Cudi speaks on his musical rebirth.
Interview by Joe La Puma (@JLaPuma)
It's 11 p.m. on Monday night, and Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi is an hour away from releasing his fourth studio album, Indicud. The self-produced set leaked over a week ago, and like everything Cudi, it's not what you'd expect from a "rapper." Indicud features a blend of singing and rapping, as well as tracks where Cudi's contribution is mostly the instrumental he concocted. This has been a trend in Cudi's music lately: more than ever, he's doing things his own way.
Last week Cudi announced his departure from Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. Sure there were some hints, but the news came as a shock to many since Cudi’s been so closely associated with West. If you’ve been paying attention, you know Cudi's never been one to fall in line with what anyone else was doing. For better or worse, he’s always had a strong sense of self, and he’s bringing that energy to his new label, Wicked Awesome. Just before Indicud hit iTunes, we had a quick chat with Cudi from his home in L.A. to get his thoughts on the reception of his album, dig a bit deeper into his exit from G.O.O.D Music, and find out how he's reinventing himself all over again.
Now that you’re producing, is that just as gratifying as rapping three verses?
Oh yeah, definitely, because it’s still a part of me. It’s still my creative energy. I just want to make good songs. It doesn’t always have to be me on it and that’s what the idea was behind Indicud: to show my songwriting capabilities as well as my production.
How different is Indicud from the Cudder album we were going to get a couple of years back?
Very different. And I try to tell people this: The album is whatever I say it is. This could easily have been Man on the Moon 3. I think kids need to let go of titles and stuff and just embrace the music because at the end of the day it’s still me being extremely creative and trying to push myself and challenge people’s imagination. What people think is a solid hip-hop record in 2013, it just needs to be revamped. We just need to rewire their minds and that’s what Indicud is [doing].
I can’t listen to [my old] songs now. It was so real and open and raw and that if I listen to them I start feeling bad for myself because that was such a sad, sad life I was living.
On Twitter, you said people shouldn't compare Indicud to your past two albums, and that you were in a bad place before but now you’re not. Do you feel that you’re the voice for the people who are sad and lonely?
Yeah, because I couldn’t be the voice of the sad and lonely if I was still sad and lonely. You got to survive this shit first. How am I going to be a leader if I’m still fucked up and miserable? How can you believe and listen to anything he’s saying if he’s still fucked up like us? It’s like with the first solo dolo, who would listen to the words of my songs?
I’m really happy with all my previous work. Those albums were supposed to bring you into the moment of that place in time I was at, my head state. I can’t listen to [my old] songs now. It was so real and open and raw that if I listen to them I start feeling bad for myself because that was such a sad, sad life I was living. I was really sad kid. It kind of bums me out. I don’t ever want to look back and listen to those records. At my shows is the only time I get into that space and think about those songs. I don’t dwell on what happened in the past. Those songs are out, those albums are out. When people need them, they will be there to guide them. When they’re ready to catch up to the Indicud mind-set then they will catch up. Indicud is definitely a state of mind and it’s going to take a strong person mentally to be able to embrace it, and I just hope that all my fans that knew me since day one have grown with me. That’s all I ever wanted. I wanted us to all grow and reach a place of peace.
Does revisiting songs really have an affect on you?
Yeah, because I was writing about the present. I’m in happier space. To hang onto those records and revisit them, it’s just bonkers, and I just don’t want my mind on that right now. I need to be thinking about the future and all the great things to come. I’m excited and I’m hopeful that the rest of my life ends up being wonderful.
You've portrayed the “rager” personality in the past, and many people assume you're always angry. On “Burn Baby Burn,” you seem to be saying the opposite is true.
Yeah, this is a reminder that I’m not this fucking stressed out maniac anymore. I’m so confident in who I am. I love who I am as a person and that’s really what it is. The whole aspect of Indicud is to show my new confident self. I don’t think any of my other albums had that confident tone. I wanted to express the new head space I was in—stronger, more confident, more positive and just like a leader. I’m in a fucking position of leadership. I’m way stronger. And then “Burn Baby Burn” comes on and now it’s time to watch them burn, baby, burn. I think that ties the whole thing together. If you didn’t get it then, that will put it in perspective for you there. After that, "Lord of the Sad and Lonely" is like my speech. First, my rise to leadership, and then my speech. That’s my mission statement.
I don’t look at myself as a rapper. I look at myself as an artist. But when it comes to that skill of rapping I’m nice and that’s just what it is. Especially with flow patterns. I pride myself on my flow.
What I like about that song is that you’re not making broad statements. You’re addressing specific issues, like the term “paranoid.” Was there ever a point in your life when you were paranoid?
Yeah, I think it wasn’t paranoia in a sense of extreme paranoia, like I couldn’t go out in the world. But more paranoia of not being sure who’s around who I can trust, not even knowing who I am—as opposed to me feeling like somebody’s about to get me or anything like that. I’m not scared about my safety or about the future. I always worried what was going to happen. I’m kind of just going with the fucking flow. That’s what I meant by that.
The last time I interviewed you, we spoke about your lack of involvement on the G.O.O.D. Music album Cruel Summer. I don’t know if everybody caught it but in “Cold Blooded,” you talk about being the “black sheep of G.O.O.D Music.” Is that how you felt?
Yeah, I definitely did. I’m different than everyone else on the label in an extreme way. That line isn’t directed towards anyone at the label, it’s more like the critics and naysayers saying, “Aw, man, you’re only good for a hook.” It’s been years since I dropped a hip-hop record, so I have to remind these muthafuckas: Don’t get it twisted! I rap my ass off. I’ve been rapping since I was 14. I know how to rap and I don’t care what anyone says. I can do it on demand, whenever I feel like it and “Cold Blooded” was my way of just ripping that beat to shreds and just showing muthafuckas. I don’t look at myself as a rapper. I look at myself as an artist. But when it comes to that skill of rapping I’m nice and that’s just what it is. Especially with flow patterns. I pride myself on my flow.
I think once Watch the Throne came out, everybody started ripping off 'Ye and Jay’s flows. Even now I hear rap records and they’re just so blatant, people ripping off Hov and Ye’s flows from Watch the Throne. Another thing I always take from Jay-Z and Kanye, every project they establish new flows. I’m doing my own plus I’m doing up-tempos now with new energy behind the records. And I was really excited to do that—that creativity to come up with a way to deliver raps.
You’ve touched on Kanye’s reaction when you told him you were leaving G.O.O.D Music, and it seems like there’s mutual respect there. Have you talked to him since? Has he heard Indicud?
Definitely. I sent him a link. He listened to it. He wanted to hear it. And he wrote back, telling me that he was fucking with the "Unfuckwittable" beat. So we’re in touch. We’re supposed to link up and work on some things, work on his album. That’s why the whole leaving thing is not that big of a deal. I’m really surprised that people are making such a big deal out of it. It’s not like I’m on every song on Cruel Summer. It’s not like I’m on every song on Watch the Throne. It’s really not that big of a deal. Me and him will always work. Big Sean and I have a song on his album. I got this record that I produced with Dot Da Genius called “Vortex” that I’m going to give Pusha for his album. I want to get in the studio with him so we’re working on that. It’s really from a business standpoint, it’s not “This artist hates the label and nobody’s cool no more.”
[Kanye] listened to [Indicud]. He wanted to hear it... So we’re in touch. We’re supposed to link up and work on some things, work on his album.
You’ve called yourself an outsider of hip-hop, and you definitely do things your own way. How do you feel about the reaction to Indicud so far?
Yeah, it’s a hard road to go down. When you’re doing things that haven’t been done yet, you’re going to get some backlash. You’re going to have a lot of people who don’t get it. One thing that I noticed with the reaction is that there is a ton of people who love it so much and there’s a nice amount of people that fucking hate it. I cannot understand how one could call it “terrible” or “wack.” I don’t understand that but it’s not meant for me to understand because my mind is so far ahead. A lot of my fans are a bunch of kids and I can’t expect kids to understand a 29-year-old man’s mind. This is what I’m starting to realize.
I like to use Hov as an example. When I was coming up I was a huge fan of his work and there were a lot of songs that I got and then there were a lot of songs that I didn’t get. Not the part when he was talking about drugs—I got that shit, but just about his lifestyle, dress, and enjoying life. I didn’t understand that. And losing friends, having his situation with Dame, a lot of things he rapped about I’m discovering now, like, “Oh shit, that’s what Hov was talking about.” I feel like that’s what happening with me. You don’t get it now? You will. I’m ahead of muthafuckas. That’s how I look at it. In time people will get it and like I said I’m still listening to Hov shit and catching on. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m dealing with this experience right now. As you get older, you will be in some shit like that. It’s just one of those things. If the kids don’t discover it now... I’m patient.
My music is going to be around forever. I cut myself out a nice path that will keep me musically living forever. I’m happy about that. None of my songs have been overplayed on the radio, so when you discover these albums, enjoy them. It’s not like there’s that single that got played out on the radio. With Indicud, with “Just What I Am” and “King Wizard,” they haven’t been raped on the radio, so when people play the album it’s like they are hearing it for the first time.
Speaking of Jay-Z, you talked to him before you spoke with Kanye. Did he give you good advice?
Yeah, it’s so fucking annoying how fucking ill he is. He’s just the man. We know Hov’s story. He’s a real nigga through and through. That’s why I’m so happy for him because Hov is grown. He’s a grown man. And to have him take the time to talk to me, like really talk to me—not on some like, “Ten minutes and we will talk.” He has his daughter, he has a newborn, he has things he’s got to do. But to see that’s he’s interested in taking a minute to talk to me about this album and everything, it just means so much. I’m going to always cherish those conversations. I don’t even talk about it during interviews. He has given me great advice and guided me since day one. He’s always been supportive and that’s one relationship that I have that I hold very dear to me. Beyoncé has been very, very sweet to me, too. Every time I see her. They're two of the most amazing people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. And it’s so fucking annoying how awesome they are together. It’s why I love them because I aspire to have what they have one day. It’s just dope that I have that support system.
[Jay-Z] has his daughter, he has a newborn, he has things he’s got to do. But to see that’s he’s interested in taking a minute to talk to me about this album and everything—it just means so much. I’m going to always cherish those conversations.
The media always called you Kanye's protege, even though he wasn't very hands-on. Did you ever take offense to that?
No, not really, because I understood what they were trying to say. It was always like I got my stuff and people knew who I was working with. It was me, Emile, Plain Pat, and Dot, and it was all good. Time will tell. That’s one thing with Indicud. I have always had my own thoughts, my own vision.
The young cats in the game seem to be feeling that vision. Tyler, the Creator very rarely props people up and it seems like he genuinely fucks with your music. What is it like getting support from him, or having Rocky do a verse on your song?
It makes me feel special. All my life I just wanted to fill a void and it just makes me feel like, “Damn, Scott, you really affected people. This is what you wanted to do.” And it’s so fly that any of those kids—that anybody shows me love, because I feel old. It’s just humbling. Those guys are amazing. It’s just such a cool thing. It’s just humbling. They have no idea what that does for my ego. I thought all these kids thought I was this mainstream artist—maybe that was just me in my own head around the time of my first album, second album.
What do you have coming up next from Wicked Awesome?
Working on a box set, with all of the albums and some new stuff, hopefully coming out during Christmas, old raps and photos that my mom has in an old box. That will probably be the next thing that comes out.
I want to do something that's the ultimate Kid Cudi collectors item. Four albums is a big deal. People don't like to count WZRD, but that did happen. I worked hard on it. It's me compiling the ultimate package for my fans. It's very personal to me, and I think people will get a kick out of it.
You keep pushing yourself to try new things, and not make cookie-cutter albums. How do you handle the naysayers now compared to back in the day?
The fact that I went ahead and did it is enough of a “Fuck y’all.” That’s enough of a fuck you to everyone who has something to say. There’s no one who has the balls to try and reinvent themselves with an album, unless you're an indie band—no one. The fact that I even went and tried to execute something outside of my own comfort zone, whether you like it or not, you have to honor it. You have to respect it. And if you don’t then you’re just going to hate it. And that’s all I think about them. Nobody has the balls to do anything I have done in my entire career. So y’all can kiss my ass!