Vintage D.A.R.E. shirt from No Relation Vintage in New York CityLet’s hit the racks,” Kid Cudi announces as he strolls down 11th Street in New York City. The rap wunderkind is rocking denim cutoff shorts tethered to his slight frame by a brown leather Louis Vuitton belt with an oversized gold monogram buckle; a white T-shirt that he sniffs to check if its expiration date is coming; Air Jordan Infrareds; what can most easily be described as solid gold Mardi Gras beads; and, of course, his thick-rimmed glasses, which, in another life, could have rested on the bridge of the nose of a shag carpet salesman in the 1970s. He eschews the marbled shopping palaces of Fifth Avenue for the humble coat hangers of vintage shops downtown; with Cudi, everything that is old can be fashion-forward.
The first destination is a dope secondhand store, Buffalo Exchange—the Wild West of the East Village, where the hip fight each other to snatch a treasurable item from someone else’s castoffs. The shop houses everything from beat-up combat boots to preppy polos, leaving patrons to wonder whether their purchase was the jewel of someone’s closet or a freebie T-shirt from a company picnic. Either way, every article is fit for a good home. Before he hits the front door he’s swarmed by a meandering group of young day-campers.
“Are you … you …” one half-brave girl utters, “Kid Cudi?”
With a smirk he returns, “Yeah, I’m Cudi.”
Despite the heat from the most oppressive summer the city’s had in recent years and the teeming midget mass descending on the A-lister, Cudi keeps his cool and wraps his arms around the group, waiting patiently while the campers fuss over who will take the picture. He plays arbiter, suggesting that they all get a chance to take turns as cell phone photographer, then hangs tight as not-yet-fully-formed fingers fumble on the shutter button. Damn the possibility that some other guy may be in Buffalo Exchange plucking the perfect threads earmarked for him, Cudi takes the time to connect with each kid. While most of an average person’s life diversions are electronic, coming in the form of e-mail or Facebook update, his are immediately personal, and he handles them with grace and aplomb.
Cudi takes his cool into the thrift store. Other shoppers rip through the racks treating unsatisfactory clothes like spam e-mail, while Cudi stops to consider each item, calculating how it fits into his opus. He contemplates certain shirts, sometimes going back to them again and again, in the same vein he might while contemplating a beat or rhyme for his next song. His approach is nothing if it isn’t free-form poetic.
“I don’t go out looking for anything in particular when I shop,” he says. “I try not to think too much. It’s about the feel, comfort.”
He blesses a tee with writing that screams “Bad” by slinging it over his shoulder. Conceivably it pays homage to Michael Jackson’s prime, as the once-bold red has faded to a pale pink, only further accentuating how bad/awesome it is. He hops into a dressing room and swaps his white tee for the shirt pressed before the school kids outside were zygotes. “This is bad,” he says, showing off his first catch.
He gets back to the madness on the shop floor and hooks a black T-shirt with white writing on his second cast.
Vintage Pabst Blue Ribbon T-shirt from Buffalo Exchange in New York City; Cudi’s own necklace, watch, ring, Levi’s denim cutoffs, Louis Vuitton belt, and Nike sneakers (throughout).The shirt is a Pabst Blue Ribbon label flattened onto the chest. It could have been a promotional item—a free giveaway at a dive bar—but now it’s in the possession of one of the most influential style icons on the airwaves. He can afford better clothes and better beer (Heineken has tapped him for marketing programs), but for a fraction of the cost of a cocktail in Manhattan, he is now the very proud owner of a shirt that he wants to take for a test run on the streets.
“I’m ready to stop traffic with my string bean arms,” he says as he tosses his white T-shirt to a buddy, throws on the PBR top, and slips into a pair of madras Vans, also from Buffalo Exchange. The hum of the city plays catalyst to amp up his already restless energy (he tells us he has ADD). To see how the new outfit feels in action, he climbs a sidewalk tree onto the top of a parallel-parked Budget moving truck. The rapper transforms into the silver-tongued surfer.
Pleased with his and the clothes’ performance, he hops down and leads us to the next shop, just around the corner—No Relation Vintage. This thrift store is a little bit more low-key. Its men’s selection is vast, with a variety of spent local softball shirts and the prominent replica jerseys of pro athletes who will never even sniff the Hall of Fame (a Muggsy Bogues Hornets jersey, anyone?). Cudi bobs his head to Q-Tip’s stylings on the speakers while digging in the racks. “This is the shit,” he says. Whether he’s alluding to the music, the clothes, or the vibe it matters not.
Cudi’s first major album release, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, debuted at number four on the Billboard charts last year. Complex named it Best Album of 2009, and Entertainment Weekly called Cudi “the rarest of rap phenomena: a hyped upstart who really does represent a promising new phase in the genre’s evolution.” Now, a year to the month later, Cudi is releasing the follow-up, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. He isn’t as fast as he is quick. When looking at clothes, his method involves taking time with each piece but not waffling when he sees something he likes. In a similar style, he didn’t hastily throw together the album, but rather let it unfold organically.
“If I didn’t come out with an album this year or I did put one out it wouldn’t really matter to me,” he says. “My mother always taught me not to rush anything, and I take that into account with my music. I think people are going to be pleased that I didn’t rush this album. That’s how the people in our circle operate, that’s how Kanye [West] is. We all take our fucking time but it just so happens that it comes quicker to us than most.”
The artist is deeply self-aware, which is reflected through his music and his ink. “I drew all my tattoos,” he says, looking at the pinup on his left forearm and then at the script of his two middle names, “Ramon” and “Seguro.” “My songs are also all about my life,” he continues. “It’s my story. My life really inspires all of it, and then I throw in whatever other artsy idea I have for the project.”
American Apparel T-shirt; vintage Vans sneakers from Buffalo Exchange in New York City.The artist is deeply self-aware, which is reflected through his music and his ink. “I drew all my tattoos,” he says, looking at the pinup on his left forearm and then at the script of his two middle names, “Ramon” and “Seguro.” “My songs are also all about my life,” he continues. “It’s my story. My life really inspires all of it, and then I throw in whatever other artsy idea I have for the project.”
The underlying concept for Moon II comes from the world of the macabre. “The new twist, the new chapter in the album, is that I added elements from horror movies,” Cudi says, selecting an Army camo shirt. “I put in all those fun things that people look for in a good cinematic horror movie—fun, excitement, unexpected shit—that’s in this album. Horror is something I’ve always been drawn to. I like being scared.”
He has no temerity about how his new masterpiece will be received by the public when the album drops late September, in the same month that his pal and collaborator Kanye West is set to release his next album. “I really pushed the envelope and put myself to the test,” he says. “I wanted to make this better than the last album. There are songs in there that you’ll be like, Damn, I didn’t know he had it in him to create something like this.”
But it is what is on him that dazzles at present: a cream and blue Western-inspired shirt that looks like a scratchy, short-sleeved hockey jersey and reads “Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.” He pulls it over his head and surveys how the relic fits into his look.
“I think that’s a mustard stain,” he says. “I hope that’s mustard.”
Cudi—who grew up in Cleveland, not exactly the Paris of the Midwest—makes do with the shirt, dubious stain and all, taking it with him outside to the electric avenue of New York. “Where are you going to shop in Cleveland?” he chuckles. “It was either Old Navy or T.J. Maxx. The shit they had in T.J. Maxx was all irregular, but it was as close to fresh as possible.” Both he and his new shirt have come a long way.