In honor of our 15-year anniversary this month, DJBooth will be publishing a series of "lost" interviews from 2006 through 2011, including Kanye West, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, LL Cool J, Killer Mike, Clipse and more.
Sadly, Kid Cudi isn't a fan of DJBooth. So much so that, in 2014, after we published an article about his comments about the state of hip-hop, he told veteran DJBooth scribe Yoh his writing is "worthless" and blocked us both on Twitter.
Though Cudi no longer supports DJBooth, we have never stopped covering his music, which began in 2008, when the Shaker Heights, Ohio native released the Wale-assisted "Is There Any Love?" off his life-changing debut mixtape A Kid Named Cudi.
At that time, Cudi was still working a regular nine-to-five, but once Kanye West arrived with his spaceship, it was all systems go for the 25-year-old. Fourteen months later, Cudi would release his spectacular debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day.
On September 15, 2009, the morning of his release, I spoke for over an hour with Cudi about the release of his debut, the future of music, his pursuit of happiness, cracking jokes on stage, and perception versus reality.
At the time, I found Cudi to be extremely humble, real, and open to disagreement. Somewhere along the way, though, the pressure that comes with fame—which Cudi alluded to in our conversation—got the best of him. Hopefully, one day soon, we will once again be able to sit down for a conversation.
Our interview, edited for content, clarity, and length, follows.
DJBooth: Your debut album was released this morning. What is that like, waking up and knowing so much hard work has finally paid off?
Kid CuDi: It’s a great feeling, it’s a great sense of accomplishment, just one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my life. This is, like, my graduation from high school and college all rolled up into one. I never got a chance to experience those moments, and so, for my mother, this an amazing thing to give her, and I’m really so happy right now.
During a private listening session, Motown label president Sylvia Rhone dubbed Man on the Moon: The End of Day as a “seminal album,” which has the “ability to change the sound of music forever.” When you created the project, did you do so with the belief that this work could impact the entire future of music?
Yeah, that was the goal. My main thing was to just inspire people to push the envelope [creatively] and think outside the box and really challenge themselves and really put in that type of hard work towards the creative side of things. I did want to make something that would baffle the critics, as far as putting it in a certain genre; I wanted them to have a hard time doin’ it. I really wanted to trick the game and open up a lot of people’s eyes, and I think we’ve done it. I came through the underground scene, I worked a nine-to-five last summer. [To be] droppin’ an album a year later, it’s really a big deal, and I think the best part about it is people are really, really supportive and really ridin’ for me, and they’re gonna be around for my whole career.
You mentioned that the contents of the album will make it hard for people to classify you as a specific type of artist because it’s not specifically one genre. When someone listens to Man on the Moon who listened to your music before you were signed, do you think they will have a hard time adjusting?
Definitely, with the mixtape and the other stuff I’ve done, a lot of people are ready for me to try to keep it movin’ on the creative side, to keep pushin’ the envelope. So, the mixtape was a really good taste-tester, and then the album is the full-on entrée.
On “Soundtrack to My Life,” you say you’d like to experience quote-unquote “carefree living like JAY-Z.” I’d argue that there’s no such thing as carefree living.
I wrote that song from an ignorant standpoint, man—I wanted to have ignorance be the undertone of the whole song. And it really is to show what one thinks when his back is up against the wall. It’s really to flip Jay’s line and kind of use it in my favor. It worked—it’s the only way I could’ve explained the situation.
Common narrates your story on Man on the Moon, and he refers to you by your real name, Scott. What makes Kid CuDi different from Scott?
Well, Scott Mescudi seems to be alive the most in his music, and Kid CuDi is what I am 24/7, when people see me on the street, when I’m in the studio, creating, what I am when I’m on magazine covers—that’s Kid CuDi. And Scott Mescudi, the normal dude from Shaker Heights, Ohio, is only present when my songs are on, when I’m recording. Like, when my voice is bein’ laid down on those records, that’s Scott Mescudi shinin’ through. So I would definitely say that Kid CuDi and Scott Mescudi are one and the same, however, Scott Mescudi is only ever really in the light when you’re listenin’ to his songs.
Ever suffer from an identity crisis?
No, definitely not. [laughs]
Earlier this year, you posted a blog entry on your website in which you stated that, after this release, you had plans to retire. You’ve rescinded that statement since, but when you look back at how you felt at the time, how different is your life six months later?
It’s different because I really had to build some type of structure around my circle, the people I hang with, and that was the only difference. I know I’m here for a purpose and I understand my purpose more than I did then, so I understand that there’s kids that really support me and really believe in me, and I would have been a coward to fall back and leave them hanging like that, you know?
So it was a lack of self-confidence?
At the time it was a matter of just not wanting to deal with certain BS that came with bein’ famous. And I just felt like it wasn’t worth it. But then, as the days went by, I saw that a lot of my fans who hadn’t even been speaking up on my blog decided to have an opinion and let it be known how they felt about it, and a lot of cats were really disappointed, and it’s that thing where you’re like, “Really? People like me like that?” It was really an eye-opener.
Your new single is the appropriately-titled “Pursuit of Happiness.” Would you say that you are currently happy?
Yeah, definitely. I’m really one hundred and ten percent beyond happy. I have a nice album, people are understanding it. I feel like people are understanding me in return, and that’s always a plus.
What was it like to work with Ratatat and MGMT?
It was a dream come true, and I was excited to be that artist to bring them together and really do it in the proper way. I mean the song, “Pursuit of Happiness,” is the epitome of what you would imagine a Ratatat-engineered Kid CuDi song would sound like. And these songs came about fairly quickly—we went in the studio for hours and hours and hours trying to just do this one song and figure out the first verse. I wrote it down really quickly, and that was the whole method behind the entire album, just movin’ off of that creative spark right away.
From start to finish, how long did it take to create the album?
From start to finish, it took me about two years.
Is that the pace you normally work at or did you take your time on this, your debut album, to ensure it was the best?
Well, yeah, but I wanna put that type of effort into every album. [That’s how] you get the best result. If you’ve gotta push it a couple days back, so be it, but make sure you let the album get the time it needs on the creative side.
I saw you perform in Los Angeles in July when you were with Asher Roth on the Great Hangover Tour. When you made your way out onto the stage, I noticed several girls had a difficult time breathing. Are you aware of this? Are you aware you're a heartbreaker?
No, I’m completely oblivious. I really don’t see myself like that—that’s the most bugged-out thing I’ve heard all day!
There was a girl right next to me, and she did the thing where you take your right hand and you turn it sideways and you put it up to your forehead; the only thing missing was her knees buckling and falling to the ground.
Oh, wow, man, that’s overwhelming… that lets me know, like I said, I’m affecting people’s world in a way I didn’t even think was possible. Like, it’s way bigger than just helpin’ people groove when they’re chillin’, smokin’ some weed. There’s a whole ‘nother level that I just didn’t expect.
I also noticed that, in between songs, you had a habit of cracking jokes. Do you know where you’re going with that material, is it part of the show, or is it a case of nervousness?
No, that’s kinda just to let the crowd know I’m with ‘em, to show my human-being side, let people know that I am human. And each night is different; I never have a routine, I’m not a stand-up comedian—I’m a comedian, but I’m not a stand-up comedian. That’s my time to relax and show them Scott a bit, show them how I speak when I’m just talkin’. That’s just something that I really want people to see: how human I am. So talkin’ in between the songs lets them know. I could just do all my sets and go from song to song and look like a machine and just be out at the end of the last song, and you ain’t heard nothing but my voice on songs, but it’s important for me to make that connection with the fans; I think that’s why my support system’s so strong.
You recently signed on to star in the HBO program How to Make It in America. If we spoke, let’s say, 10 years ago, and I asked you to describe how to make it in America, what would you have said back then, before all this happened?
I wouldn’t know what to tell you, ‘cause 10 years ago I was still tryin’ to find myself. So I don’t even know what I would’ve told you. I would have just said, probably, “Follow your heart and let your dreams be your guide.”
Knowing now what it took to make it to where you are today, in 2009, what would you tell someone who, like you mentioned earlier, is still working a nine-to-five, with their dreams at the forefront?
Believe, believe and never stop believing, ‘cause anything is possible and I am a perfect, perfect example of that. There’s no reason in hell why, if you work hard at something, you can’t succeed. If you work on it and you perfect your craft, you can make it. That’s it. This whole thing is about dedication and doin’ your thing, and if you can do those two things, you’re fine.
Perception in music is often reality. How does Kid CuDi want to be viewed?
I want people to just look at me as that big brother or little brother in their family, that just is tryin’ to become a man and figurin’ things out in life, when the fuzzy things happen and things get the most confusing. I want my fans and critics to look at me as their little or big brother and that’s all, man. And to understand me, and embrace that fact that I know I’m not perfect, and I’m puttin’ it out there in my music so other people can learn from it and learn from my ignorance, too.