Cudi's just about ready to drop his third solo album. And, as usual, it's getting done on his terms.
The title of Kid Cudi’s latest single, “Immortal,” is a fitting one. The guy simply won’t go down. Music television heavyweights like MTV and BET aren’t playing the videos from his forthcoming “Indicud” album. No biggie: each have been viewed more than 4 millions times on YouTube. Radio isn’t spinning “Immortal.” No worries: It’s been played more than half a million times through SoundCloud and it just came out four days ago. Even without traditional media pickup, Kid Cudi is still thriving.
To say the least, Cudi (né Scott Mescudi) is a nonconformist. The fact that his music--a hybrid of hip-hop, trippy indie rock, and woeful R&B--isn’t genre-identifiable is only part of reason he’s not as famous as some of his peers. Really, he’s got no interest in being popular. “I come to work, do my job, and get the fuck out,” he told Billboard on Monday (March 4) night during a call from his Los Angeles home.
During an expectedly candid chat, Cudi talked about the surprisingly positive vibe of “Indicud” (out April 23), some surprise guests that will appear on it, and how an Adam Sandler character made it on there.
It seems like you’re in a more positive place now. You were down in the dumps on your last solo album, “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager.”
I always try to push myself to the next level with everything I do. Since I’ve been in the business, critics have known that about me. When I started working on “Indicud,” I just wanted to bring more energy into my sound. Most of my old music was driven towards relaxed, chilled out smoke music. And that was my goal first coming in. Now it’s like, “What’s a side of me that people haven’t seen?” The only time people have seen me on up-tempos is on remixes or some shit. So I just wanted to take the energy to the next level. That ultimately inspired the subject matter. It was a chain reaction. With the up-tempos came more positive lyrics. It just brightened up the whole shit.
In the first verse of “Immortal,” you talk about a moment when that positive energy hit you “like lightning” through your veins. Do you remember that actual moment?
It just hit me one day. It’s true to the lyrics. It was definitely something that just kind of popped up. I’m pretty sure it was a gradual transition over time and growth. When it came time to start making records and expressing myself, I was totally in a different mindset. And all the other stuff that I had done previously, I was in a state of… distress or depression or isolation, whatever it was. And that’s how those songs came about. But this was a whole other thing for me. I can’t recall a specific moment. It just happened one day when I was starting to write my songs. That’s when I start to have my reflective moments. And then I was like, “Wow, I really am in a different space.” I came up with that hook first. And then I’m like, “Why did I come up with that hook? ‘Immortal.’ What am I saying here?” I have all these revelations as I’m writing. Each song is like a chapter of my diary.
You’re new to producing beats and handled the music for the first three singles from “Indidcud.” How did you get this good so quickly?
Working on this album made me realize that I just have a knack for creating music. It’s a gift. And there’s no denying it. “Just What I Am ” took me all of 10 minutes to make. “Immortal” maybe took 30 minutes. It’s not hard for me. “Indicud” is almost what my first album should have sounded like, had I really been able to channel all of the ideas I had into music. That’s the beauty of this album. The ideas are coming straight from me and me only. It’s exactly what I want to the T. I went out of my way to make “Immortal” sound perfect. “Immortal,” “Just What I Am,” and “King Wizard,” those are perfect beats. Not a lot of people can perform on them. I say that meaning they’re tailor-made for me. That’s the cool shit.
Those three songs are three different types of energies. But they’re still cohesive in sound. That’s how the entire album is. There’s not one break in the album. You’re always hearing something. It goes from one beat to the next and you’re rocking. It’s one long experience that does not stop. Once it goes, it’s gone.
So I don’t know how I got so good. I explored the production side of things. I guess I’m just ill with it. [Laughs]
“Immortal” samples MGMT's "Congratulations ." You’ve worked with MGMT before with “Pursuit of Happiness” -- what made you want to revisit that collaboration for this song?
I’m not that big a fan of sampling. But I feel like if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it to where it’s more of a reimagining of a track. The songs that I do utilize samples on, most of it you wouldn’t even be able to tell what it was unless I told you. Like for “Immortal,” most people wouldn’t know that was “Congratulations” unless I said anything. It’s almost unrecognizable. It doesn’t sound like I just chopped up a bunch of shit. There were a lot of technical things that I went in there with my engineer and did where I filtered out the sample, took away the drums and turn up the melodies in the sample. I knew what I wanted. It was always an idea of mine to sample one of MGMT’s songs. “Congratulations” was perfect. I’m really happy that they cleared it. It’s one of the songs that I had been waiting for people to hear.
Your music hardly gets any radio play. You’re signed to a major label, but it feels like you’re more like you’re more of an indie artist. Your two “Indicud” videos have millions of YouTube views, but aren’t all over the major TV channels. How does that feel?
I’m in a space where I can do what I want and I have a fan base that’s interested in that. That’s really fuckin’ awesome and rare. I don’t have to stress out about most things that the average artist has to deal with, promoting and getting motherfuckers up on it. I never once came in this game with a façade or trying to wear a mask or cape. I’ve always been like “Hey, I’m a human being. This is what time it is.” No filter at all. And kids basically locked in with me. So [fans don’t say], “Oh, he’s my favorite musician.” It’s, “This is our boy right here. We know that he’s for sure been through it and survived. We’ve been rooting for this dude. We know who he is through the music. We going to ride for me.”
All I know how to do is be Scott and create the cool shit that I like to make and hope for the fuckin’ best. Swing for the fences, you know? And that’s a ballsy way to approach things. But I don’t demand or need the things that most artists need to feel good about my craft.
I don’t need to do interviews all the time. I don’t need to put videos up online all the time so you can see my face. I don’t need to put out a song every two weeks in order to feel relevant. I’m comfortable with myself as a musician.
I know music is of a certain quality. It will please the people that it needs to please. And at the same time, hopefully I get some new fans. That’s always the goal, too. That’s why we evolve and switch it up. I’m always trying to get more people converted. I know some people haven’t really given me a chance full on. I’m not going to stop until I have more people on board. I have a message and it’s really important. I’m not going to stop. I’m totally locking in. My fans know I put my heart on these records. My fans know it’s not no bullshit.
How are you going to expand your fan base without doing some of these things you prefer not to do—the interviews, radio stuff and being everywhere?
I think I’ll just let the music speak for itself. The more popping the music is, the less you have to say. If you put out some bullshit, then you have to go out there and say, “Hey, I dropped this bullshit. Hey, it’s not that bad, right? It’s me!” [Laughs] I don’t ever feel like I have to oversell some shit. I’m not that nigga. I’m purely on some artistry shit. The music should speak for itself. That’s how I conduct my whole theory.
I don’t like the music business and how it works. All of these people are phony. They’re all corny for the most part. There are a few good people in there and I can count them on my hand. It’s like those corny motherfuckers in high school. You just don’t want to be around them. They think they’re cool. They ain’t cool. They think they’re fresh. They ain’t fresh. They think they’re hard. They ain’t hard. I just don’t want to be bothered. I strategically kind of alienated myself. It’s not a bad thing. I just don’t fuck with that.
I’m going figure out how to do things my way and my way only. Kind of being a rebel with the whole shit is what kind of gives me that edge over everyone else. I’m not on some kiss-ass shit. I’m kind of paving my own way. I feel like the traditional way of doing things in the business is for dinosaurs. I’m not for that. I think motherfuckers get so caught up in that shit that they forget about the artistry. And that’s why people’s music sucks. People are so concerned about what they’re going to wear and all this other shit. Everything but the music. And then that’s terrible. Or it’s just enough to get them where they need to go and be popular.
Like being on the red carpet is more important than having a good song. Fuck this whole lifestyle, being famous and shit. I’m just trying to make music. I just hope for the best with all thing, all my actions. I know that this shit is unorthodox. I know that I’m taking a hard route. I’m just trying to get my music out. And if it’s undeniable, it’s undeniable. I’ve been really quiet and working really hard at making some undeniable music for this album. So we shall see what happens. I’m basically showing niggas how terrible they are, how their shit is not quality. This shit is quality. Step your game up.
You’re not built to be a pop star.
No at all. I’m just designed to be a real nigga. I get that from my father and that’s just what it is. And when I tried not to be, then I went crazy. In a world that I’m not supposed to be a part of, I went crazy. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I’m not going to no award shows unless I’m nominated. Like, why am I going to be there, seeing people win that ain’t better than me? What’s the point of going? It’s worthless for me. In time, when I get acknowledged, I’ll come and I’ll have a purpose. Otherwise, niggas don’t need to see me. For what? I ain’t got no friends in this shit.
What’s your relationship with your label like? You seem pretty self-reliant. You even directed your last two videos.
[I tell them], “Okay, we’re going to shoot the first video. Let me get the budget.” They give me a budget. I work on the treatment. And my treatments are really simple. I really don’t have to do one, because I’m the one that’s directing. I know what I want. The shoot is all about getting my people together and executing it. On my set, it’s very fuckin’ ‘laxed. It’s not stressful at all. We’re getting the shots and we’re getting out of there. Filming those videos were the first moments for me getting behind the camera and directing anything. And the shit came out so great. I’m really happy of those projects. It was just a dope-ass experience. I got my paper. I got my crew. We shot it in a day. Both videos.
You don’t listen to the radio. How do you come across new music?
I’m not ever searching for new music. I can’t. I just sort of stumble upon things. It’s cooler when I stumble upon stuff. If I’m at a store or whatever, I’ll fuckin’ Shazam it and find it that way. I’ve never searching, because on the search you consume so much bullshit. I just don’t want to fill my head up with no bullshit.
The overall theme of this interview is “No bullshit.”
Yeah. It’s just so easy to make money in rap music. I’m pretty sure that people think, “Why is this nigga so passionate? Why he won’t he just shut the fuck up and get this money?” Because it’s not rocket science. Anybody can make some of these songs and get this money. But it’s about standing for something. If you’re just about ballin’ and shit, you’re just falling for the fuckin’ money. That doesn’t make a man. You’ve got to stand for something and believe in something. I’m more than money. I’m way more than that. I’m way more powerful than the radio and all of that shit. It’s a lifestyle. I’m into motherfuckers’ lives, when they wake up and when they go to sleep.
I guide people that really need hope. It’s just a sad thing to see motherfuckers not really giving a fuck about the power that they have. They can touch people in a major way. I’m not saying everybody needs to be making music like me. But for fuck’s sake, people aren’t even trying! Niggas ain’t even trying, G. It’s just sad that the money is all it’s about for some niggas. Who are you? What do you stand for? And the end of the day, who are you as a human being when you go to sleep and wake up? Who the fuck are you? Niggas have been in this business for years and you still don’t know who they are as human beings. And they don’t give a fuck. People don’t even have shit to look up to anymore. When I was a little nigga and I was listening to ‘Pac, I was like, “That’s my hero.” He stood for something.
Now niggas don’t believe in nothing but pussy. They be chasing these hoes and shit. Pussy this, pussy that. These bitches ain’t got nothing for you, man. But bullshit. They need to get it together. Man, I love pussy just as much as he next nigga. But at the end of the day, life ain’t about that—especially when you have the power of music in your hands. You have to do better than that for these little homies looking up to you and shit, listening to our music. You’ve got the platform to reach motherfuckers and teach them something. Everybody’s trying to be tough. Everybody’s trying to be hard. But nobody’s living that life. Niggas are in the studio, buying expensive clothes and driving cars. Niggas are out here as adults, living through a façade. Niggas need to grow up.
That’s why the niggas that listen to the radio are all fuckin’ kids. Adults don’t listen to the radio. They want to listen to some mature shit. My fan base is mature-ass kids and adults. Straight up. If your shit can be played on “Glee,” you make music for children for the most part. With the exception of certain songs and certain artists. Like Hov’ or ‘Ye. [Laughs] My nigga’s excluded. And some shit is just pop culture.
I know you’re not in tune with pop culture, but do you know about this “Harlem Shake” sensation ?
Man, I heard that the Harlem shake  came back. I just couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how. I don’t know the details about it. But I know I feel like an old man, hearing about the Harlem shake. That shit was a thing when I was in school. That’s over 10 years ago. [Laughs]
How competitive are you with your music peers? It doesn't seem like you really want to be a multi-platinum artist.
The first time around, I wasn’t very competitive. I think I went out of my way not to be. And this time around I think I’m trying to be more competitive. But like I’ve said before, I can’t think about the numbers. Of course I want to do well. But it’s in God’s hands. I know my shit is dope. I know once I send my shit in to mastering, I have cosigned on the freshness. [Laughs] I’m not sending my music in with doubts. When this comes out, I’m going to be completely satisfied like I’ve always been. It’s always been a role of the dice. And we’ll see what happens. Shake and bake .
Speaking of movie quotes, that’s a “Billy Madison” quote at the top of “Immortal,” right?
Hell yeah! That’s one of my favorite movies, man. From my childhood, straight up. I love Adam Sandler. Throughout the album I wanted to include clips from some of my favorite movies to kind of narrate the album a bit and liven it up and give it some personality.
So throughout the album, people will hear scenes from different movies?
Yeah, different actors will pop up periodically. That’s how I felt when I finished the song. “Oh my God. It’s so good!” [Laughs] So there had to be a way that I could express myself. So I had to find some of my favorite quotes from my favorite movies. I put on “Billy Madison” and just watched that. There were so many lines that I picked that were great. But “I’m the smartest man alive! ” resonated with me. And Adam Sandler is like a god to me. He’s so amazing. I just wanted to pay homage through song and let him know, like, “You’re the shit!”
I know you’re still figuring things out, but what songs do you think are definitely going to make the “Indicud” cut?
I can’t say just yet. It’s a lot of curve balls on there. I’ve done a lot of collabs with people that, on paper, people are going to be like, “Oh shit!” It’s already been put out there that I did a song with Too Short. I can wait for people to hear that. That’s one of those jams that you wouldn’t expect and it’s exactly what you expect of Kid Cudi. There’s a lot of energy. It’s one of my favorites.
RZA for sure is on there. Too Short and Kendrick Lamar is on there. I got a session with A$AP [Rocky] tonight. So we’ll see what happens. We’ve been working the last couple of days. I got this group called Haim.
The all-female indie rock group. I’m familiar. 
Yeah, they’re fuckin’ wicked. I love them. They came to the studio with dope energy. I’d work with them any day. They’re so dope. We were able to do a jam with something me and Hit-Boy did. It’s a song that we’ve been trying to make happen for, like, two years now. I had the idea to get the girls on it and we reworked the beat a little bit. That will definitely be on there.
It’s next level. Everything on this album is next level, man. It’s totally, like, the coldest shit. People are going to be like, “What are we doing wrong?” You’ve just got to bring the madness sometimes.
- The Juice