On the ninth floor of a luxury apartment building in NYC’s Tribeca neighborhood, the hallway is thick with the aroma of green. While a mix of young couples and well-off college grads populate the building, the reason for the heady atmosphere is a brand-new tenant. His mail comes to Scott Mescudi, but you know him better as Kid Cudi—rapper, Cleveland transplant, and all-around weirdo.
Yeah, we said it. Dude is strange. Case in point: Armadas, the giant wolf (OK, it’s a statue) that Cudi keeps in his crib to “hold him down.” Want more? He lives alone, but his kitchen table is meticulously set for four. Then again, it makes more sense once you give it some thought; Cudi’s always been somewhat of a solitary figure. He lost his father to cancer when he was 11, lashed out at school, and eventually left the only world he knew to come to New York by himself on a quest he wasn’t even sure he believed in. Now, at 25, his pain is still deep, although it’s hard to tell when in his company; spend a few hours with him and he’ll crack jokes, maybe talk in odd voices. He’s a bundle of contradictions, enough to make you wonder which side of him you’re going to meet next. The lonely stoner or the people person? The class clown or the prisoner of his own paranoia? Let the analysis begin...
After working a lot with Kanye, how does it feel to be focused on your own career?Kid Cudi: It’s exciting, man. I’m just ready to try new shit. I’m a dude who likes to create music with good feeling. I live like a chameleon through music. It all depends on what the beat tells me to do; that’s why you’re always gonna get passionate hooks, because I’m feeling the beats and the emotion behind the drums and melodies.
Are you worried about recapturing the success of “Day ’N’ Nite”?Kid Cudi: I was briefly, and then I started to record and just make shit. That’s when I realized I’m going to be OK. Shit is going to come together as it should, don’t worry about it. I didn’t come in the game to just do that one joint, you know what I mean? I came in the game to have multiple hits.
What kind of fears do you have about releasing your album?Kid Cudi: I don’t really have any fear about the business; my biggest fear is getting wrapped up in the illusion of fame and Hollywood and shit like that. Getting wrapped up in the worldly things like drugs and the excitement of being famous. I have a vulnerable enough past that it could propel me into that world. I don’t want to be caught up in it. I want to do something while I’m here. This is hell. All the shit that’s going on around us, this is hell.
What’s hell about it?Kid Cudi: Just turn on the fucking news.
But do you feel like your own world is hell sometimes?Kid Cudi: Yeah. Most of my groupies are spawns of the devil. [Laughs.] They’re there to take me off track and fuck up my purpose. It’s like the dark side is trying to pull me in. Who wouldn’t like a bunch of hot-ass bitches saying, “Hey, we all wanna fuck you right now!”? [Laughs.] But you have to realize that it’s an illusion, that you can get caught up, turn into a person that you never knew you could be—and I don’t wanna be that dude.
Did you ever have an experience with a groupie that backs that up?Kid Cudi: There was a moment when I was at this club and I was getting attention from all these chicks. At one point one was talking and gazing into my eyes all beautiful and shit—so fuckin’ hot—and all of a sudden it seemed like time slowed down and everything got muffled, and in my brain I was just like, “This girl is the devil.” And I immediately got up and wanted to leave. I was kinda tripping balls anyway. [Laughs.]
Has the girl situation really been that crazy?Kid Cudi: Man, I was always the ugly duckling; I never got attention from girls like that. So now that it’s happening, I’m kind of hip to it. I know half of these bitches wouldn’t be talking to me if I wasn’t Kid Cudi, and I’m not no fool, you know what I’m saying? I wasn’t born yesterday.
So how do you deal with that?Kid Cudi: I just don’t want to get wrapped up in that world, so I keep to myself. I’m more like an actor-celebrity, rather than a rapper-celebrity. Actors keep to themselves, they’re very reserved, you only see them at premieres and shit like that. I’m not that dude who always wants to be seen and shit and goes to these industry events—I’ll go out if need be, and that’s what it is.
Do you consider yourself a weirdo?Kid Cudi: “Weird” itself, even in the dictionary, is just something that is different and unexplainable. A weirdo is someone who follows their heart. I’m definitely weird, ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Is that a product of having your dad pass away?Kid Cudi: My dad was Superman to me. He was the coolest. When he died of cancer, it was like my world was destroyed—I just went from seeing my dad normal to seeing my dad sick and then seeing my dad where he couldn’t even recognize me. My heart crumbled. I cried, but it wasn’t because I was sad, it was because I was pissed, like, “What the fuck?! Why?” But that’s when I started to want to express myself through words and rhymes.
You told me that you slept next to your mom until you were 12.Kid Cudi: [Laughs.] Yeah. After my father died, I used to have some really bad nightmares that any kid would have when a relative passed away. My mom tried, but there was nothing that could fill that void, even to this day. It was night terrors, more intense than nightmares, and I never got help for them—I had to fight them off myself because I didn’t know what they were. It was these intense illusions of my mom dying or me dying and nobody caring, shit like that.
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.
People love to point out similarities between you and Drake—do you view him as competition?Kid Cudi: I think it’s just that Drake and me are the most creative out of the new up-and-coming MCs. Me and Drake are here not because of anything other than two niggas that have their own flavor. I’m doing my shit, nobody else can do my shit. Nobody else can do Wale’s shit or Charles Hamilton’s shit. It’s like a bunch of Kool-Aid stands. It just matters whose flavor you like the most.
It seems like a lay-up for you and Drake to work together.Kid Cudi: We’ll come together eventually, but I’m not trying to force this because there’s hype around us both. I want to work with Drake, yeah, but right now I don’t want to work with anyone who’s in the same creative realm as me. I’m still creating my own shit.
Has he reached out to work with you?Kid Cudi: Drake had been wanting to do an official “Day ’N’ Nite” remix early on. He was one of my earliest supporters; that’s why I fuck with Drake on another level than just being a new artist. His homeboy Oliver used to hit me up when I’d go to Toronto, like, “Yo, you gotta fuck with Drake.” Imagine if I would’ve let Drake remix “Day ’N’ Nite” when he wanted to back in ’07. That shit would’ve fizzled out; no one would’ve cared. Luckily we let it live and it worked out. We’re changing things on accident. That’s how I know this is my destiny.
How crazy is it to you that Kanye was inspired by your music?Kid Cudi: Kanye is inspired by everybody around him. He’s inspired by life. So yeah, he kind of drew inspiration from everyone around him at that moment when it came to 808s & Heartbreak.
You helped write four of the most popular songs on that album. How much did you actually write?Kid Cudi: Well, I can’t reveal numbers. But they were completely fair in giving me my credit and shit like that. It was a good experience and it was definitely lucrative.
What about people who look at you as Kanye’s little man?Kid Cudi: [Laughs.] The album will shut a lot of people up. I actually have my own voice, and people will see that with the album. ’Ye just lets me be a man and shit. You don’t necessarily want a motherfucker to be holding your hand the whole time. There was a time when nobody listened to my shit and nobody would give me the time of day. Now I’ve got like four fan-made mixtapes—I’ve only got one mixtape out, the rest of them are from fans. Fans make these Kid Cudi wallpapers and draw pictures of me and all this and that. That shit is real; that means that kids connect with that shit. Not just because I’m Kanye’s artist. Those kids fuck with my music and that’s the realest shit ever. That lets me know that I’m important, and nothing is better than knowing you’re important.
You played me an outtake, which has to be the first love song I’ve ever heard about tripping on mushrooms with a girl .Kid Cudi: One of my co-workers asked me over to smoke, and she ended up persuading me to do ’shrooms. We popped a couple of caps, and the next thing you know we’re listening to The Postal Service and all this real emotional music. We just vibed out; it was intense. I wanted to make a song for girls without it sounding like A Song For Girls, you know? There need to be songs that females can connect with, because I love all women. Not like the average dude that loves women ’cause they like to fuck; I just love women as a whole. I love them, not just the fact that they have vaginas.
That’s gonna get you some points, man.Kid Cudi: I think they’re amazing creatures.
How much does your mom figure into that?Kid Cudi: That’s what one of the issues was when we came up with “I Poke Her Face.” I was like, my mom is gonna hear this! But my mom understands rap, and I already explained it to her: “Well, you’re gonna hear this song one day and it’s a little bit explicit.” My mom is no stranger to vulgar content; my earlier raps used to be about all types of crazy shit.
The whole time we were at the video shoot, people were coming up for autographs and you talked to every single person. Are you really that worried about fame going to your head?Kid Cudi: I don’t want to transform into a fuckin’ zombie. Every time people come up to me I want to hit them with that smile and shake their hands sincerely. Let them know that I appreciate them approaching me and I appreciate them liking my music.
What would your dad say to you if he was still here?Kid Cudi: “Keep it up, young man.” He was always like, “Pick your head up! It shows confidence!” Now, with my confidence, because of my father and those moments, I remember why I’m here.