• It's time: “Grow up. Find a job.” The influential rapper A$AP Rocky and the CLA Coupé.

    “Mercedes is iconic.”

    US rap star A$AP Rocky opens up about his childhood as part of Mercedes-Benz’s “Grow up” campaign. What do the artist and the brand have in common?

    Interview: Alard von Kittlitz | Photos: Alice Moitié

“It’s like a microcosm.”

Rocky, your breakthrough as a rapper came in 2011. Since then, you’ve also made a name for yourself as a designer, model, head of a record label and actor. The A$AP collective, of which you are a member, has become a sort of creative agency, producing music, fashion and films. Did you always want to have your fingers in so many pies?

I’m from Harlem, man. So by nature I like to go beyond the norm, try different things out, satisfy my curiosity. I know that I have a lot of talents. So why shouldn’t I try to live them all out?

Did the area you grew up in really play such an important role in shaping these aspects of your personality?

Without a doubt. Back in the States, my New York neighbourhood has always been known as “Harlem World”. It’s like a microcosm. It has its own distinct energy, one that for generations has inspired musicians, poets and writers. I’ve always been aware of this legacy. So, yes, my origins have had a huge influence on me. But OK, I was never going to be someone who just did one thing.

Simply cool: A$AP Rocky (centre, leaning on the bonnet of a CLA Coupé, with models in Barcelona) is “incredibly proud” of his collaboration with Mercedes.

“We didn’t have any real plan.“

A lot of talent emerges out of Harlem. Why are you one of the few to make it big?

I never felt like I fitted in any single box. Everything I do ultimately derives from my nature, from my personality. The people I grew up with, they’re a lot like me. We didn’t have any real plan. We were just a bunch of dumb kids hanging round the streets of Harlem. What helped us get so far was our ability to raise our tastes and our ideas to an abstract level. We thought a lot about why things are cool. I was really lucky to find A$AP, to find a group of people who thought just like me. Hanging with the right people is important.

“A partnership has to feel natural and organic from the start.“

A lot of your projects are collaborations. Among these is your work as a designer for the jeans label Guess. How do you decide who you want to work with?

As with anything you pursue with passion: I rely on my instincts. A partnership has to feel natural and organic from the start. There’s no point going into a project and just hoping that, in the end, everyone will have the same objective and the same ideas.

Do you look for partners, too?

Yes, I actually prefer being the one to approach people. Especially when it comes to fashion. I have very specific tastes. But, of course, I also get asked all the time. There are a lot of people who want to be associated with the type of energy A$AP generates.

“The G-Class is one exceptional vehicle.“

And now you’re partnering with Mercedes-Benz. How does this fit into your world? What do you associate with the brand?

Mercedes is iconic. In the hood, having a Mercedes shows you’ve made it. So being associated with the brand is amazing for me.

In the film, you and a CLA Coupé play the lead roles. Do you have a favourite Mercedes?

The two cars by Mercedes I like best are the 1967 SL Cabrio­let – I’ve loved that car for years – and the six-wheel drive G-Class. That is one exceptional vehicle.

Are you happy with the results of the partnership?

Very happy. Mercedes took this crazy event from my childhood and turned it into an incredibly powerful film. It tells my story from a new, unusual perspective, and all the feedback I’ve had back on it has been extremely positive. People were surprised to see Mercedes take on something so hard, so real. So I’m incredibly proud of the fruits of this joint project.

“Sometimes you have no other choice.“

The film tells the story of how your brother’s violent death spurred you to recognise music and rap as a way of getting away from the streets. But it’s one thing to have ideas, another to actually implement them. How did you put your thoughts into action?

Sometimes you have no other choice! [Laughs.] For me anyway, acting on my ideas was the only chance I had. I don’t want to say that going into music was based on calculation alone. No. Music has always been my thing. I love it. I love the culture, the lifestyle. It all feels right to me. But the alternatives – dealing or doing something else illegal – weren’t very appealing. That life killed my brother. Maybe I would’ve gotten lucky, found a good job. Although good jobs don’t make you a lot of money where I come from.

“Yams changed my life.“

What about those around you, or close to you? Do you often see people who want to change but never manage to?

In my experience, real change only happens when people truly want it to happen – on deeper level I mean, an almost unconscious one – and when an opportunity for that change presents itself. But, of course, I always hope that the people I know will experience the change they’re looking for. I pray for them and do my best to help them bring about that change. But often it doesn’t work. How does that old saying go? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

You once said that meeting Yams – founder of the A$AP collective who died of an overdose in 2015 – changed your life.

Man, Yams not only changed my life, he saved it, too.

“Make a conscious note of this moment.“

Do you put that encounter down to luck, coincidence, fate? What role do these factors play in a career like yours?

You need belief, you need luck... [Ponders.] And you need intuition. You need a lot of different things to come together. I did anyway. But I’m happy that everything happened like it happened. I was lucky that me and Yams got along so well. We became best friends. He was my mentor – he saw my career as more important than his own. I’ll always be indebted to him.

The current Mercedes campaign is about growing up. There are benefits to growing up. Like getting your driver’s license. But what aspects of your childhood do you miss?

You don’t have any real worries when you’re a kid. Maybe you have to look after your own toys, know your ABCs. But I never understood the freedom I had. I just wanted to grow up and be allowed to do all the stuff grown-ups do. Today I think kids should be taught to see the happiness that lies in special moments. The best thing you can teach your child is to savour those moments. You have to tell them: “Make a conscious note of this moment. Remember it!” That’s something my parents and my family taught me, thankfully. Now, lots of those special moments from my childhood are etched in my memory.