Dallas is a long way from West Baltimore, but that's where we found Adam Kirkman, 20, known to the hip-hop world as A$AP Ant, on a July night.
"I'm performing on tour with Rocky right now," says Kirkman, referring to A$AP Rocky, the rapper whose album LONG.LIVE.A$AP hit number one earlier this year and who leads the Harlem-based A$AP Mob, which has become a dominant force in hip-hop. "I'm doing the hyping up onstage."
The tour he's speaking of is A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa's Under the Influence Tour, which is on the front end of 20 stops. Ant, who was born in West Baltimore and moved to Milford Mill when he entered middle school, is the only member of A$AP Mob that's not from Harlem.
Kirkman first fell in love with hip-hop when his older brother introduced him to Cash Money Records in the late '90s. Ever since then, he'd played around with the idea of rapping, but it was a different venture, a line of streetwear called Marino Goods, that first got him connected with the New York scene.
Kirkman and a friend, rapper and former A$AP Mob member Dominic Lord, started the line while Kirkman was going to Milford Mill High School. The clothes drew their inspiration almost exclusively from hip-hop; one collection in particular was inspired by Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon's album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, with tees incorporating key lyrics and phrases, like "Tommy Hill Ice Rockin'" and "Spot Rusherz," among others. Before long, Marino Goods was featured in Complex magazine, and Kirkman was making frequent trips to New York to network with other young creative-types. It was there he met Rocky, who was the first to suggest he take rapping seriously.
"I never planned on rapping," says Ant. "One day I was just chilling out with Rocky and some other homies, freestyling, playing around, and he told me that I should seriously start to rap. Before then, it was just a playful thing I would do from time to time."
In 2011, Marino Goods held a release party in Soho, where, he says, hip-hop's fashion and music worlds collided and helped spur the now-bubbling "New New York" movement.
"If you look at the footage from the release party, all the people who are popping in the New York scene right now were there," he says. "You had World's Fair, Flatbush Zombies, Tan Boys, and A$AP all there as friends, being supportive. So my connection to them wasn't based on everybody wanting to blow up as rappers; it was a group of friends all at level one, trying to help each other. That's why what's happening right now is so special."
Ant's speaking voice is, like his rapping voice, an aggressive croak. His rhymes are filled with one-liners that mirror Dipset-era freestyles, with a hint of recklessness and direct jabs aimed at anyone that he feels isn't worthy of attention. On his track "Fuck a Beat Freestyle," he squawks, "I listen to y'all, but y'all boring/ Y'all bench players, we scorin'/ Bucket hat by Ralph Lauren/ This summer cop somethin' foreign, then crash the whip. Fuck insurance."
Ant may not have the biggest spotlight in A$AP Mob but he's gained a following locally as one of the best-known rappers from Baltimore on an international scale-probably the best-known since B.Rich and Labtekwon-which is something he has a lot of pride about.
"It's time for Baltimore to get some shine," he says. "It's a city with a lot of stories to be told and I'm trying to be the person telling some of those stories. People like Baltimore culture too. Wherever I am, people ask me about it. . . . Of course, they ask, 'Is it like The Wire?'"
Ant also understands his role within the A$AP family. He's been working on solo material for the past year, but he is more hyped to talk about new music from Mob members Twelvy and Nast, as well as A$AP Ferg's Trap Lord album, which drops at month's end. He says the real trick is knowing how to keep yourself relevant even when you're not the focal point: "I've been actively making music for the past year," he says before launching into a digital strategy rant that could have come from a marketing director-making sure to mention his single and plans to release a solo album in 2014 along the way.
"'Told Ya' and 'The Way It Go' both came out last year and people still wanna hear those," he says. "It's other ways to stay connected. You gotta always update Instagram and Twitter. When you're in the studio, take a picture to let people know you're working. When you're working on a song with someone, take a photo so people can know that a new collaboration is coming. Just don't become annoying. There's a lot of ways to keep momentum going."