How does that loss affect you now?Kid Cudi: Not in the obvious way. Going through all that heartache and loss made me super-sensitive—not to where I want to cry all the time, but I’ll want to snap. There’s a lot of anger still in me, and it transforms into sadness through song. The day that I can say I’m truly happy will be my day of peace, like for real for real. Until then, I’m on my grind.
Speaking of your grind, when did you decide to move to New York?Kid Cudi: I was working at this restaurant in Cleveland. There was this white dude in his 40s who was cool as shit and would tell me, “You’re funny and people like you. You need to move the fuck out of Ohio and just do this.” My uncle told me I could come out there and stay with him in the South Bronx until I got on my feet. I’d never met him; this was my father’s older brother, the last of my father’s siblings, so I wanted to make that connection anyway. I moved in 2004 with my little demo and maybe $500.
Your uncle let you stay for free?Kid Cudi: Yeah. I didn’t have a job for about the first five months there, so I had to make that $500 stretch. [Laughs.] I didn’t have any friends and I didn’t know anybody, so my thing to do then was to go to Times Square and just walk around. I wanted to be a New Yorker so bad.
Compared to what you had been through, it must’ve seemed easy.Kid Cudi: It was like growing into a man: “All right, let’s see what the fuck you’re made of. Let’s see you be a man now, mama’s boy.” It was a whole other journey. My uncle that I lived with passed in 2006. We were actually beefing because he forced me out the house when I didn’t have another situation set up, so I was bitter. I never apologized for it, and that kills me. That’s why I wrote “Day ’N’ Nite.”
Wow.Kid Cudi: If he wasn’t there to let me stay with him those first few months, there would be no Kid Cudi. It fucked me up watching him go, but it was like, “I have to fulfill this destiny now for sure.” Things were moving but they weren’t solidified yet. I had “Day ’N’ Nite,” we were just getting started, and I was like, “This shit has got to pop off.” I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“Day ’N’ Nite” didn’t blow up at first. Even those fans new to the Cudi bandwagon know the song was written in 2006—and while it was racking up hits on MySpace, and eventually as a single on A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold label, radio didn’t get around to it until 2008. Thankfully, even in the survival-of-the-fittest cycle young rappers find themselves in, Cudi’s sense of self was healthy enough to wait for the world to catch up. And now, the world is waiting; after a few hours at his apartment, he abruptly mentions that we’re heading to Brooklyn to meet up with Kanye West, who’s in town shooting a video for Clipse’s “Kinda Like A Big Deal.” When we get to the set, Cudi yells out to Kanye—“’Sup, Chief Broski!”— and ’Ye reacts like he’s seeing a peer, not a protégé.
Kanye first called on Cudi to reference hooks for Jay-Z, and while in the studio, Cudi and ’Ye went from working on The Blueprint 3 to Good Ass Job (the working title for Kanye’s next album) to 808s & Heartbreak. There’s a theory, and it’s a good one, that Cudi’s melody-heavy singsong style inspired Kanye to do 808s in the first place. Cudi’s assistance on the album includes co-writing credits on “Heartless,” “Welcome to Heartbreak,” “Paranoid,” and “RoboCop.” West doesn’t hold back when giving Cudi credit. “Me and Cudi are the originators of the style, kinda like what Alexander McQueen is to fashion,” he says. “Everything else is just Zara and H&M.” And with Kanye in his corner, Cudi has a significant advantage over most of his fellow freshman MCs—the one exception being up-and-comer Drake, who was recently signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint. As easy as it is for one to compare the two, Cudi makes clear that he’s solely focused on his own career, not the next man’s. And when it comes to music, this moon-man’s focus is out of this world.