Dot Da Genius and Kid Cudi have entered rareified air. Since 2006, the two friends and musicians have been turning to each other for inspiration, slowly becoming one of music history’s legendary production duos in the process. But where other partnerships have been waylaid by ego, fame, and music industry intrigues, Dot and Cudi have pressed on. Nearly 15 years and seven albums since “Day ‘N Nite,” last month’s release of Man On The Moon III marked their most evolved and sonically sophisticated collaboration yet. And they did most of it amidst a pandemic.
Granted, making the album was a little more complicated than simply quarantining together. After an early session with ascending production duo Take a Daytrip, Cudi and Dot had three tracks from which to build, including the first and last song. They just needed to fill in the middle.
So Dot began a painstaking process of refinement, creating tracks with Daytrip that would then be passed along to one of Dot’s inner circle (another camp of production icons). When their additions came through, Dot would bring the song back to Cudi for finishing touches.
That could include instrumentation, vocals, and maybe a movie reference or two. Cudi is, by Dot’s estimation, a walking movie encyclopedia, able to pull quotes or pick up a scene at random. One of those quotes came from Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim.
You won’t know or care, but Pigeons & Planes has an unhealthy fascination with Michael Cera.
Did you say unhealthy?
It started with photoshopping him into album covers and spiraled from there. But we felt a little vindicated when he popped up on “She Knows This.” How did you land on that quote, “What if I want the satisfaction?”
Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a very classic movie. Cudi's a huge fan, and it was completely his idea. He's always quoting clips from movies, while we were in the studio, Cudi literally thought about that moment in the clip and the fact that his name is Scott. You know what I'm saying? He just pulled that out of the air.
It’s a unique form of creativity, hearing something totally separate click into place in a new context.
Cudi is the goat at that. He has constant references and ideas, and he's such a movie buff. If I say something, if I quote something from a movie right now, I know I can get him going, laughing... Just because that's the type of shit he's into.
When are you the most productive when it comes to the two of you?
When it's just us and we're just chilling and we've gotten so accustomed to creating together that it's extremely chill in the studio for the most part. We have our sessions where we need to hunker down and focus, but for the most part, it's jokes. And it really stems from Cudi. He'll say quotes from movies I've never seen and it will just sound funny as hell. I'm thinking he's making this shit up. That's just him.
Do you have movies on in the background?
We will. We'll put some movies on. Cudi's very particular in the studio. No sports, which kills me, especially around playoff time in basketball. I have to sneak out of the studio, pull out my iPhone and stream it. He just doesn't find any creativity from that. So normally it's movies, cartoons, sound off.
You don’t get distracted by sports?
I'm able to compartmentalize. I can work and if something crazy happens, I'm going to react and get right back to what I'm doing. But as far as visually stimulating, I don't know if sports is the most visually stimulating thing to have on in the studio. There's so much things you can put on that can inspire.
I’m not surprised to hear you can compartmentalize like that. You pulled off a crazy balancing act in the making of Man On The Moon III. You’ve worked with Daytrip before, but this was a new level. They were the new addition to your usual inner circle of legends like Plain Pat and Mike Dean. And to balance that on top of working with Cudi—talk me through the process.
I was with Cudi pretty much every day. My role was to keep Cudi inspired. So I would be creating with him, I would bring creations to other people, and then bring the music to him. You know, bring ideas from different producers, anything to jumpstart creativity.
Me and Daytrip, we have a special working relationship. We have a track record already, and we have chemistry. So bringing them in was natural. We were able to create a lot of records that way. And then some of the records, like for instance “Rockstar Knights,” I had to do outside of the studio and bring to Cudi for him to catch a vibe.
Plain Pat is literally our OG. So consulting Plain Pat about records he sent me outside of the Man On The Moon sessions, “Solo Dolo III” was a beat me and Plain Pat did initially during the Entergalactic sessions that Cudi never recorded to. But he was inspired to during the Man On The Moon III sessions.
His performance on that song is really powerful. I remember seeing you had checked in on him after hearing it for the first time.
Listen, Cudi's my brother, so I know him. We talk about a lot of things, but there's certain things he can really get out only through the music. When he recorded that—I'm in the studio with him every day. But that day he recorded it, I was not in the studio. It was just him and [studio engineer] Bill. He called me like, "Yo, I just cut to this." He sent it over, and I listened and called him right away.
The song is amazing by all standards. I really love that song off the album, but it's also very dark. It's a peek into the dark side of Cudi's mind, and I didn't want the dark side to fester. I didn't know if it was festering or what was going on. So I called just to make sure.
We pretty much talk about everything, but someone can tell you they're fine and not be fine and that's literally what he was saying in the record. He can play it off like everything's cool, and it not be cool. That's what’s scary. So I just wanted to do a better job of communicating with him, because we talk every day. So I want to make sure nothing's really getting by in that aspect.
It's strange, sometimes when you have that everyday level of interaction, you can lapse into a rhythm and forget to do that.
“Listen, Cudi's my brother, so I know him. We talk about a lot of things, but there's certain things he can really get out only through the music.”
You said Plain Pat is one of your OGs—it seems like you have a whole council of OGs, between Pat, Mike Dean, Emile Haynie... How do you approach bringing everybody into Man On The Moon III?
I just have to go on record and say Plain Pat is a very elusive, mythical figure in our industry. He's done so many legendary things and his taste level... You want to get Plain Pat to like your music, because then you know you got something.
So fortunately, me and Pat forged a bond and have just been going in on the production side cooking up at The Brewery downtown. Just cooking up for cooking up's sake. It would usually be me hitting Plain Pat, calling him, blowing him up until he finally responds. "Yo, Pat, we need you!" Get him to come into the studio, and just work for a couple hours.
And Mike Dean is amazing. He's probably the most accessible. I understand his longevity, because even at where he's at in his career, he still moves like he's hungry to do the next shit. All Mike Dean needed to know is that we were working on the project and he was down. I would pull up to his house.
So “Damaged,” man, that was a strategic play on my behalf. I'm like OK, we need to get Mike Dean involved on this album. I'm not going to wait. Me and Daytrip were working, and I'm like, “Let's go to Mike Dean's house. Let's just go bother Mike Dean. And we pulled up to his house, went over to his studio. He has an amazing lab. Laboratory is the only way to describe it. We were just able to be producers. It was different when it's a room full of all producers, you know what I mean? Especially where there's a nice little chemistry. It just fit. You wonder how so many people could be on a record, but it just works. Everyone was able to contribute to the record, and that's how we got “Damaged.”
Can you talk about sequencing on the album?
We were putting this album together as we were making the songs. We had the first couple of sessions where me, Daytrip and Cudi made “Tequila Shots,” “Another Day,” and “Lord I Know.” We had a bunch of days where we'd just come in and create.
Once we had those songs, Cudi got in the mindframe, like, this is what we're doing. This is happening. Then it became filling in. We had a great start, and we had the ending, “Lord I Know.” We had to fill in the middle.
Records like “Sept. 16th,” that's another record that me and Plain Pat did during the Entergalactic sessions. Cudi laid a reference to it, and I've always loved this record. This is the feels, man. It wasn't even on the album. There was a point in time where it wasn't on the tracklist, then it got resurrected. Then the music went left our hands and went to Emile's hands. We're playing him the album, he heard “Sept. 16th” and had vibes for it. Emile did beautiful additions to the record. It just helped make the song what it is.
Since we're just on the subject of collaborators on the album, I have to ask if there's any story behind clearing the Tame Impala sample for “Love/Paranoia.” Have you, Cudi, and Kevin Parker had any chances to work together?
I have not had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Parker. He is definitely an inspiration. Would love to work with Kevin Parker. Kevin Parker got implemented because Teddy Walton, Aaron Bow, and Anthony Kilhoffer sampled the song. We had no clue it was Tame Impala until it was time to clear the record. I remember finding out. I'm like, “We're probably not going to get this cleared.” The song was so fucking good. Last minute we're trying to figure out what to do just in case he didn’t clear it. Thank god, he cleared it. Big shout out to Kevin Parker. What he does I'm sure inspires a lot of us in hip-hop.
I want to move towards the idea of sadness in music in general, and on this album in particular. It's become a big part of the industry in the last five years—addressing depression, talking directly about sadness. But it feels very different from what you and Cudi have built over this past decade. The subject matter might be similar, but the way you address it is still unique. It is such a focal point in the songs, without taking over the fact that it’s still a song.
I feel it. What Cudi represents is such a big thing. He represents the part of people that no one wants to show or talk about, and there’s a stigma. We don't have conversations about depression in the studio. If you were a fly on the wall looking in, we're having fun. We love what we do. It's usually positive vibes in the studio. The messaging is all Cudi. Cudi don't let nobody write for him. I don't know if people know that. He has no writers. He rarely takes ideas. He takes direction, especially from me because he trusts me.
But he writes all his music. So the topics, the word, everything is all him. And since I've known him, there's always been that element in the music. Whether it's a bar or a hook, he’ll touch on subjects related to depression or not being all the way right or whatever the case is. It's really all him. I just try and channel that energy whenever we're in the studio. Cudi's been specific for the past couple years of not trying to make dark music. A lot of stuff is manic, dark tones. He wanted to do more uplifting, more up-tempo records.
“What Cudi represents is such a big thing. He represents the part of people that no one wants to show or talk about, and there’s a stigma.”
You said earlier there were some demos you were sad to lose. Any one song in particular you’re thinking of? Do they ever resurface, like “Sept. 16th?”
Cudi would say he doesn't have a lot of records, but there are. You have to understand a song like “The Void.” Let's talk a minute about Cudi and his production. He produced that seven years ago. He made that beat and me and my team came in at the end just to support and make sure it fit the album. He has hella songs from that era. People are rejoicing now over “The Void”—imagine him pulling something else from his stash from back in the day. We have tons of music but Cudi's ear won't allow him to release it, because he knows what he wants now.
What would you say to yourself in 2011, when it's just starting to connect, and doors are opening up?
I definitely would encourage my younger self to be more active, just in music. Every producer moves differently. There's even the way Daytrip moves is amazing. They move completely different. I talk to them about it all the time.
I come from the school of Kanye West. The way I move ... Kanye inspired me to produce. With Kanye there's a high, top-level of security and secrecy. But in 2020, the kids of this generation, they're so open with everything. The way they move is completely different from the way somebody from the era of Kanye moves. I feel like I'm in between between Kanye and Daytrip as far as producers.
I'm in between both worlds. I'm trying to learn to operate in both worlds. I respect both of them, but I see that it's different now. It's more free. I'm still learning to adjust to that because I'm still stuck in the, “Everything is top secret. No snippet, no none of that, no showing the process.” We went live on Twitch the other day. That was a big milestone for me personally, because I don't want to stream.
When did you decide to sign up?
When the pandemic happened. Everyone was rethinking their business models. I started doing virtual sessions. I have a friend who was pretty successful with Twitch. They were telling me the business model of it, you can go crazy. I play games. I make beats, obviously. Can I do this in front of people, and not care? It's always been like “Yes, I care. So I'm not going to do it.” That world is different. Like I said, the school of Kanye. Imagine Kanye going live. Imagine Kanye putting his phone up and making a beat on Instagram.
I just want to be able to live in both worlds and just adapt. So the Twitch stream was that. Us just trying to be open and talk about things. I may have had a little too much to drink, I don't know.
It’s interesting to hear you talk about Kanye in that way, and then to think of you as one of those people for Daytrip.
The connection with me and Daytrip is crazy. My roommate in college was the first person that gave me a program to start making beats. FL Studio, right? Fast-forward ten years later, he ends up teaching at NYU, and he’s teaching Daytrip.
So he mentioned to them that I was his roommate, and when I met them they told me the story, and I’m like, “No fucking way.” I hadn’t spoken to the homie in a decade. The universe has ways of pulling people together, because we have genuine chemistry. We're the same type of people. Maybe because we went to the same college and shit. But they were from Vermont, and I’m from Brooklyn—think about that in the ‘80s. But we are like-minded in the way we think, and what we talk about. When I met them it was like, “Oh, these are like my little brothers.” That energy snowballed. First “Panini,” then we went No. 1 with “The Scotts.” The trajectory is just up.
I have to ask about “Show Out,” it’s such a huge moment on the album. When did that song get on the Man On The Moon III tracklist?
That was the song I did with Pop, and that we put Skepta on, for the purposes of my project. That was supposed to be for the Dot Da Genius album. It got repurposed for Man on the Moon III. But best believe, I held Cudi accountable. I needed a motherfucking hit for my shit. And I think we got it already, so... [Laughs]
How do you think you’ll remember this era?
This year's been so different with the pandemic. That's why I have to move the way I did, in a lot of the sessions. Pull up fast to the homie’s, cook up with them with me knowing what Cudi likes, what he doesn’t like, and steering the ship. As soon as I hear something I know if Cudi's going to love it.
We did “Rockstar Knights” at WondaGurl’s studio. Just hit her up the same day, like how we did with Mike Dean, and mobbed over to her house. She had her producers there, and it was all complementary. There was no stepping on any toes. It just felt comfortable. She was a great host, welcomed us in. And we're just meeting. We're just building our relationship. She's Nigerian, I'm Nigerian, and whenever that’s there, there's an unspoken love that exists.
I loved what she was doing, just as a fan, watching her do what she does. So I'm very happy to have been able to get her involved, and we got my Nigerian brother Skepta on the album as well. See, I just try to bring Nigeria wherever I go. Just hold it down for my people.
This album would not be what it is without them. “Rockstar Knights” is kind of the beginning of the end—was “Lord I Know” always the last song on the album?
Cudi didn't want there to be no misconceptions when you press play. Come out swinging, right? And then we hit a turn at “Solo Dolo III” where the vibes change. We get deeper into his mind, and that dark side. And the last couple of songs are like Cudi’s rallying cry—him talking to the kids with the hopeful tone that he sets on the last three or four songs. “Lord I Know” was what capped it off.
Then Cudi snuck in his daughter there with a little tidbit. Like I said, me and Cudi have been working on this album. We're constantly obsessing over it, talking about it every day. Then he would just have ideas that I'll only hear when I pull up to the studio, and I'm like this dude's a mastermind. He really just put on his fucking lab coat. We both did.