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In The Lab with A$AP Ferg

FERG-MAINPhoto by Lauren Gesswein

Words by Eric Diep

A$AP Ferg has proven himself with anthemic singles like “Shabba” and “Work” that he’s more than just an understudy to A$AP Rocky. After establishing himself as hip-hop’s hood pope on 2013’s Trap Lord, he has gone to great lengths to continuously grow as an artist, experimenting with new forms of expression and delivering arguably his best music yet. The Harlem native’s been able to pull off songs with YG, Ariana Grande and SBTRKT—all from vastly different genres—that show he is building up a refined musical palette. Much like Rocky, Ferg is able to branch outside his comfort zone and hit the ground running.

Ferg’s new direction is displayed on Ferg Forever. Backed by a selection of well-placed producers like Crystal Caines, Stelios Phili, Clams Casino, Big K.R.I.T. and more, Ferg toys with flows and styles on the mixtape that represent his varied influences. It represents a young rapper trusting his gut feeling and trying something different, while preparing us for a unique aesthetic on his sophomore album.

For Nah Right’s latest studio sit-down, we traveled to Polo Grounds in the Bronx to speak with Fergenstein. Learn about things like Ferg’s recording process for Ferg Forever, his studio rules, his favorite artist to work with and why you shouldn’t box him in as an artist. This is how the Trap Lord puts in work in the lab.

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Studio essentials

“Sometimes, candles. But if I got dim lights I like to mess with dim lights because it kind of puts me in the vibe. I can just create ‘cause I don’t like it too bright. I like to record during the day going into the night so I can actually go out and party and [have] dinner or some shit after the studio. I treat it like a job, like a 9 to 5 type thing. I don’t get up at 9, but I do a good 12 in the afternoon until like 7.”

“I’m not the type to have a gazillion people in the studio [who are] drinking, smoking. That’s not me. I rather get it done—me, by myself—and the engineer or producers or whatever. I like to jam out with musicians, playing instruments and shit like that. Other than that, if you are not working or if you are not about to lay nothing down, I don’t need you in the studio. I don’t want anybody falling asleep in the studio. You get kicked out. You get water poured on you. I’m just really about the art; I am trying to get in the zone when I am creating. So, I like to do it in the day time when I am nice and energetic and I can kick out a couple joints and ideas. And go about my night because I want to get inspired by nighttime. I want to be able to go out and enjoy the night. Go out to the club or go out and have some drinks and have dinner like I said. I want to live life so I can have something to write about. If you just stuck in the studio, you are just writing about the same bullshit every day. Like, you not living.”

On his studio rules

“My main shit is no sleeping. I hate when engineers fall asleep—when they can’t hang. Because I’m like, “Let’s get this idea down. Then, let’s go to the next one.” If I see you falling asleep, I’m screaming in the booth: “Wake up! Wake the fuck up!” I’m going crazy. I flips fast, but it all comes from a good place in my heart. I want to see everybody win. You can’t win if you are sleeping.”

Ferg-Studio1

Recording with the A$AP Mob

“We were never rowdy in the studio because it was the same thing. If you were down with the [A$AP] Mob and you ain’t rap or you ain’t doing nothing, you had to be doing something. You had to be bringing something to the studio for us or whatever like that. I don’t ever remember being like mad girls in the studio or whatever because it is a place of work. Everybody bring their one little piece to chill out for a bit. You probably impress a bitch ‘cause you in a nice ass studio for the first time, so you gotta show that shit. For the most part, we take our craft serious and we trying to actually get work done.”

Writing rhymes

“When I used to battle, I used to write down mad punchlines. Punchlines that came to my head, I used to write down all the punchlines and worked them into the rap. But now, I just listen to the beat and let the beat take me there. Sometimes, I might feel melodic and I might sing something on there. And do a sing-rap-y, kind of melody thing to it. Other times, the beat says straight rap to me. For “Kissin’ Pink,” when Rocky first let me hear the beat, that was the first time I displayed that sing-songy kind of attribute to my whole forte. I just really let the beat take me to where I needed to be creatively.”

“It is easier for me to get inspired by letting the beat talk to me. You’ll run out of raps probably if you try to write mad raps for different beats. Some rappers write a rhyme and it don’t even go with the beat. They just try different raps and see if they go to that beat. See, I can’t do that. Every rhyme is exclusive to that beat. Every rhyme.”

“I just think my hustling background helped me out in the game. I live with urgency. I don’t have time to play around. I feel like I am always on a constant climb. I don’t feel a pressure of any kind, but I just feel urgent to become something bigger or I am always curious to know where I am going to be at in the next 15 minutes if I did this. So I am always trying to create and just climb the ladder of success. I am just curious to know where I am going to be at or help my people be at. Where I can like place the world in the next few years. I’m always curious in that way.”

On not being boxed in as an artist

“I am more rapper than everything else. I’m a rapper first. But it’s just that I don’t want to be boxed in as an artist, meaning people just know me for a certain type of music because I love all types of music. I’ma try to make what I love. I’ma try to reenact what I love to make so if it’s a country song that I fuck with, you know, that’s how you become a bigger artist because I may have a bigger country record than a hip-hop record. But it is still all me. That’s what hip-hop is based off of. Kraftwerk, when they were creating hip-hop beats. They didn’t know they were making hip-hop beats. They were just making shit that they thought was hot. And then Grandmaster Flash and them took the Kraftwerk beats and was mixing it. Afrika Bambaataa started rapping on the shit and then it became hip-hop. But it is a mixture of everything that everybody love. Before hip-hop, muthafuckas were dancing to Kraftwerk beats. It wasn’t hip-hop.”

“I’m inspired by everything. I’m trying to create a genre sometimes. I have a lot of friends that’s everywhere. I got Haim as friends. I got Madonna. I got muthafuckin’ everybody you can think of! Travis Barker. Everybody. These are all my friends. Fucking Big Sean. Wale. Rick Ross. Like, my life is everywhere with these people. When I am hanging out with these different people, I’m influenced by different things. I see different things, so it is inspiring for me to make different music.”

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On his favorite artist to work with

“My favorite person to work with would probably have to be Big Sean because when we first met we just clicked. I went to his house and we did like mad songs together. Some songs we may not even put out. Some songs he got. Some songs that I got that I put on the mixtape. We were just making songs. We were just kicking it. He just left me at his house and I was basically going through his computer and picking out the songs that I wanted to do.”

On releasing Ferg Forever

“It was basically to bridge the gap between Trap Lord and my new album. You can see the growth in my new music on Ferg Forever. If I automatically hit them with the new innovative, trailblazing shit, I don’t want people to feel like, “Damn, this is an alien. I don’t recognize this Ferg.” So I had to bridge the gap. Give them a little bit of the old and the little bit of the new, just so they know this is where I am going with the music.”

On battling A$AP Nast on “NV”

“Nobody is jealous. It’s more friendly competition. Everybody wants to be better than everybody when you making a song, you creating a song. You like, “You got a slammin’ verse, but I am about to re-write my shit to make that shit…” It’s just friendly competition. It’s just jokes and imagination. I was just like, “Yo, what if he was the Bishop character [from Juice] that wanted to kill everybody in A$AP?” That was the whole concept we ran with.”

A$AP Ferg ft. A$AP Nast – “NV”

On his upcoming album

“I don’t want to go left-field on [my new album]. That’s when you will lose people. I just want to show people growth. From Trap Lord, you can tell that mentality was in the hood. I was a Trap Lord. I was in Harlem most of the album. I came to the Bronx to record. I traveled a little bit, but for the most part, I was rapping about what I knew. For the mixtape, you got a song like “Bonnoroo”, which is talking about Bonnaroo [and] me being out there fucking performing for masses of people. And then other shit I went through. It’s a little bit of everything. But for this next album, it’s just going to be the growth from that and where I am at now with it. A little bit of me reminiscing about my childhood, probably, or whatever comes to mind.”

“I felt like my fans didn’t know me [on Ferg Forever]. They couldn’t see past the grills and camouflage hats, which is cool because it is me. But there are other parts of me that can help people and help people understand themselves. Understand that I am a person, I’m not just thugging. You know what I am saying? I’m not running around fucking shit up. I think I’m conscious. It’s alright to say no to certain shit that’s not cool or you feel like it’s not cool. [There’s] certain shit that I am looking for answers. I know a bunch of kids asking themselves questions like [about] what they don’t understand in the world. I just wanted to put the conversation out there. Put the dialogue out there. Let these kids know it is alright to think about whatever you are thinking about because I think about it too. I’m trying to figure out the answers. Maybe y’all can help me with the answers or maybe one day I can just bless y’all with the answers if I get the answers. It’s all a helping thing.”

FERG-Studio4

On what’s in store for 2015

“I see myself being the best performer ever of my generation. I see myself being the best artist of my generation. I just feel like the people have seen a little bit of what I have to offer. Like, I am still working off old ideas. I haven’t showed the world the new me. You know what I am saying? I’m still doing shit that I wanted to do when I was 12 or like 15. I said, “If I get famous, I’ma do that shit. If I get famous, I’ma get me gold grills or some shit.” You know what I am saying? I’m still doing shit that I wanted to do when I was younger. Just wait and see. I’ma be here for a real long time, just doing a bunch of fly shit like how Elvis and Jimi Hendrix was during their time. Little Richard or whoever. James Brown. I’ma be that of my time.”

Images via Ferg’s Instagram

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