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.
You called yourself the “Bane of Hip-Hop” and “Hip-Hop’s Villain: Leader of the Delinquents.” What makes these roles so enjoyable for you?
There are so many dynamics to a villain. Who are we to say they’re villains? They’re just people who see things in a different way and go to the extreme to show us how things should be. Hip-hop needs a wake-up call. I don’t think hip-hop is terrible, or it’s dead and all that bullshit. It’s better than it’s been in a long time. It’s just some industry shit. It’s super weak. Nobody’s authentic.
That’s good for me because when I do my shit, it makes me look like the greatest musician alive—and I’m not. I’m just doing what we should all be doing. I’m using the same drums everyone else uses, same synths, sometimes the same samples. I see things in my own way and execute them that way. Nobody really does that. People ask, “What’s going to sell? What’s going to do this or what’s going to do that?” It’s weak. Most people are pussies.
I’m not stressing about my pop being gone anymore. You gotta move on. I have those memories, those 11 years I could remember. He was awesome. Dealing with him not being around to see my daughter and see me be a father has been hard though.
Who has been the most instrumental person in your career besides yourself?
I’m inspired by everyone around me. There isn’t one person. I learned how to make beats by being around Dot Da Genius, Kanye, Pat, and Emile. No one taught me anything, but I watched them and they didn’t know I was watching. I was learning when I didn’t even know I was learning. Then, when I started to make my own shit, I was like, “Whoa, this feels like I’ve been making beats my whole life.” I used to make beats as a kid, so I was always fucking around with the shit—never to this magnitude though.
Has producing re-energized you musically?
Yeah. It’s like recording in my house all over again. It’s the excitement of creating something, just letting out so much aggression on the drums and doing these intricate moments in the beat to make it mine. I can pinpoint the first time I heard my voice recorded on tape. I was like, “Wow, I sound like that?” Now, I’m making these beats and I’m like, “Wow, I made that?” I can’t believe I made “Just What I Am,” but I did. No mistake. That was me playing all that shit.
Every artist has moments where they get discouraged. You want to keep growing and pushing yourself. Before, it was the guitar. After that, I needed to explore producing. I told Chip I was making beats, and on Father’s Day he got me a Maschine as a gift. I never would’ve gone out and bought this. That’s what got me going. Now kids can listen to the music and see my skill rapping and my music, too. Before, it was, “I love these niggas’ beats that he’s rapping on.” Now it’s, “Oh he got the illest raps on the illest beats that he made.” That’s a double whammy.
Last year you tweeted about how your Wikipedia page talks about your father’s death, and how that impacted you and your music.
Whoever wrote that is so ill. It was like the first sentences of a legendary story. I’m not stressing about my pop being gone anymore. You gotta move on. I have those memories, those 11 years I could remember. He was fucking awesome. Dealing with him not being around to see my daughter and see me be a father has been hard though. These things were happening in my life where I was like, “Man, I wish my pops was here to see this.”
I never had those thoughts before fame, when my life was just a regular life. I wasn’t saying, “I wish my dad could be around and see me working at Applebee’s.” [Laughs.] It was a bummer, especially with all these extreme things that have been happening in the past couple years. I know he’s got my back and I can’t turn back the hands of time. So it’s all good.
You mentioned that you and your mom were talking about giving your father a proper burial.
We didn’t have any money when my dad died. I knew we didn’t have much, but goddamn. I didn’t know it was like that. My mom revealed to me that the casket wasn’t sealed tight. She said my father’s not there, like there’s nothing. It was hard to hear my mom say that. She wasn’t being cold, because I’m an adult. It was a reality check. She kept saying that wasn’t him down there, don’t even trip.
It’s a heavy thing but you turned it into a positive. That doesn’t define him.
Yeah, we’re shells for a while and then you go somewhere else. No one knows, but I believe that.
You believe in life after death?
I believe in something. I hope that it doesn’t just end. I’m hopeful that there’s a “to be continued.”
I realized I can’t be so controlling. I don’t have this, “Oh my God, I gotta make sure Vada has every toy and every single thing on this planet.” Or “I gotta make sure she does this or that.” I just want her to be a human being. I’ll guide her when she needs help. Sometimes you have to let the universe put things together. I’m letting life guide me so there’s no pressure anymore. It’s a peaceful thing.
Most villains have some type of backstory where they’ve been scarred or abandoned or something crazy. I know I have abandonment issues.
Did that help you be a better father?
No. I was A-plus since day one. That’s what bothered me about that shit that came out [on TMZ about the child custody case]. Why the fuck would I be a deadbeat? I was like, “That’s preposterous.” I didn’t fucking have a dad since I was a kid. I couldn’t wait to have a family and pick up where my dad left off, and be there for my kid.
Why would I not be right there? My daughter was a month premature. So I couldn’t get there but I got there the second day—boom. On it. I don’t fuck around with that shit. That’s my seed. I don’t know what type of people write this stuff. Maybe they’re sad and bummed about their own life. It pisses me off that there’s gossip with my daughter’s name in it and it’s false.
What specifically upset you so much?
The shit that’s crazy is that everything my lawyer said in his response is in the same file. People just picked out the shit that they wanted to post. It’s in the report—actual factuals. I don’t make this shit up and I don’t have nothing to hide. I don’t let the public make me feel bad about shit. I got too many other things that I can do to feel bad about myself.
Even when I got arrested [for criminal mischief and drug possession in 2010], I wasn’t in the media like, “I’m so sorry, I let everyone down.” Fuck that. I’m human. I’m just a dude. I’m trying to figure it out like all these other kids. I’m not going out of my way for these things to happen. I’m not going out of my way to get arrested. I don’t go out of my way to go to court to deal with this bullshit.
What do you take away from all this?
It’s just my life. I’m being tested on so many different things and that’s what makes a human. That’s how we grow.
But there are certain things that I’m still bitter about. I’m using it in the music. That’s why the album is so aggressive. Most villains have some type of backstory where they’ve been scarred or abandoned or something crazy. I know I have abandonment issues. I’m not saying that’s my reason for fucking up the world [laughs] but every villain has their thing and they lash out in their own way.
A lot of that is accompanied by anarchy. That’s what I’m doing: musical anarchy. Fuck the system. I don’t do radio shows. That’s not how I want to project my art. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t make me a dick. It makes me someone who doesn’t want to do what everyone else is doing to get music out.
Radio would be 10 times better if it was based on what the kids wanted to hear. It’s not about paying for spins. I don’t believe that’s the only way you can achieve success, by being on the radio a whole bunch. Not in 2012. Fuck out of here. Not with the power of the Internet. I’m proving that.
I’m successful, man. I’m good. I’m not on the radio every day. I’m not kissing ass. I’m not sucking cock. I’m doing what the fuck I want and I’m good. I’m happy. I can go wherever I want, take care of my family, not worry about money. Going on the road I know it’ll be dope. I know kids are going to come out. I’m in a good spot. I don’t have anything to prove.
Listening to your song with Too $hort, “Pretty Girls,” I realized you’ve always been about “no groupies.” Most rappers see groupies as a perk.
It was cool early on, but at 28, it’s a different thing. It’s just not something I’m into. They’re not just fucking with me. They’re fucking with whoever is in town. [Laughs.] All these niggas getting their dicks wet straight up. Girls talking about, “I love your music. Where are you from?” I’ll be like, “Bitch, I’m from Maine.”
You’ve been working with J. Cole. Are there any other people you want to produce for?
Yeah. A$AP [Rocky] and Schoolboy Q. I like those guys a lot. They know this. I would love to produce something for them. Just make a beat and a hook and let them do their thing. I’m down to make a beat and let niggas kill it. That’s fun to me. I can separate myself and not feel like I’m missing out because my production is me. That’s just another way of me showing off.
You only had one song on Cruel Summer. Were you disappointed?
I was a little disappointed. But Kanye had a vision for that. Whatever that vision was didn’t include much of me. [Laughs.] I was bummed because I could’ve contributed. I’m a good asset. But he had a different vision. Everyone that was showcased on the album did their thing and they needed that at that time. The energy was on some hip-hop shit. I was on WZRD, doing my rock shit. But I’m not tripping. “Creepers” was a jam I was holding onto for a while. It was waiting for that perfect platform and it happened to be great for that album. It would’ve been dope to have more. I want to apologize to the fans for not having more. But [sings] Ohhhh it ain’t my fault.
Right after Man on the Moon was done, you texted me, “I’m doing two or three albums and then I’m out.” You’re on your fourth now. What does that mean to you?
I win. That’s what it means. I already ran laps around my peers. [Laughs.] Nah, I’m joking. It was never a competition with us, that whole movement when we first came out. Everyone had their own flavor. Everybody wanted to have their place. We made it a competition but nobody told each other. Looking back, it was silly.
I still feel like I’m not going to be a nigga with 10 albums. I don’t want to be that guy. Once I accomplish one thing and I’m satisfied, I try something else. I may be 50 and doing something totally outside of music and acting. Maybe I’ll become a kindergarten teacher. Then I could be like, “Man when I was 20, I was a rapper,” and still have all these dope-ass jams, mackin’ on all the hot teachers in the school. I could be the school rock star.
WATCH KID CUDI'S EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW:
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Jenny Ricker. (PROP STYLING) Johnny Law. (GROOMING) Sydney Zibrak. (CLOTHING) OPENING SPREAD: Vintage pants from Palace Costume / Necklace by Lace by Tanaya / Shoes by Generic Man. PREVIOUS SPREAD: Coat by Burberry Prosum / Jeans by A.P.C. THIS SPREAD: Hoodie by the Elder Statesman. Shoes Cudi's own..