
Hip hop has changed. I don't want to say whether it's for the better or worse. But it has changed.
Do you ever respond to people who talk to you in their comments?
All the time. I’ll tell some people to fuck off, suck a fat one. It depends how you make me feel. I mentor kids in my comments. You can catch me cursing some of them out. It depends on how you make me feel. I'm a person. I'm a human and I have feelings.
It doesn't matter how many followers I have on Instagram, or how many fucking popping videos I've put out, or how many fans I have. It doesn't matter, I'm a human. I eat, sleep, shit just like you, and I need air to breathe.
What’s your least favorite part about being famous?
Nothing's personal. I'll be in the fucking underwear section and people will ask, "Hey, you think I can get a selfie?" You don't get a selfie with a man while he's buying his underwear. I'll say no to them and then I'll go on social media and I'll see, "I met A$AP Nast. Man, he's a real dick." I'm like: “Bro you're the dick.” Are you kidding me? I was shopping for underwear. Should I have put them on my fucking head and taken a selfie?
You’ve referenced Nirvana among your inspirations. What is it about that world that speaks to you?
It's lonely. It reminds me of the past. It's a cold place, but somehow it's still fun. It's dark but you can have fun doing it. Think of those old Nirvana videos—like Kurt and those guys doing their thing. Some of those songs were really fucking cold and lonely, but you have fun to them. You can dress up to them. You can go out listening to them. A lot of what I do comes from early punk rock shit, and just rock shit period, old hip hop. I like to give you a little bit of the past and the present.
- Interview: Kevin Pires
- Photography: Saamuel Richard
- Styling: A$AP Nast