MUSIC
06/20/2014 01:41 EDT | Updated 06/20/2014 01:59 EDT

A$AP Ferg Talks Changing The World, Shabba Ranks And Why He Never Packs

Ilya S. Savenok via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: A$AP Ferg Stops by Music Choice to Kick off their Take Back Your Music Campaign on August 19, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

If you’re into hip-hop you know that A$AP Rocky isn’t the only member of the Mob who can draw a crowd. This was the year of Ferg.

"Trap Lord," the first solo effort of the self-appointed Hood Pope, featured artists from his old friend A$AP Rocky to Big K.R.I.T., to Wiz Khalifa. He won the BET Hip-Hop Award for "Rookie of the Year," and he managed to make a seriously good song about not-so-serious Shabba Ranks.

From designing to directing to songwriting, Ferg sees himself as an artist in all kinds of media -- we don’t disagree. He also loves Canada, which only makes us love him more. He took some time to chat with us in advance of his NXNE show in Toronto -- don’t miss it.

What’s it like when you’re on tour?

Tour is fun. I’m not on tour right now, but I was tour for about three or four months. I did like New Zealand, I did Australia, I was out there for about three weeks. And then I came back to L.A. and I did Coachella. Then I came to Detroit with M.I.A..

How was that?

It was dope. She’s a wonderful person.

Do you prefer to tour solo or with the [A$AP] Mob?

It depends. Like, right now. Because when I perform with the Mob it’s a different kind of thing because I only get to perform like three or four of my songs. And then like when I do my own set I get to perform like more of the slow jams that I love to perform, so it just all depends on what state of mind I’m at. Touring with the Mob is always dope but I like to do my own sets as well.

Is it more of a party with the Mob?

It’s definitely a party with me as well. You know what I’m saying? But it’s two different parties, though. You can feel the difference. The Mob is just more group-oriented, with me it’s just like me, you know what I’m saying?

Do you and the Mob consider yourself New York rappers, or are you less tied to a region? I know that you guys love chopped and screwed [style] and that’s very Houston. So I’m just wondering if the Internet has kind of blurred the regional rap lines?

The Internet definitely did that just as far as the sound and where music has gone sonically. There’s no borders or lines you can’t cross anymore. Everything is getting blended with everything. That’s the dope thing about music now. Some people don’t like it, more of the older people. They want to, you know, go back to old-school New York hip-hop.

But, you know, there was a time for that. There was a time when people was rapping like Kool Moe Dee. There was a time when people was rapping like Biggie and Lost Boyz. There was a time when Dipset was hot and you know rap rhythm. And now it’s like A$AP, it’s a more diverse, kind of versatile, kind of style. Because we’re from Harlem but we’re so cultured we’ve been going to fashion parties and we’ve been skating, we’ve been doing BMX so we’ve been exposed to different kinds of young people. And we’ve been listening to different music way before the Internet.

Would you still call yourself a New York rapper, or is that old-school?

Nah. No city owns me, you know what I’m saying? I’m from New York but no city owns me. Nobody can bottle up my sound and box me in. Yes, I am a rapper, but am I a New York rapper? No. I am from New York, I love New York to death, but I will not conform myself to one place, no.

I’m whoever needs me. I’m that rapper. I’m here to heal people and to help people fucking overcome illnesses and stuff like that with my words. I don’t want to just be a Harlem rapper, rapping about my neighbourhood all the damn time. It gets boring, you know what I’m saying?

What’s your relationship to Shabba Ranks? Why make a song about him?

I wanted it to be a pop song. Not pop as in Britney Spears pop, but pop as in the art, the medium. I wanted it to be iconic. I used an iconic figure, which was Shabba Ranks, people wasn’t talking about him. And I just felt like he was kind of one of those lost souls. You know, like he was one of those great people who people had kind of forgotten about?

He was like one of the second Jamaican artists to go platinum besides Bob Marley and he brought Jamaican music to hip-hop. Like, he made it mainstream. I’m not saying he was the first to actually do a record with a hip-hop artist, but he made it mainstream and cool. He was the only Jamaican artist I’d seen on “Rap City” as a kid growing up. That was the reason why I chose to use him. And then my roots is from Trinidad, I’m West Indian, so I kind of wanted to take it back to my roots, basically. He was Jamaican but, at the same time, we listened to the same type of music, Soca and all this other type of stuff. This was basically taking it back to the island. I had fun with it, so I was just hoping people would have fun dancing to it.

Who are some of your other musical influences?

I mean, everybody I come across. Everybody from Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, all the way to motherfuckin’ Elvis, to not even just rappers and rock stars. Everybody, like artists, like Basquiat, and like Jeff Cahill, and Andy Warhol and all these different artists, Jay West. These are artists who inspire me to be innovative in my medium, because they broke boundaries and did things people wasn’t doing. Basquiat was selling art off napkins when he was poor. It’s the stories, too, behind it. It’s not so much the art with me, it’s like the artists. Like, Andy Warhol’s art wasn’t that interesting to me. He was more interesting to me as a person. He was art himself. I don’t even think he was really into art, per se. He may have liked to do it, but I think he was more into people being into him.

Interview continues after slideshow

Summer Music Festival Guide 2014

Is that something you can relate to now that you’re famous?

Before I started rapping, I just wanted to be a writer. But I guess I have one of those -- my charisma wouldn’t allow me to just be behind the scenes. I wish I could do more of directing videos and just making songs, being a songwriter, and a producer, producing music, set it up from scratch with like a whole orchestra and like put those strings together with drums and bass and pianos and shit like that. I want to pull music together, but people want to see me so I have to talk, and do this, and do that, and touch people, and kiss babies and things like that. Which I have no problem doing because God -- this is what God gave me. It’s a gift. So, this is my path.

I enjoy being an artist. I don’t care about the fame. I want to change the world. I don’t care about money. I just want to change the world. I’m good. I’ve exceeded past expectations for myself. I never thought that I would be here, traveling to Australia twice in two years, New Zealand. You know, it’s like crazy shit. Seeing the world.

You’ve also been designing for many years. Do you find any similarities between the two processes?

It’s just the creative aspect of it that’s the same. It’s like building from scratch, like coming up with an idea and actually seeing it come into fruition -- people wearing your idea, or people reciting your idea. That’s the same thing. But me, as an artist, I believe that all artists have to work on seven projects at the same time. And the reason why seven is because, while you’re working on all seven projects, each project are bouncing off of each other. You get inspired by your videos to make music, the music is inspiring the videos, you sound is inspiring the music and your clothes may be inspiring your set design for your stage, and your stage -- you’ll be like, “if I can make a play on stage, then I can reenact this on a film or video.” I use different mediums to make art.

Seven projects at once seems like a lot! Do you have a giant calendar to keep track of all your projects?

Nah, I don’t got no calendar. I leave that up to my managers and everybody else. I never know what’s happening tomorrow. They’ll be like “yo, you packed yet?” and I’ll be like “what?” and they’ll be like “you’re going to Alaska tomorrow, in like four hours.” So, you know what I do? I’ve never packed because I hate luggage. I’ve never packed, I just go shopping when I get there.

What about a toothbrush?

Alright, so I have this Stephen Sprouse Louis bag that I bring everywhere with me. I got it from Japan. I pack like, my necessities. I take like underwear and shit like that. And I have this...you know the toothbrushes with the battery in it? My mom got me that toothbrush, so I just take it everywhere with me.

What do you think of Canada?

I love Canada.

What do you like about it?

The girls. Because it’s just all sorts of different flavours. It’s like walking into a Ben and Jerry’s.

Especially in Toronto.

I love Toronto, I love Montreal. I love all of Canada -- Vancouver. And they show love, too. It’s not one of those places you go and they’re just looking at me. They show the love.

People put a lot of heat on Canada for not being cool, though.

First of all, Canada has some of the best up and coming artists coming out of Canada. Look at PartyNextDoor. Drake is an artist from Canada. There’s more people, it’s not coming to mind right now, but Canada has like a creative sound. It reminds me of Iceland. Like, not as far as like climate or landscape or whatever, but just as far as having different artists and being innovative in their art.

Thanks so much for talking with me. It’s my birthday, so this was a nice birthday present.

Oh happy birthday! [Sings “Happy Birthday”]. You can tell ‘em I sung Happy Birthday to you.

Oh, I’m going to tell everyone.

Catch A$AP Ferg at NXNE Friday at 12 a.m. at Tattoo.