Now that Kid Cudi is past the prescriptions, the therapy, and the breakup depression, he’s reborn. Demons still linger, but the rapper/producer got his mind right where it should be: in the music.
This feature appears in Complex's February/March 2013 issue.
Kid Cudi’s brain is wired differently.
That’s not to say the human brain doesn’t differ from person to person, but a unique set of circumstances has shaped both the career and circuitry of 28-year-old Scott Mescudi, one of hip-hop’s most cerebral artists. Cudi’s trials and tribulations have been splashed all over these pages throughout the years: the come-up, the drug use, the birth of his daughter. As the Cudi cycle has played out in the public eye, it’s become a rinse-and-repeat formula: drop an album, take a few acting gigs, disappear until it’s time for another album. But Cudi is far from formulaic. Where many rappers and actors pursue endless press exposure, Cudder prefers seclusion. Where others are uncomfortable discussing depression and death, Cudi fluctuates between dark thoughts, funny voices, and laughter.
A visit to Cudi’s newly purchased luxe bungalow in the relatively sleepy L.A. neighborhood Los Feliz—far from his previous digs in the celebrity-stacked Hollywood Hills—reveals Cudi’s muted mind-set. Tall opaque windows line the exterior so that Cudi can see out, but onlookers can’t see in. Once you get past his bulldog, Freshie, the interior yields more clues to Cudi’s psyche: A framed hologram of Jimi Hendrix hangs on a wall near the front door. In the living room, an easel holds a white canvas with the word “immortal” painted in bold, capitalized, black letters. The word is both the name of the second single from his forthcoming release, Indicud—his fourth album in five years—and a signpost for the themes of mortality that have always been undertones in his music. Yet as brooding as one might expect Cudi’s home to be, the mood inside is bright. His protégé King Chip and another friend sit on the couch as he clicks through beats he’s created. Time is split between discussions of crafting the Cudi sound and Googling YouTube clips of Chris Farley, until a decision is made to watch Norm Macdonald’s ’90s cult-comedy Dirty Work. The night ends with an episode of AMC’s zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead.
I said, 'Something’s wrong with me. Why do I feel like I want to punch an elephant? Why am I so irritable?' I finally got off the pills and then I started feeling normal.
The next day Cudi’s all business. He rolls to Glenwood Place Recording Studios in his black Range Rover wearing a vintage Lakers Tee, A.P.C. jeans, and Converse Jack Purcells with the words “I’m not like them, but I can pretend” written across the toe boxes. It’s a Kurt Cobain lyric from Nirvana’s drug ballad “Dumb.” Is Cudi referring to other rappers? He’s always been a hip-hop iconoclast. But after the experimental rock EP WZRD, he’s ready to get back to rhymes and beats. In fact, he's handling most of the production on Indicud himself. Cudi's rebirth as a producer has reinvigorated his passion for hip-hop, just as his spirit has been revitalized by coming off anti-depressants following a breakup with his longtime girlfriend. As he explained on “Just What I Am,” a self-produced song that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, the pills weren’t working and he was suffering from side effects. On this overcast day in L.A. he feels sharper than ever, with a focus on rocketing himself back into the conversation about rap’s heavyweights.
Inside the studio, there’s no entourage, no girls, just Cudi, his engineer, and the Maschine, a producing tool that Chip bought him for Father’s Day. He uses it to construct a beat in the space of 30 minutes, adding keys and an electric guitar, then spits a chorus to the song with the working title “Mr. Digital.” As the engineer plays back the day’s work, Cudi does the robot, obviously pleased. Then it’s time to return to his Range Rover for a frank discussion about being and nothingness, and everything in between.
When you were working on “Efflictim” for the WZRD EP, you said you would wake up in a terrible mood. Are you having fewer of those days now?
Hell yeah. Every day is an adventure. [Laughs.] My last relationship took a lot out of me. I needed to reboot and rebuild my life. I’m in a positive place now, a happier place. I’m enlightened. It’s better when you get older because you start to see things from a different perspective. Whether it’s love, or just trying to figure out what you’re going to do in life.
Are you enjoying being single?
I enjoy living my life for me and not by someone else’s rules. It gets lonely but the loneliness doesn’t bother me. I have time to think, time to write, time to myself. I’m winging it every day. I hope love finds me. I always hope for that. But now I’m super happy. I got my party shoes on every night.
Last time we spoke was in March. What’s been going on since then?
It’s been crazy for me. I took a trip on antidepressant lane for a little bit. After the WZRD song “Dr. Pill” everyone thought I was talking about molly or ecstasy. But I’m talking about prescription meds. I had just gotten a shrink. I was having an emotional breakdown with this breakup. I kept trying different pills for five months. It fucked me up.
You addressed that on “Just What I Am.”
They weren’t working. It was every side effect on the bottle. I couldn’t fuck. My body didn’t work. It was not good. I said, “Something’s wrong with me. What the fuck? Why do I feel like I want to punch an elephant?” [Laughs.] “Why am I so irritable?” I finally got off the pills and then I started feeling normal. My brain went back to where it needed to be. I was able to analyze things and get my shit together.
What about therapy? Was that helping you?
A year ago I wouldn’t even go to a therapist or psychiatrist. But I gave it a shot. It’s working for me but it’s not for everyone. I’ve got some fucking problems. [Laughs.] It’s good for me to talk to someone who helps me see things. I had no other choice.
I was like, “Damn, I have to take a pill in order to be OK?” It bothered me. That was a real good moment after I got off the pills. I started to feel like myself again. I was happy and shit. I don’t need anything to make me feel good. I just need to get my mind in check and stop trippin’ on bullshit. I need to stop letting motherfuckers break me down, and make me feel like shit. I got to be a little stronger for myself and for my family and my fans. I can’t be out here like some simp, letting something beat me down and make me feel like a peon. It was about reclaiming who I am. It’s like “All right, let’s go. It’s time. Fuck everyone.” [Laughs.]
Anyone that’s ever said anything negative, anyone that’s ever doubted me. I was a nice guy early in my career, and people in the business still found a way to call me a dick. Now I’m just like, whatever man. Fuck it. I’m trying to be nice to you cocksuckers and you don’t even deserve all that. It’s war. People don’t know what cool is.
So, what’s cool?
It’s not hard to grasp. Cool is just being fucking authentic. Being yourself, being straight up. Legit—and have some type of fucking taste.