This song finds Rocky spitting philosophical lyrics about fallen music legends, such as Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain, who were driven mad by the pressures of fame. It also finds the New York rapper admitting to his own dark thoughts. "Those are natural feelings that we all get sometimes. You hurt so bad and you're going through so much pain to the point where sometimes you don't even wanna live anymore," he told MTV News. "That's how a lot of people think, whether we'd like to admit it or not and that's all I was showcasing. It was that emotion... suicidal kinda emotions."
Rocky added that translating those lows into rhymes can sometimes be therapeutic. "I'm not glorifying it at all," he said. "I'm just basically telling you that sometimes I have suicidal thoughts. And maybe I should seek help, or maybe it's not that deep."
Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton provided the song's haunting beat. Danger Mouse is best known for being one half of Gnarls Barkley along with Cee-Lo Green.
Working with Danger Mouse was a dream of Rocky's in his teenage years when he was dealing drugs. He told The Sun: "I used to listen to Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple when I was doing the drug thing. Danger Mouse was my dream producer and he heard and welcomed me with open arms."
The phoenix was a mythical Egyptian bird that burned itself to death on a pyre every 500 years and rose rejuvenated from the ashes. Rocky explained to Rolling Stone that he titled the song after the cyclically regenerating winged creature of legend, "because it's talking about dying - but when a phoenix dies, it's reborn from its own ashes. I related to that."
A$AP Rocky and director Francesco Carrozzini recruited The Wire's Michael K. Williams and supermodel Joan Smalls for the song's music video. Smalls explained to MTV News: "Michael K. Williams and myself, we're a couple. We had a late night out and I find out something extremely shocking, and when we come back home, we start arguing and it just develops into something so tumultuous and intense that I let my rage take control of me."
The video's moody storyline was co-written by the Italian actress Asia Argento, who is best known for starring alongside Vin Diesel in the 2002 action movie, xXx. Argento has dabbled in music before appearing in Placebo frontman Brian Molko's cover version of "Je t'aime... moi non plus," as well as being part of the Legendary Tiger Man's project Femina. In May 2013 she released her debut album, entitled Total Entropy under Nuun Music.
That's Rocky himself singing in the background. He told Sway on MTV's RapFix Live
. "That was different for me. It took me and Danger Mouse five days straight to make the beat from scratch and write the song. When it was finished I felt like it was one of the best songs on the album besides 'Suddenly' and '1 Train