Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi is beaming from behind a Los Angeles studio console as his new single, “Frequency,” blasts through the speakers. Both the song’s sound (progressive, melodic rap) and the smile are surprising, coming from the 32-year-old. Cudi has come a long way since his late-2000s come-up, when he hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Day ‘N’ Nite.” In the years following, he split with mentor Kanye West; openly struggled with drugs and depression; released a critically panned alt-rock album, 2015’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven (Republic), his first to debut below the Billboard 200’s top 10; and often seemed to prioritize his acting career (his latest role is in Unified Pictures’ Vincent-N-Roxxy, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18) over rapping. But now, fresh off a feature on West’s No. 1 album The Life of Pablo and with new music on the way, Cudi is ready to pick up where he left off.
Here, Cudi talks about getting past depression, working on West’s Pablo, and why Man on the Moon 3 — the last of his beloved trilogy — isn’t happening.
So you just put out “Frequency” and “All In” on SoundCloud. It feels like a fresh take on your Man on the Moon stuff, which is way different than your Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven album you just dropped.
Anytime you do an album like [Bullet] and you’re exploring, it’s stressful. I wanted to get back to having a little bit more fun. I always had the most fun when I was just rapping, because it’s easy. But I’ve come to find that people think I’m completely terrible, since I haven’t rapped in years. They’re so naive. It never really bothered me. But when I came back from my quest, I looked around like, “These are the new hot ni–as. This is what y’all think is the best shit? This shit is not that dope.” But where I ruffled some feathers was when I’d have an outspoken opinion about hip-hop, but I‘d have a guitar in my hand. I wasn’t even a part of the genre at that moment. I can’t talk shit while doing rock music. That pisses people off. So if I’m going to say shit is fucked up, I have to have a solution, which is the music. And I have a lot of solutions to fix the inauthentic nature of the business right now. Without me in it, Gotham City suffers.
So no more indie rock Kid Cudi?
Speedin’ Bullet was my last outing as the dark, depressing character that people place me as. I needed to get that out of me and that was the only way I could do it. I didn’t want to come back to hip-hop making that type of music. We did that already.
People say, “Do Man on the Moon 3!” Yeah, I could’ve done that. But it wouldn’t have been anything anyone liked. It would’ve been forced. I’m not in a rush. I have six major-label albums. Artists don’t get that anymore, especially with the weird shit that I do. We have been blessed to be in the game eight years later.
You haven’t done much press lately.
I haven’t talked about music. People think I’ve been quiet because Speedin’ Bullet was a shitshow. But to me that was the best thing to happen last year. People are still talking about it. Some people hated it, but they kept talking about it [laughs].
Andre 3000 recently said he loved it.
I’ve known Andre for a while now, and I’ve had the honor of just being able to hang back with him and talk music. I respect him so much. Nobody supports me. The newer guys like A$AP Rocky and Travi$ Scott show love. But none of the people in my bracket open their mouth about Kid Cudi. I don’t know why and I don’t give a f—. It’s kind of disheartening sometimes.
You seem much happier — and you’re back to rapping. What happened?
I really came out of that drug shit. People don’t know how real it was. I used drugs to try to fix my depression. It’s funny. When I got arrested [in 2010 with cocaine], people said I was an addict. But I was never an addict; I was just on a ride for a little bit. Playing rock was my way of saying, “F— everyone.” It wasn’t well-received … The last thing I was catering to was the world.
How did you get through it?
I thought about how much of a struggle it has been the past eight years, to be in the news and pretend to be happy when, really, I was living a nightmare. But I can go anywhere, whenever I want. My daughter is in one of the best private schools in the nation. I have everything I ever dreamed of in terms of stability. But I hadn’t been living that reality, because depression was f—ing me up. So this year I chose to be happy. I just woke up.
From an outsider’s perspective you have and had it all. Why did it take you four albums to figure that out?
In the business, everybody is a f—— cartoon. And every once in a while, someone comes in that’s really f—— human. I like to think of myself as one of those artists. I didn’t feel any rush to fix myself for anyone. If I felt like I needed to write four albums of my madness to feel alright, then so be it. And I knew that whatever I wrote would help somebody somewhere. So it was better getting it out than to keep it bottled up. [Someone dealing with or getting through depression] is a message kids need to hear. Some people deal with things and it takes them a little longer. Being in the public eye is tough.
Speedin’ Bullet wasn’t a commercial success. Making it helped you through a tough time, but does it hurt that even your “true fans” didn’t buy it?
I’m thinking, “Man, I’ve done all these albums. Where are the people who bought Indicud or the others before? Who have I been making music for?” [When an album doesn’t sell well] it makes you question yourself. As an artist, I’m always questioning myself. But this was the first time that I questioned my fan base and if I even have one at all. Who are these people?
That’s why whatever I do next will be free. And I don’t even feel obligated to do Man on the Moon 3 anymore. As of right now, people should just get that off their mind. That’s not ever going to happen. It’d be different if the first two were platinum. They’re not even platinum! Man on the Moon 1 is like 860,000 sold. It’s hanging on by a thread.
That’s going to be a hard pill to swallow for MOTM fans. But “Frequency” sounds like you’re getting back to that vibe, especially with the rapping.
But I’m coming back to do what I love, which is rap. But I’m also doing it for the motherf–rs that slept on Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. That was a project. A director isn’t going to do the same movie every time. A novelist isn’t going to write the same type of book. But you guys are used to shit being a certain way and people staying the same. Kids don’t know what a true artist is nowadays until they see a picture of Warhol or Basquiat. Then they’re like, “Oh, cool. That’s Basquiat!” But you’re over here shitting on artists of the now. That confuses me. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s my job to create.
Some of you are so easily amused and impressed by mediocrity.
— The Chosen One (@KidCudi) September 20, 2015
On Twitter, you’ve made it clear you’re not impressed by much of today’s hip-hop. Why not?
I look around like, “This is what y’all think is the best? This shit is not that dope.” But I’m pretty quiet on my Twitter nowadays. I made a comment about mediocrity in music on Twitter, around the time Drake and Future put out [2015’s What a Time to Be Alive]. People were like, “Cudi’s talking shit!” I’m appalled any of y’all think I even sat down and listened to that shit. (Laughs.) I wasn’t talking about that at all! But if the shoe fits… N—s are so guilty that they know it’s them. I didn’t even know they had a project. I tweeted that, put my phone down and walked away. Next time I pick it up, I’m in the news! They say I’m ranting; a rant means you care. I don’t care like that.
Three years after leaving G.O.O.D. Music, you’ve been back working with West. How has it been?
Me and Kanye are brothers. With family, there’s always going to be issues and shit. That was the first time I had been around him and his team in a while. In order to get back into the creative process, we had to talk. I’m not one of those people who’s just going to come around after a while, jump in and make music. We needed to have a big bro, lil bro convo. As soon as we had that, we were good. Whatever we were dealing with, it was a beautiful thing to clear the air about. I’m really happy to be back working with my friends.
I’ve been working alone and people don’t understand the magic that happens when me and Kanye are in the room. Lil Wayne and Drake have 1000 songs with each other. ‘Ye and I have speckles. Maybe we’ll both be in the same place at the same time and be like, “Let’s do this” and have 30 songs with each other. But for now, I’m just happy to lend a hook. The last thing I want to do is write a rap for someone else’s song. I’d much rather have a hook and fall back. And that’s what Kanye wants from me. I sing and Kanye ensures me that it’s dope.
Did you enjoy that process? You’re on “Father Stretch My Hands” and “Waves.”
I enjoy creating. The first song Kanye sent me is “Waves.” He sent me that in December. It was different than it is now. I remember one night we were all just sitting there and I was hoarse from a show the night before where I lost my voice. I was in New York listening to the latest edit. Chris Brown was already on it and we were thinking about how we could make it better. Chris really has this amazing voice. But there were all these ad-libs around it. So I cleared out all the extra so we could just hear him. That’s ultimately what you hear now. We all bounced ideas around and came up with this minimal version. Once we got that, I hummed on it a little. Kanye had been working on that album for a while. And as you can see, it’s still changing. That song wasn’t even going to make it. But I was like, “We have to do something.” And then Chance the Rapper pushed. And Mike Dean and Plain Pat were key players, too.
Just to be clear, Man on the Moon 3 is not coming, ever?
Guys, you have to realize: I came up with Man on the Moon when I was a young man. People change their vibe! We can follow the same template and do the five-act split. Sonically, I’m still going to be where I’m at. Honestly, I was ready to live up to the obligation and do Man on the Moon 3. I haven’t been dicking around. I was planning on doing it after Speedin’ Bullet. But the Speedin’ Bullet response tore me up. It made me realize what’s most important. I’m getting back on the bike again and doing what I do best: me.
So there’s no date or timeline for your next project? You’ll just be shooting new cuts off on SoundCloud?
I’ve never been a guy to flood the market with music. And I’m not saying I’m going to start doing that now. But I will be a lot more generous. I’m not saying I’m doing an album right now either. People’s expectations go crazy. That’s why I’m just throwing songs out there. There’s no pressure from me. Just wait for it. I’m not in any rush. That’s why I’m doing the shit for free. And for it to be the best shit of the year, it’s just a checkmate.
How are you enjoying acting? You’re in Vincent-N-Roxxy with Zoe Kravitz.
It’s awesome, man. We did that a couple years ago. I haven’t seen it yet. The director Gary [Michael Schultz], Zoe [Kravitz] and Emile [Hirsch], they’re all really f—in’ cool people. Talented individuals and I’ve been blessed. We were all on the same frequency. Even Emory Cohen. He’s a phenomenal young actor and such a cool dude. I’m grateful, man. Since 2012, I’ve been in a movie here and there every year. Who knew?
And you’re working on your own scripts, too.
I’ve been writing my own shit. I’m really happy with the draft, but I’m still fine-tuning it. It took a while to get down to a draft, because I didn’t know how to write. But I f–in’ learned. That’s what I tell kids. Just because you don’t have the information doesn’t mean you can’t find it. I got Final Draft 9 and started typing. There aren’t any roles out there for people of color. And if there are, they’re not cool stories. Something’s compelling me to write. That’s a sign from God. So I’m following that.
What’s in store musically for the rest of your 2016?
We’re trying to dominate the year. I’m really fed up about the questioning of my talent and musical abilities. I’m about to show motherf—rs what time it is. I’m not even at my peak. People think that I’ve peaked. I haven’t even gotten a f—ing nut off yet. I’ve been pre-cumming for the last eight years. I haven’t even ejaculated a full spew yet. So motherf—rs better get prepared.
Everybody that’s out here that thinks they’re dope, your crew’s got you gassed. Instagram and Twitter got you gassed. Your likes and favorites got you gassed. I’m about to show n—s what’s nice. And then I’m retiring. I’ll go off into the woods and chop trees for fire on some lumberjack shit. I’ll write poems and kick it with my daughter. We’ll ride horses. F— these n—s. I’ll have no more energy for them. This is it.
A version of this article originally appeared in the April 30 issue of Billboard.