Kid Cudi & Dot Da Genius elevate their game with WZRD.
This feature is a part of Complex's WZRD Week.
The L.A. desert is a special place. Beautifully secluded, with miles of snow-capped mountains providing the backdrop and snake holes populating the sandy ground, Antelope Valley is unkempt in the most spectacular way possible. “This is so peaceful,” says Scott “Kid” Mescudi as the tranquil surf movie Sight/Sound plays in his trailer. “I’m obsessed with the desert. I wish this was my backyard.”
As much as things have changed since the duo started making music together six years ago, much has stayed the same. WZRD was no big-budget studio affair—they recorded most of the album on the road in a tour bus, or in Cudi’s basement studio in the Hills. Guerrilla style is the same way these two first started making music back in Dot’s parents’ Brooklyn apartment. Just as the pair vibed off each other to develop their own unique sound during Cudi’s demo days, over the past two years they’ve figured out how to craft a brand new alt-rock hybrid. Expanding on their hip-hop roots, they taught themselves to play guitar and bass, studied everyone from Pink Floyd and The Pixies to Nirvana and Lead Belly, and created their own type of rock album. WZRD falls in line with “Day ’N’ NIght”—the Grammy-nominated smash that catapulted the duo’s career—only in the sense that it’s different than anything rap has ever heard.
Expanding on their hip-hop roots, they taught themselves to play guitar and bass, studied everyone from Pink Floyd and The Pixies to Nirvana and Lead Belly, and created their own type of rock album.
The musical dynamic may be similar, but Cudi’s spot in the Hollywood Hills is a world away from the East New York apartment where Dot’s parents welcomed him when his back was against the wall. With no place to live, Cudi was ready to pack up and head back to Cleveland, but Dot’s strict Nigerian parents took him in and gave him a home. Recognizing the two kids’ work ethic, musical talent and creative chemistry, Dot’s mother and father wanted Dot and Cudi’s work to continue—allowing them to live and work together like brothers. Six years later they’re still taking risks, still facing their fears and pushing the envelope. And it’s all paying off for the man born Oladipo [aka “O Dot”] Omishore and his best friend from Cleveland.
The night before the photo shoot Cudi requested an authentic Native American headdress—not an article of clothing most rappers would even try to pull off. But then again, how many rappers would dare try to pull off a rock album? With no risk comes no reward. Here’s the story of WZRD.
There’s a video of you guys in 2006, you’re getting off the subway in East New York, and I think you just got back from a meeting with Atlantic records. Cudi is getting a loose cigarette and is saying to the camera: “You have to maintain, and shit’s going to pop. All we’re going to do is get our people out this bitch. The grind’s going to pay off.”
Six years later you guys are in a much better situation, and about to release a joint project. It seems like the grind is paying off.
Kid Cudi: It’s good, man. We still ain’t reach the goal yet. We just took great leaps towards it, and it’s a never-ending challenge. We always want to keep pushing ourselves and keep taking everything to the next level. We still have families to take care of, and we just have a lot more responsibility. We got ourselves up out, and we’re still trying to get our families right. It’s just cool to know that that was what, six years ago? We weren’t just talking shit. We weren’t just putting another video on the Internet. I put it on my MySpace. Remember?
Dot Da Genius: I’m trying to, because there was a couple of videos that we put out that were so under the radar that people probably still have never seen...
Dot's dad is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. I haven’t been that close to a father figure since my father died. So like, this man was the first real father I was around since my own.
Right. That’s what I’m saying. That was like a throwback clip. It still only has 68K views, which is pretty small.
DDG: It’s inspirational. Even when you see us back then, we look completely different. Cudi had golds in his mouth. [Laughs.]
KC: I had two parts and shit, before it became a trend. Way ahead of my time [Laughs.]. And I’ll never get credit [Laughs.]. Nah, I’m just fucking around, man. But yeah, the swag was different. We were young. We were just trying to figure out who we are as human beings. It’s cool that I can look back at that. I was 22 years old in that video—young as fuck. I’m 28 now.
DDG: We were like dreaming of what we could be. I was in college still. We actually went to my dorm and then went back to the hood after that.
KC: Yeah, to make music.
What were those days like for you guys?
KC: It was pretty cool. We were brothers, for a long time.
DDG: Pretty much. And that’s the vibe that we had in the house. The way my dad is, he didn’t hold back.
I understand your family pretty much took Cudi in...
KC: His dad is the most fucking amazing man I’ve ever met. I haven’t been that close to a father figure since my father died. So like, this man was the first real father I was around since my own. My dad was a stern dad. He was just like Dot’s dad in a lot of ways, as far as being strict and not fucking around. But like, the Nigerian culture is completely different. I took a lot of life lessons about being a man from watching his dad and learning from his dad and getting scolded by his dad. I’ll never forget that. It was just a really fucking intense time for us as young men, but we definitely had a strong role model. I envied that. I envied Dot’s family. It was really nice to be in such a loving home. It was dope.
DDG: Real shit, it was very random. My parents are very kind people, but we had never done anything like that prior.
KC: And I knew him, maybe all of seven months?
DDG: Yeah. It wasn’t that long. He used to come over all the time from Staten Island. I had a little studio in the basement. He’d stay in the basement. He’d always be in the studio.
KC: I’d be there until like two o’clock in the fucking morning, and then just go back to Staten Island.
Dot came downstairs, like, 'Yo, my parents want to talk to you.' I thought I was in trouble. So I went up to his parents room, and his dad was like, 'I think about it like this, if it was my son, what would I want another family to do for my son?'
DDG: The grind was real then. That’s when you didn’t have any money. Nobody had any money and you were still making time to get to the studio and get these songs done. So my dad would see that. He’d see Cudi in the studio all the time, and he really loved us doing something constructive. He was that type of person: excited just to wake up in the morning and see that we’re still in the studio. They were used to his personality by then.
KC: [Laughs.] They had to get used to me, because I made myself at home pretty damn fast.
DDG: Nah, but it was fun, because his personality—we didn’t have that in the house. My parents, they are very strict, so Scott would come and be all joking and stuff. It was just funny to see them interact. [To Cudi] You adapted to the culture pretty fast.
KC: It definitely could be a TV show. It was like Full House, the Nigerian version [all laugh]. Except, we didn’t have Uncle Jesse and shit. It was mad kids, but it was dope. I remember the day they asked me to stay over.
Yeah? How did that come about exactly?
KC: I was at O-Dot’s house, as usual, working until the wee hours. And while he was mixing a vocal I had just laid down, I was talking to him about my circumstance. I had just gotten evicted—on New Years. My homeboy had, like, a small little basement space in his home in Staten Island, over on West Brighton. He had let me stay there for a while, and I was sleeping on the floor. This was a basement, and the carpet was like “yay thin,” so you were sleeping on the fucking concrete. I got evicted on New Years Eve, right before I was about to go out. And I remember being like, “Shit—what am I going to do? I’m going to have to go back to Cleveland, go back to my old job, stack some money and then come back.”
I was talking to O-Dot about this, and they were saying that I had to be out by January 31st—the day after my fucking birthday. So I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but if I have to go back home, you can still send me beats, and we can still work.” I brought it up, not for a guilt trip, but like, “Yo fam, how are we still going to work?” Because I knew if I wasn’t proactive, I wasn’t going to get anything accomplished. So I was like, “If I go back to Cleveland, it’s temporary, literally until I can get my paper back up.” I was like, “Man, I’m just about to pass out here. Is it cool if I stay here?” and he was like, “Yeah, yeah.” So I slept on the couch.
I woke up in the morning, and Dot came downstairs, like, “Yo, my parents want to talk to you.” I was like, “What the fuck? What happened? What’d I do?” I thought I was in trouble. So I went up to his parents room, and his dad was like, “O-Dot told us about your situation, and we’ve seen that you come to the house, working with Dipo. You guys have been productive, staying out of trouble, and you guys are working towards something.” And he was like, “I think about it like this, if it was my son, what would I want another family to do for my son?” Long story short, he said, “You can stay here as long as you like, until you get on your feet. And you can still work with Dipo. You guys can still work on your music. So it’s a win-win.”
I remember being like, “Holy shit. Like, really?” [Laughs.] Because I was really about to go back home, and I ended up staying there, and the rest is history. It was really, really an amazing thing. It was a blessing just to have them in my life and for them to want to do that for me. Like I said, me and Dot only knew each other for seven months.
DDG: Yeah. I was already in New York.
KC: Through a mutual friend that I was working with at Abercrombie & Fitch. He was a good friend of Dot’s named Riliwan. Riliwan’s just such a real motherfucker, to this day, that we play him records and get his opinion—because he’s not going to cut us any slack. But, being that our records have been so awesome [Laughs] he barely says anything. We would rap at work, and he would spit, and he was like, “Yo, I know a producer. I want you to meet him.” I was like, “OK,” and he had him come up. We met up, and Dot played me some beats. I remember being like, “OK.” I wasn’t like, blown away [Laughs.].
DDG: I had just started producing.
It’s the perfect yin and yang. What I’m missing, Cudi’s got covered, and vice-versa.
—Dot Da Genius
KC: He had just started producing at the time. I wasn’t blown away, but I saw potential in the artistry. Just like anybody who would have heard my earlier raps, they would have been like, “OK. There’s some potential here.” We were both trying to perfect our craft. I wasn’t spitting, like, “Cudderisback” raps back in ’06 [Laughs].
DDG: You were spitting, though.
KC: I was spitting, but it wasn’t polished just yet. And I’ve always been the type of person that was, like, “I’ve just got to get in the studio and make something from scratch.” He was like, “Alright.” So we linked up, and the first session we had we made a couple jams. The first one was dope. We just started banging out records. We had chemistry instantly. When I would hum some shit, he would play it back proper— just right. We’d see it through, and he’d help me build on top of that idea and help me see it for the real vision that it is. It was literally [snaps fingers] that fast. As soon as we got in the studio, we were out of here. And we’ve been working like that ever since.
What was it like working together back then, during the “Day N’ Night” time period?
KC: Dot is a songwriter. That’s one of the reasons that I connected with him, truly. Because he wasn’t a beat maker. If you’ve heard any of his early shit, it was all R&B-type shit. He’s been playing piano since he was a kid, so he’s just a musical dude. So I knew if we just stuck it out and worked together more and more, we would end up building something that was bigger than the both of us. I think WZRD has been in the making for some time now, we just didn’t know it.
DDG: Yeah, exactly. I will say that—especially when I finally linked up with Cudi—his creativity is fucking out of here. He was always opening my mind to more eclectic-style stuff. When I first started making music, I was going with what I was hearing and trying to make something around that realm, but he’ll come and do something unorthodox, and I’m like, “Oh shit. This could work.” Then, from the unorthodox style, I started developing a different sound and really paying attention to other things. It’s the perfect yin and yang. What I’m missing, Cudi’s got covered, and vice-versa.
Do you guys feel pressure to impress each other?
DDG: Yeah, because... Well, Cudi’s very particular and...
KC: [Laughs.] It sounds like he said it in a way like, “Cudi’s very... difficult and hard to work with.” [Laughs.]
DDG: Not even. You know what it is, though. He knows what he wants. From the minute he hears an idea, he knows if he rocks with it or if he doesn’t. So of course there’s pressure when we’re in the studio, and I’m trying to make a beat or drums or something. But him actually being my friend, it’s like, the perfect situation, because you don’t want to go into the studio all tense.
KC: It’s very casual.
KC: We’ve been casually working since we met. We didn’t have any deals, we didn’t have any goals. We were just two dudes in the studio trying to make jams since we met. So it’s kind of the same type of thing, except with an album you have some deadlines. I also feel pressure to impress my friends and to impress Dot. Like, when I came up with “Dr. Pill,” I was excited for them to hear it, because if they’re like, “Aw, we’re not fucking with it,” I’m going to be like, “Oh shit. What am I going to do?” [Laughs.]
You’ve got that confidence, because you know you’re good. But there’s always that chance that your world can get, like, fucking crushed.
KC: Yeah. You definitely want to impress your partner. You want them to be like, “Oh shit, you did this...”
KC: I’m impressed by O-Dot all the time. He doesn’t stop impressing me. I might be like, “O, I have a drum pattern,” and just beat-box the drum pattern or some shit—or lay down a rough. And he’ll come in and make the shit sound like what it’s supposed to sound like. He’ll add special shit here and there, and I’ll be like, “Oh shit, that was mad creative. I would have never thought of that. Holy shit.” That’s what I’m talking about. Since day one, I’ve been telling Dot to think outside the box. He’ll tell you that.
Rock and roll has been low-key. There’s been some really good bands out there, but rock is almost like the underground sh*t now. Mainstream sh*t, pop culture, is all hip-hop. Hip-hop is pop now. So it’s not like the ’90s, when rock and roll was everywhere.
KC: Since “Day ’N’ Night,” Yo, man. Think outside the box, man. Use some sounds that we ain’t never heard before.”
KC: It’s just crazy, because I’m seeing him think outside the box more and more as we’ve been working. And it’s like our frequencies are matched—whereas, when we first met, I had my frequency, and I was trying to get Dot up to my frequency. At first, it was like, “Come on, man. See where my mind is at.” It was slow building, because I was still trying to establish that frequency and the sound of it. “Dat New New” was when we had our formula, but “Day ’N’ Night” was when it was perfected. It was like, “This is where we’re going with it. This is what it needs to be.”
When did you guys think this album was a reality? Not like, “Oh, I want to do it.” But like, “OK, this is really going to happen?”
KC: When I opened my mouth and said it [Both laugh]. Because I don’t fuck around, man. I was sitting on the idea for a couple months. Then, I was like, “Man, this shit keeps popping up in my mind and in my soul. I want to do this.” Then I picked up that instrument, and it made it even more of a reality for me, because it was like, “OK, I’m really doing this, and I’ve formed this connection with this instrument, and it feels comfortable to me to play it. I instantly was like, “We can make a whole album like this. We need to make a whole album with this instrument. Like, we have to. And I don’t want to feel restricted. I want to be able to fucking sing my heart out and just fucking rock.”
All I wanted to do was rock, man. I just wanted to rock and roll, and that’s all I want to do right now. I just want to rock and roll. I think rock and roll has been like, low-key, man. There’s been some really good bands out there, but rock is almost like the underground shit now. It’s like mainstream shit, pop-culture, is all hip-hop. Hip-hop is pop now. So it’s not like the ’90s, when rock and roll was everywhere, and it was like, mainstream shit. When you watched an award show, it was mainly rock bands, and the hip-hop section was very small.
I just want to have people hear the guitar in a different way than they’ve ever heard Which is really a big thing to want to do, because the instrument has been around for ages. But even with some of the music we’ve been playing, the way the records sound, and the plug-ins that we used, and how we played shit, and how we constructed the records, is very different. It’s like, you haven’t heard it this way.
DDG: I think the special thing about the album is that he decided to play the instrument, having no previous knowledge or teachings or understanding of the instrument. He just wanted to make an album with it, by himself, playing the guitar. He could have easily gotten a whole bunch of people to come play guitar and play his riffs for him.
I guess everything was leading up to this day.
KC: Since we met.
DDG: Yeah, I feel like it was destined for us to finally hone in on this sound.
DDG: It is.
KC: We can honestly sit here and say to you that it was our destiny to work together. From me dreaming of working at Abercrombie & Fitch, like, “Man, all I need is that $9 an hour”... Getting the phone call that I got the job, then going to work and meeting these guys that rap and me rapping and them realizing I had flow... My homeboy being like, “Yo, I know somebody who has beats”... Me being like, “Word? Let me meet him”... Meeting him... It’s like, the chain of events. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I knew O-Dot made beats, and he was at this party. So I got on the train and sought after him, and I really went hard, and he was ignoring my phone calls, and I kept at him and kept at him.” It was all casual, like, it could be a film. The chain of events is so boom-boom-boom. I almost got kicked out. Then, there was one mega-event: the parents saying I could stay there. That helped the story stay on its trajectory.
There was so many points where we both could have went astray and lost our way. Motherfuckers was in the hood. Like, Dot could have been like, “Fuck this. I’m selling dope.” Easily. It was, like, a block away. This shit, when you think about it man, it’s just so wild. It’s so wild. It fucks my head up sometimes when I think about it, because a lot of people be like, “This was my destiny. This was my destiny.” But like, this shit was really destined to happen. The stars lined up just right.
Dot's parents [sat] me down like, 'You need to get a job.' And [I was] like, 'Listen. I didn’t come here to work a 9-to-5. If I go to work, then I can’t make music.' They were just like,'But what if it doesn’t happen?'
Your relationship was organic.
KC: Yeah. This is some real shit. I couldn’t use the computer until he came home. Like, I used to have to stay there and wait for him to come home on weekends, because he was staying in the dorms during his second year of school. So I couldn’t even make music until he came home—shit like that. Then, his parents sitting me down and being like, “You need to get a job.” And me being like, “Listen. I didn’t come here to work a 9-to-5. If I go to work, then I can’t make music.” They were just like, “But what if it doesn’t happen?” And I was like, “It’s going to happen.”
KC: Dot was there. We got in an argument. I got mad, because they kept saying, “But what if it doesn’t?” I was like, “There is no ‘but if...’ It’s going to happen.” I remember them saying, “We’re not saying that your dreams aren’t going to come true, but we feel like you should have something to fall back on.” And I was just like, “Yo, this is it. This is plan D. This is all we got. This is all we got right now. It’s got to happen.”
DDG: The shit is mind-blowing, because back then, we were just pursuing it blindl. We were making songs, but we didn’t know what to do with them.
KC: [Laughs.] We’ve still got mad songs that the public hasn’t heard that are just phenomenal. Earlier beats that I was fucking around making...
So getting into the album, “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie” is obviously a special song. Do you think it’s the most personal song you’ve done?
KC: Yeah. It’s tough for me to talk about love on records. I’ve never been that type of artist. It’s like, I have no love songs at all. I kind of took a whole other route with my music. This is just something that I was inspired to write. I felt like, if I was going to talk about it, this was a good first shot at expressing myself, and how I feel about this person. Just like how I was saying I want to do a song singing to my daughter. I know it’s going to take forever, because I want to make the right song. If I’m going to make a song for my daughter, it better be the most perfect song in the world. It better be the most glorious song with the most beautiful melodies that no one has ever heard. So, it’s like that pressure.
How did Jamie react to it?
KC: She loved it. Me and Jamie’s relationship has been relatively private, and that’s how we’d like to keep it. Yet, every woman likes to have the man that’s in her life, like, claim her and not be ashamed and say, “I love this woman.” I just missed that in a relationship. I fumbled, and making this song just happened to be my redemption to her. Just to let her know how important she is to me and how she’s made me feel. Thank God she loved it. If she was like, “It just sucks! A motherfucker makes a song about me, and then it just sucks!” I would have been like, “Shit. Fuck.” [Laughs.].
KC: See, here’s the thing; These songs are more bright and positive. So one may think that they’re less emotional, because it’s not talking about sadness and loneliness—the really dramatic emotions. But for me, this is the most emotional, because I was so excited about this feeling I was having. That’s why all the songs are so uptempo and they have energy. And how I’m singing, I’m really pushing myself to another level, just singing that way. Like, I remember I played “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” for my sister, and she didn’t even know it was me. She didn’t even recognize my voice, because she said, “The sound is so different.” I’ve never pushed it to this level before, and that’s what I like to do. I always like to take it to the next level, and then expand my palette of different styles. So I definitely feel like it was my most emotional, man. When you listen to “Efflictim,” that song is like...
DDG: It’s heavy.
Hip-hop is a really lucrative business. A lot of people get into it to make money and ain’t nothing wrong with that either. It’s a positive business venture. Why not? But at the same time, that’s all music has turned into. The artistry is lost in the cracks.
KC: I woke up one morning, I grabbed my guitar. It was like, 9 a.m. I sat on my couch in my drawers and started playing this melody. I started singing it, and I was all emotional and shit—to tears—and I was like, “This has got to be on the album.” Like, “We’ve got to have this.” It wouldn’t be a Kid Cudi project if we didn’t have some type of sad-ass tear-jerker. It’s always going to be a really personal song for me, and when I’m performing, it’s going to get me really emotional. It’s just really powerful.
Dot, is it more fulfilling for you to work with someone who puts so much emotion into their music, as opposed to someone who’s maybe rapping about cars...
KC: Bitches and hoes [Laughs.]
DDG: Nah, it’s more fulfilling working with anyone who puts some thought into what they’re saying and actually thinks about their message and how people are going to interpret it. Because rapping about things that are obvious doesn’t strike emotion. The songs that transcend through time are the songs that evoke some kind of emotion in me, whether it makes me mad or sad. So I feel like with Cudi, there’s a madness to his method.
Cudi you Twittered, “Ain’t nobody really saying shit in today’s music.” Just “hoes, money, swag and bullshit.” Do you guys both feel that way?
KC: Yeah, man. The tweet said it all [Laughs.].
DDG: There’s a lot of music out right now that... you’re puzzled. You’re like, “Damn. People are really feeling this song right here?” But music evolves. There’s a lot of great artists doing a lot of good things out there too.
KC: What really makes me more passionate about it, more than ever, is the fact that I’ve got a seed. But it’s not like I make, like, Christian music [Laughs.]. I’m just saying people don’t really even try, man. They don’t try to push themselves as artists. Hip-hop is a really lucrative business. A lot of people get into it to make money and ain’t nothing wrong with that either. It’s a positive business venture. Why not? But at the same time, that’s all music has turned into. The artistry is lost in the cracks. You have to search for it. You have to really look and dig deep—and that’s the kids that are online, looking at websites and blogs for new music. It’s really intense, and I wish that more of the music that’s under the radar would be brought to the forefront. Like Dot said, there’s a lot of artists out there that are doing something, that are saying something. Music is a very powerful medium, and you could really use it for some good, and affect a lot of people in a really, really positive way and save lives. I’ve had my share of raps and talking my shit—and you’re probably still going to hear me laying down raps, talking my shit. But at the end of the day, when you think of Kid Cudi, you know the basis of my shit, my whole theme is telling my tale and inspiring people and helping people. That’s the mission, and I feel like other people should find their missions, because it’ll take your whole shit to another level. Your whole mind will go to a whole other place and a whole other space. I feel like I understand my purpose now, as a human being on this planet.
DDG: I feel exactly how you summed it up.
KC: It’s really tough. Like, the old me would have been like, “Yeah, man. Niggas is weak.” I mean, you know, there’s songs that aren’t good—flat out. But I’m not a critic, and I hate critics. I just know it’s true. And sometimes something just needs to be put out there in the universe. Maybe somebody will be like, “Fuck that nigga,” but in the back of their mind, they’re like, “Maybe I should step my game up.” Like, if I can inspire one motherfucker...
KC: I like A$AP Rocky. I love how him and Schoolboy Q chopped up the “Pursuit” shit. I was really flattered, because in my head, I think the young kids think I’m fucking lame and old [Laughs.]. I feel like they think I’m old school. So it’s like, when they honor me in a really creative way, it’s like, “Yes!”
I like A$AP Rocky. I love how him and Schoolboy Q chopped up 'Pursuit.' I was really flattered, because in my head, I think the young kids think I’m lame and old [Laughs.]. I feel like they think I’m old school.
They did really well on that.
KC: It’s really fucking genius, and I had no problems that it wasn’t me, because the Lissie cover [of “Pursuit of Happiness”] I’m a fan of. So I thought it was really interesting. If they would have used the original, it would have been like, cliché. It would have been like, “Aw, fam.” Her version was such a different way of interpreting the song, then the way they chopped it up was really on point. Whoever produced that: bravo. Then my attorney hit me up and asked me to clear it, and I was really excited. That was the first time I was clearing one of my songs for someone’s sample. I was just really flattered, and I was like, “Alright, yeah. Cool. Approve.” That’s fucking alright. That’s cool, man. It’s groovy.
Did it get easier to make songs as Cudi got better at playing the guitar?
DDG: Absolutely. It was easier for him to play ideas he had.
KC: Basically, what he’s saying is that I fucking stumbled upon some cool ways of playing it. I fumbled my way through it, and we kind of ended up figuring out the sound that we want. That’s how it happened.
There’s been other rock albums by rappers. The most recent one is Lil Wayne. What do you think WZRD brings to the table that other artists have failed to do?
KC: I don’t know, man. I think, anyone who sets out to do anything out of their comfort zone deserves a round of applause. When people critique people so hard, I think that’s really wack. You’re supposed to be someone that pushes the envelope. Yeah, it might have been odd for Lil Wayne to say he wanted to do a rock album, because he’s been doing hip-hop for so long, but it’s like, “Shit, man. Why not? Fuck it.” People are like, “Well, we don’t want you to sing.” It’s like, “Man, fuck that.” The artist is supposed to do what they’re passionate about. I mean, WZRD brings that same energy. But being that, we are a different thing—we’re a band. We have our own sound. We really built this shit from the ground up with me playing guitar, without much experience, playing this shit on the tour bus. It was almost like we were in a high-school garage band.
DDG: We didn’t get into one studio.
KC: Yeah. You know why, though? The reason why I didn’t get into the studio was because I was afraid people would leak the records. So it was like, I wanted to keep it a secret for a long time. That’s why people still haven’t even heard anything. You can’t even ask around the business if anyone’s heard it, because nobody has. ‘Ye hasn’t even heard all of this shit, yet. He’s heard maybe like, six or seven jams, because I didn’t have much finished or on me at the time.
How did he react?
KC: He loves it. That’s always a good feeling, when I bring something around him and he’s like, co-signing it. He was like, really excited.
I always wanted to ask you how it felt when Kanye was like, “Kid Cudi’s my favorite artist in the world.”
KC: It was an amazing feeling. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I think he’s full of shit [Laughs.] I love him for saying that. I really do. That was one of the most flattering things anyone’s ever said to me. As mega as he is, it’s an amazing thing to say. He didn’t have to say that. Again, I think he’s out of his mind for saying that [Laughs.]. But that’s really fucking cool.
Rock stars back in the day were like, mythical artists. No one knew what they were doing. You couldn’t really get in touch with them. Twitter has really killed that. Do you think that’s a good or bad thing?
KC: In a lot of ways it’s amazing. You’ve just got to limit yourself, because it can get out of hand. I do think it’s a good thing, because these kids really just want to connect with you and chop it up with you. That’s all they really want, and I get it. Coming up, we had our favorite artists, but we would never see them, unless it was at a concert, let alone being able to say something to them. Like with fan-mail, you knew you weren’t getting a response. You were getting some fan-mail shit, like posters and shit. Things have changed so drastically since we were young. It’s an amazing tool. If I had something like this when I was in school, I probably would have been even more inspired. I probably would have had a deal by 17, just off of being inspired.
I noticed this year that a lot of my heroes and people that I look up to are deceased. I was just really inspired by Kurt Cobain's life and his story and his music. I just felt really empty at that point in my life.
The rock album was definitely a risk. Did you have any major doubts?
KC: Yes. I had a long-ass period of writer’s block. It’s never happened to me, ever. Well, it has in small pieces—like I can’t finish a verse or some shit. Usually I write fast, but this time it happened full-on. I couldn’t make a song to save my life for, like, at least four or five months.
DDG: Joe asked me earlier if there was a point where it was, like, “Let’s scrap everything.” I never got that from you. Even though you were having writer’s block, it never seemed like you were, like, “Nah. I’m not going to do this.”
KC: Oh, no. I know myself. I was like, “It’ll happen when it’ll happen. The stars will line up just right. The chakras will be where they need to be, and I’ll just totally be in it.” After that little streak we just started banging out shit, because I started to learn little tricks with the guitar and was really inspired. I just started listening to a lot of songs that I liked with beautiful melodies, just to get my mind going.
Cudi you went to Kurt Cobain’s house. I saw the pictures. It seemed like you were really soaking in that moment on the bench. What was that like for you?
KC: I’ll say this; I noticed this year that a lot of my heroes and people that I look up to are deceased. I was just really inspired by the man’s life and his story and his music. I just felt really empty at that point in my life, at that low point. I don’t know, man. Something told me, “Just go there, and sit there.” It was really eerie. It was sad. It was something that I always wanted to do, when I got the chance to do it, and I was happy about that. But it was just really, really sad. I don’t really like talking about that. I don’t really like talking about him in the press that much. People know he’s an inspiration, and let’s just keep it at that. That man has a family, and I don’t want to disrespect anybody. I’m somebody who is a fan and is inspired by his life and inspired to turn my shit around.
When did you decide to cover the song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
KC: My boy Cage put me on to a lot of his videos. Cage has been, like, my outlet to rock and roll, on the low. Any questions I have, I just turn to Cage, and he would put me on. He put me on to Nirvana’s “Unplugged” session. I remember that was the song that stuck out the most and hit me the most, but then I did some research, and I found out it was a cover of Lead Belly. And I was like, “Whoa. Who the fuck is Lead Belly?” And I did all this research, and I listened to all his songs and shit. I was just absorbing everything, and I was like, “Man. I’m really feeling the tune. I feel like we should touch this. Like, we should try to put our own spin to it.” It was like, instantly. When I heard it and I saw it, I was like, “I want to do something like this.”
It’s a very heavy song.
KC: And I’ve thought about this, too, because my lyrics are so dark, and Dot’s life is so, like, amazing [Laughs.]. I do all these like, really evil, dark songs, and Dot’s a part of it by default. He’s like, “Man, really, I’m happy. Damn. Cudi’s the one with the problems.” [Laughs.]
DDG: Cudi put me on to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session, and it was the last song that he performed live. So when he told me about the history behind it, it was amazing. It’s like, it’s history. It’s African-American history.
KC: It’s rock and roll history.
KC: Because nobody’s really touched that since then.
DDG: It was just amazing. His vocals, covering the song, were unmatched.
KC: Yeah. Nobody could do it like him, and that’s why—for a long time—there was some debate as to whether or not we should even do it, because it’s not like we were trying to outdo them. Nirvana? One of the greatest bands ever? You can’t outdo them. But I realized in the past year, “Hey, there is a Kid Cudi sound. Let me fucking push it. Let me Kid-Cudi-ize whatever I could get my fucking hands on.” That was my way of putting my own spin on it, because I connected with those lyrics in such a way.
Are you guys aware that critics may gravatate to that cover when it comes out?
DDG: Yeah, absolutely.
KC: We know that there could be some backlash or people saying that we shouldn’t have done it, but at the same time, you know, Fuck it. We don’t mean any disrespect. And like Dot said, that’s African-American history right there. I think it’s only fitting. We’re just two black guys doing rock and roll [Laughs.].
DDG: That should have been the name of the album [All laugh].
KC: [Singing] “Two black guys doing rock and roll, the new album, Christmas edition.”
Has the label given you guys any problems about this album being such a departure?
KC: No. Everybody’s really excited, and whatever I do, they’re behind me. The only issue is getting everybody to see where it can go and see the magnitude of what we’re doing. It’s kind of tough, because it’s not like we have a single on the radio. It’s not like we have people pushing it. So it’s like, it’s a whole other ball game, but we have faith in our fans and in the music, because we know this music is good. It’s going to reach people. I’m really proud of it. It’s like, one of my biggest accomplishments. It’s my first thing outside of Dream On, and I did it. I did a whole album with my buddy—just us. We did that shit, and that shit sounds amazing. I feel really, really good about it.
DDG: I feel really good about the sound. We already know that the next album is going to be fucking... It’s hard thinking about it, because we know right now what we can do with those instruments.
WZRD is forever. I felt so alive working on this project. Hip-hop will stress you out, man. It’s like, 'Man. I’ve got to think of the wittiest way to say this shit.' It’s just so stressful.
So this is not a one-off? You guys plan on doing another one at some point?
KC: Yes. WZRD is forever. It’s forever, man. I’m about to be doing this shit forever. I felt so alive working on this project, man. It was so awesome. Hip-hop will stress you out, man. It’s like, “Man. I’ve got to think of the wittiest way to say this shit.” It’s just so stressful.
DDG: You said something that I was like, “Wow. That’s a perfect description.” About the hip-hop car-salesman.
KC: Oh, yeah. Well, I was saying, in hip-hop, each rapper is like a car-salesman. They’re selling themselves when they first meet you. It’s like, “Look, look, look, I got jewelery. I got this. I got that.” And by the end of their spiel, they want you to believe they’ve got money, bitches...All the things that they talk about, they want you to believe them. Every song is just trying to convince you, “I’m the realest motherfucker.” Everybody’s like, “I promise!” It’s like, the first song on the album should be “I Promise.” Track two, “I’m Not Lying,” and then “Realest Nigga Forever.” Whereas some people’s shit is like, “Hey. This is what it is. Accept me for me.” It’s like, “We’ve got what we’ve got. We are who we are.” I never want to feel like I’m selling myself or trying to convince motherfuckers I’m cool or some shit. Fuck that. Fuck that “being cool” shit. I’m just a dude, and that’s how I live my life.
Some of the best bands have broken up. Did you guys make a commitment to yourselves that whatever happened music-wise, you’d still be tight as friends?
KC: Yeah, I think it’s an unspoken rule. We haven’t really had a sit-down, but Dot knows my experiences in business, and he learns from me. We knew when we first got into this what we wanted to do. We had our goal, and we’re not the type of people to just say some shit and not follow through. Me and Dot have always been prolific with work.
DDG: Because the relationship extends back so long, me and him can get passionate about a topic to the point where we find ourselves yelling and shit, but that doesn’t really matter. Nothing really matters but what we’re doing here.
Cudi you're always said there’s a very small amount of people around you who you can trust. Did that factor in going back to working with Dot exclusively, and not, say, Pat and Emile?
KC: No, that didn’t have anything to do with it. Not at all. It’s just that when I started working with Pat and Emile, we were just really wrapped up in creating a new sound. I had a particular vision for the Man On The Moon shit. It was a little bit more out there and in the direction of Emile’s ear, because he was the executive producer then, and Plain Pat, too. But Dot was always around sending beats and shit. Getting back with Dot made me realize that if I’m going to stay true to the Kid Cudi sound, it’s working with the man I created it with. My musical direction didn’t have anything to do with the split, because Pat and Emile embraced Dot. We were all jamming.
Are you excited to play it for Emile and Pat?
KC: I don’t think there will be a time when I play it for them. I think they might just hear it. I’m curious as to what they might think. They’ll probably hate it. They probably won’t like it. I mean, Pat will probably shit on it [Laughs.] He’ll probably find something wrong with it, some flaw. Emile will probably lie to me and tell me it’s good, even though he doesn’t like it that much [Laughs.] Nah, Emile will like it. Pat will probably say it sucks. Even so, I can’t think about that. I’m doing what I want to do, and this is what makes me happy. I like these songs. I don’t really care what the critics will say or what anyone might say. I like these songs, and they help me.
You did a song called “High Off Life.” Would you say that you’re high off life for the first time?
KC: Yeah, for the first time. I woke up, and I embraced the day. I was excited to see the sun. Maybe it was California, I don’t know, but it was just really dope, man. I started experiencing new things. I got my first car. I got a chance to have that freedom for the first time in a long time. I had my dog [Laughs.] I had a little life going. I had a family groove. I was just feeling it. I was in a place where just living my life was enough thrills for me, just going out the house. That was what was good for me.
[My daughter Vada] looks like a perfected version of me. She’s just a really, really cool, chill, happy baby. She’s a little prankster, too. It’s just exciting, man. I want to be super-dad. I want to have a family. I want to get married soon. I want to take on that responsibility.
You’ve said that you’ve had angels in your life, and last time we spoke Vada was just a little baby. Now that she’s growing up, and she’s talking, and you can buy her sneakers and stuff—how is that for you?
KC: Let me tell you something about Vada, man. She’s so cool. It’s the most wild thing. I love her to death, and every time I’m around her it’s a crazy experience, because she’s growing and learning right there in front of you.When I come and pick her up, she just screams out of control and runs at me. That’s a small thing that most people might not really... But for me that’s like, “Aw, shit! She’s excited to see me.” [Laughs.] It’s dope.
DDG: That’s love right there.
KC: Yeah. And she be checking for me. Like, I’ll leave the room, and she’ll be like, “Da da!” [Laughs.] She’s so cute, man, and she looks like me. She looks like a perfected version of me. She’s just a really, really cool, chill, happy baby. She’s a little prankster, too. It’s just exciting, man. I want to be super-dad. I want to have a family. I want to get married soon. I want to take on that responsibility.
Dot, what do your parents say when they see you two together now, and the success you both have had?
DDG: My dad was always just a positive man. So the way he moved with us was just like, “Y’all are going to make it. Y’all are doing something special. Something’s going to happen.” Down to, like, paying the studio time, buying studio equipment. He built out the studio we were working in. He always knew something was going to happen. He’s always been there, so to see the growth and to see what’s happening now, he and my mom are very excited about it. So when I go back to him, and I talk to him, and he asks me how things are going...
KC: You say, “Fucking amazing, dad. Guess what? Listen up. So I was in fucking Saint Tropez, right...?” [All laugh.] I had to make sure I pronounced it correctly.
People were really affected by the Ben Breedlove situation. The young man with the heart condition who saw you in one of his dreams after passing out in the hallway of his high school. He made a video saying you were his favorite rapper, and then sadly passed away a couple weeks after. That was some heavy stuff.
KC: That situation I don’t really even like to talk about, because if you could imagine how it would feel to be put in a situation like that? It was just such a powerful video, man. I’ve never been affected by something like that, ever.It really hit me hard. In life you come to that point where you’re just trying to love yourself a little bit better. Now I don’t feel like I love myself enough, and when the kids say that they love me, and they adore me in that way, it’s just overwhelming. Because it’s like, “Man, these kids really care about me.” It’s like, How could they love me so much, and they don’t know me? It’s really humbling and it makes me want to be a better person. That shit just fucked me up. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.
Let’s talk about the Pink tattoo. People will look at it and say, “Oh, he’s a big fan of Pink Floyd.” But there’s more to it, right? There’s similarities between that Pink character and you.
When did you decide you wanted to get that, and what similarities do you see between that character and yourself?
KC: Well, I decided to get it right before we left for Australia. There was like two days of thinking about it, and then I finally just made up my mind and got it. A year and a half ago, I had my Pink moment. I connected with the isolation. I had a lot of times where I didn’t leave my house for weeks. In New York, I would just stay in the house, order in, just sit there and keep myself in this little cave, this cage, and I liked it there. It was just shitty conditions, and I shouldn’t have been doing that. I was just so afraid of the world and judgement and whatever—and the responsibility, that I shielded myself away from the world in the same way that Pink did. Pink didn’t make it out, but I did. Like I said, a lot of my heroes are dead. He was a fictional character, but it’s based on these band members’ real lives. I still feel like I’m doing it for Pink. He didn’t make it, but I did. I broke down the wall and got through it and survived, and I’m here.
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Kyle Blackmon. (GROOMING) Lina Hanson. (COVER) ON CUDI: Shirt by Bathing Ape / T-shirt by Splendid Mills / Jeans by J Brand / Sneakers by Converse / Gold Bracelet by Cartier / Bracelets by Maisha Lin / Sunglasses by Mosely Tribes. Necklaces by Highly Endangered x Maasai Org. ON DOT: Blazer by Calvin Klein Collection, T-Shirt by Calvin Klein, Jeans by DNG, Shoes by John Varvatos. (BAND OF BROTHERS) ON CUDI: Headdress and boots by Palace Costume / Vest and t-shirt by Vintage Kelly Cole / Jeans by A.P.C. / Sunglasses by Mosely Tribes / Gold Bracelet by Cartier. ON DOT: Shirt by Prada / Jeans by Dior Homme / Shoes by Clarks Scarf worn on head by Canali / Necklace Dot's own.