On the second Friday in February, a blizzard is bearing down on New York, whipping the city into high alert: Reports predict several feet of snow, offices are closing early and armadas of salt-sprayers are revving up. A$AP Rocky is on the third floor of Barneys, on Madison Avenue, thumbing a black-leather Saint Laurent biker jacket. Fashion Week has started, and Rocky — hip-hop’s reigning dandy of the moment — is engaged in his own version of disaster prep, buying outfits to wear to the runway shows. “I gotta stock up,” the Harlem-born rapper, 24, says, flashing a grin that’s full of gold. “I might not be able to buy clothes for three days!”
He models the jacket for his pal and crewmate A$AP Bari, who’s hovering nearby. “It looks mean,” Bari declares. Rocky checks a mirror and frowns. “It’s not all that,” he says. A saleswoman named Brenda has been filling a dressing room with Rocky’s picks. Rocky’s in tight jeans and designer hiking boots, and his hair is twisted into what he calls “O-Dog from Menace II Society braids.” He’s orbited by Bari, two bodyguards, a publicist and his co-manager, a burly guy named Geno, who’s carrying Rocky’s parka. Rocky’s voice is a stoned croak and he moves unhurriedly — “I’m on a three-blunts-a-day habit,” he confirms.
This morning, Rocky arrived on the redeye from Los Angeles, where he was busy recording tracks for his next album, and went to his mother’s condo in New Jersey — the closest thing he has to a permanent East Coast home. This afternoon he meant to go see his maybe-kinda girlfriend, the Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman, walk the Jason Wu show, “but I was tired.”
The way Rocky sees it, he’s earned some downtime. In January, Rocky’s debut album, Long.Live.A$AP, came out at Number One. Its release had been delayed repeatedly throughout 2012, in part because Rocky’s a tinkerer and because the label didn’t hear a single: The first attempt, “Goldie,” fizzled, but the second, “Fuckin’ Problems” — a rowdy paean to nonstop boning — went platinum. This spring, Rocky will hit the road with Rihanna, who chose him to open 33 dates on her North American arena tour.
So today he’s happy just to be doing nothing. “I love shopping; I could be in this store for days,” he says, passing Brenda a Balmain Collarless Double Zip Moto Jacket ($1,650). She motions him toward loose-draping Ann Demeulemeester garments. “I don’t care for Ann’s stuff this season,” he says. “She got lazy.” Rocky trusts his judgment, he says, above anyone else’s. “I hate stylists,” he says. “Half the people I’ve worked with can’t even enunciate the names of the shit I like.” His eye catches on some Jil Sander blazers. “Belgian,” he says appreciatively. “German, actually,” Brenda says. “No, Jil Sander is Belgian,” Rocky insists. He plucks out his phone, Googles it. “OK, German,” he admits, then has Brenda find a white topcoat and trousers in his size.
Rocky’s confusion on this score can be excused: Geographical scrambles are a hallmark of his music. From his earliest online hits — the dark and woozy “Purple Swag” and “Peso” — to his 2011 mixtape to the debut album, he plays fast and loose with provenance, teleporting between styles associated with New York, Miami, Atlanta, L.A. and on and on. Internet-age music consumption bridged eras and regions, and Rocky has done more than any other rapper to collapse space and time in his work: adopting an early-Nineties Brooklyn flow one bar, dropping into a sludgy morass of mid-’00s Houston screw music the next. “I’m a New York rapper, but I make whatever’s appealing to me,” he says. “Before I ever thought about selling records or not, I did what I grew up on: East Coast, West Coast, down South, Snoop Dogg, DMX, Rakim, UGK, Bone Thugs. It all sounded like rap to me.”
For Rocky, borders are meant to be crossed. As a teenager in Harlem, he’d ride the subway downtown with friends to hit on girls in Soho and buy clothes in Lower East Side boutiques. (The A$AP crew — which includes his buddy Bari, Svengali A$AP Yams and eight other core members — formed around then.) Rocky s wardrobe began to reflect his dual citizenship: With money he earned selling drugs uptown, he started mixing Air Jordans with Raf Simons, do-rags with skinny pants. This could make for friction back in his neighborhood, where traditionalists accused him and the A$AP dudes of homosexuality for their fancy clothes. Confrontations like these taught Rocky to fight, and they taught him the courage of his convictions: “Some people look at me strange as hell. That’s cool. A lot of things I do, it may not sit well at first, but eventually they aren’t gonna have a choice but to get on the bandwagon.” (Rocky is progressive not only in his music but in his politics: “I’m the least homophobic cat in rap,” he proclaims, having taken a prominent stand against the prejudice in several interviews.)
While Rocky’s trying on clothes, Geno, the co-manager, sits outside the dressing room. Geno’s passion is comic books, not fashion, and a day off for Rocky can still mean a workday for him. “If we wind up downtown later,” Geno says hopefully, “there’s a store where I wanna get The Dark Knight Falls.” When Rocky’s done shopping, the bill comes to $14,632.80. He calls his accountant to clear the funds, but his card is declined. Rocky redials. “The shit just declined, bro,” he says. He exhales loudly as the accountant says something about lifting a spending cap. Time passes while the accountant works. Rocky exchanges texts with Iman. Geno and the bodyguards watch cardio-workout videos on an iPhone. Rocky browses A.P.C. jeans, flirts with a saleswoman named Dominique. She responds coolly, to which he replies, “I singlehandedly picked you to help me because you’re beautiful. Don’t be overwhelmed by my confidence.” The accountant calls, and Rocky retries his card. Declined. He groans. He’s been trying to pay for the better part of an hour now. “What the fuck?” he says.