Was getting locked up after the criminal mischief arrest another wake-up call?
Kid Cudi: The "new me" happened when I was walking out of court that day. It was really just like, "Man, you got it fucking going on, and you were about to piss it all away for some bullshit." Everywhere I go, people be looking at me like I'm some type of fucking crackhead now. Nobody wants to have their fucking name attached to a maniac, to a fuck-up, so everyone distances themselves. There are only a few motherfuckers that called and checked in on me. I can count them on my hand.
Who was there for you?
Kid Cudi: Besides the fam, and Yeezy and Don C, there's one artist in this game who has always had my back and had nothing but love to show, and that's Lupe Fiasco. Every time I see that man, it's nothing but love—I saw him a little after it, and he was like "I'm worried about you, man, just checking in." He's somebody who I know really genuinely gives a fuck. Noreaga also checked in.
So is that it for cocaine?
Doing coke revived me; knowing I was so close to death intrigued me. I liked the thought of it.
Going back to the album, when did you decide to switch it from a collabo album back to being dark?
Kid Cudi: When I started making records like "Erase Me." I wanted this album to be fun, but the dark shit was my life at that time. I was fighting not to write that shit. It got frustrating writing a collab album—I just lost interest, and it became more of a task, rather than something I wanted to do. That's not how it's supposed to feel. The day it becomes work, you need to retire.
Is "Erase Me" a major departure from what you normally do?
Kid Cudi: "Erase Me" was fun as fuck to make, but it's just different. It was me fucking around, just to show people I can do whatever. That's my main goal now, just to show people no matter what I do, I'm going to make shit that's in good taste. Might not be your cup of tea, but it's going to be authentic, it's not going to be forced.
How do you feel about people saying it's radio-manufactured?
Kid Cudi: When I made it, I was like, "This beat sounds fresh as hell, I want to do some rock shit"—and I did it. I came up with that shit in 30 minutes. I was feeling it, and then I was like, "This shit ain't Cudder, it's just me fucking around, let me stop bullshitting."
It was a creative look for you and Kanye, though.
Kid Cudi: Can I be honest with you? I don't think anybody is fucking with what we—me and Kanye—got. Creatively, there's nobody. You can argue all day about who has the best album, there's never going to be an answer. There are other artists who are hot for God knows what reason. But as far as creativity, pound for pound, track for track, video for video, hands down, there's nobody fucking with me and 'Ye.
"Mr. Rager" is a song people will gravitate to, and it clearly means a lot to you. What's the full meaning?
Kid Cudi: This song is about someone who is fed up with reality, who looks for thrills and excitement by any means. It's just kind of how I was feeling at that point. I was just so angry. Doing coke revived me, and knowing I was so close to death every time intrigued me. I liked the thought of it.
Death is a recurring theme for you.
Kid Cudi: Yeah, but I'm at a different point in my life, and I don't even like talking about that. I've been thinking positive and keeping my mind out of the clouds. You can't take things so seriously, but I gambled for a long time. Shit was intense, it was a journey.
At the Converse show in July where you acknowledged using cocaine, you said you're going to be around until you're "old as fuck," and also said, "I'm sorry if I let you down, I love you." Did you feel like you let your fans down?
Kid Cudi: Every time I snap. I'm sitting there making songs like "Heart of a Lion" and talking about getting through anything, and rising up, and I'm up here snapping and letting people break my shell. I have to practice what I preach. I get strength, and the kids use it.
After all the shit you've been through, do you feel strong?
I'm maturing. A boy crumbles from stress, a man can take some punches. And I've been getting sucker-punched for a long time. Life's been beating the shit out of me, mentally and physically. But life is one big fucking joke, so I'm laughing inside.