In 2008, Kid Cudi was a dreamer — a wide-eyed 20-something looking to escape the abyss of Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cudi fled the bottomless chasm of the Midwest to become one of the genre’s most decorated MCs. As he approaches his 10th studio album, Entergalactic, Cudi, born Scott Mescudi, has unlocked a new level of mastery in his life: gratitude.
“I don’t think Cudi 15 years ago would believe it,” he says during our 20-minute conversation late Wednesday night. “He’d be like, ‘No f–king way! Ten albums? I can’t even get out my debut!’ He’d be so stressed. I think that’s the beautiful thing about my career. I’m still surprising myself. I’m exploring. I realize that everything is possible.'”
Along his storied rap journey, Cudi bloomed into a seasoned actor. After a riveting performance on HBO’s TV series How to Make It in America in 2010 as the beloved character Domingo Dean, Cudi found a second calling in acting. When Cudi wasn’t doling our soul-stirring anthems like “Soundtrack to My Life,” “Solo Dolo” or “Erase Me,” he buried his head in scripts and enriched his knowledge to become a film buff. Years later, the results prove to be golden after a successful string of films, including this year’s horror gems Pearl and the even more chilling X. The former, co-produced by Cudi’s MAD SOLAR company along with Sam Levinson’s Little Lamb for A24, earned rave reviews — especially from legendary director Martin Scorsese, who helmed film classics Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, and more.
“I was enthralled, then disturbed, then so unsettled that I had trouble getting to sleep. But I couldn’t stop watching,” said Scorsese about the gory film in an interview with Slashfilm.
With Cudder’s confidence nearing its apex, he looks to dazzle music and film fans with his upcoming Netflix show Entergalatic, which will accompany his 10th studio album next Friday (Sept. 30). The animated series is based on Cudi’s latest studio effort, and follows a young bachelor named Jabari who’s hoping to strike a balance between his career and love life.
“I’m thankful to be here, man,” says the accomplished polymath. “I’m thankful to still be doing it. I’m blessed. Fourteen years is a long time to be doing anything. I never imagined I would be here doing this all these years later. It’s a real crazy feeling.”
Billboard spoke to Cudi about his Entergalactic album, how the project connects with his upcoming Netflix show, sending flowers to Emmy winners Quinton Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph and how he’s been able to keep the devil away from his blessings.
With Entergalactic, you gave the album a visual component. Give me the breakdown of why you thought a show would complement the music.
I always wanted to do something visual accompanying an album, but so many people have tried that. I just wanted to figure out another approach that hadn’t been done before. With this, the process was really simple. I masterminded this whole thing and said, “Okay, it’s best if I make the music first and then we go in and write the scripts.”
So I pretty much wrote the story in my head and made the album first. I’m talking about figuring out different beats in the story, and I knew I needed a song that gave you the feeling when [the main character Jabari] saw Meadow for the first time. I needed a song that was the feeling and emotions when they made love for the first time. I needed a song that was the kind that explains and touches on them losing each other. Will they ever get back together?
I was just thinking of all these things as I was writing the album and piecing it all together. From there, I just sat with my writers and they downloaded all of the information and we were able to piece together the scripts from there.
I love that you pretty much gave me six different songs that encapsulate different moods of the show. Is there one that really sticks out to you the most?
I would say “Willing to Trust.” It’s a song [that’s] a big moment in the show. It’s a tender moment and the beat is crazy. Ty Dolla $ign does his f–king thing on there and he’s really amazing. It’s a really beautiful song from beginning to end. It’s a perfect love song.
The character Jabari seems as if he’s learning to balance out his love life and career. I’m gonna flip it to you — is there anything you wish you could’ve done differently when it came to establishing that balance between work and your personal relationships? I struggle to strike that balance.
I think back in the day I never struggled with that. I was always able to hold a relationship and do my job. No girlfriend I was ever with was complaining about me putting too much time into my work. But I thought it would be interesting to touch on that in the show and make it kinda difficult for Jabari, because that is a lot of people’s story. I was able to work and hold a relationship and do all this, but I realize for a young person this is not easy, especially when you’re trying to find your footing in the world.
I was watching the trailer and there was a pivotal line that struck a chord with me. It was, “Love is the easiest thing in the world when you do it on accident, but it doesn’t get real until you do it on purpose.” I want you to decipher that line and how it’s so impactful to the show.
I really feel like I’ve never stumbled into a relationship. For me, it’s always been on purpose. It’s always been real. I’ve been lucky to find women that have been locked in with me in the same way that I’ve been. In some ways in between the relationships, there have been flings here and there. I’m like, “Whatever,” and I haven’t taken it too serious, and it’s more so a waste of my time… The relationship could be going well but I’m not getting anything from it. I’m just in it.
When you really want something and someone else wants the same thing, it becomes a little more real and deeper. I find that is kinda like what Jabari is facing in the show. What is this I’m feeling? Is it real or some other s–t? Is this really my person?
I’m gonna take it back to How To Make It In America. I loved your character, Domingo. You played a lot of roles in your life — which one would you say had a lasting impact on Scott, personally?
I think Domingo, How to Make It In America. Domingo was this really amazing guy. He was a hustler, a people person, he was good energy. You never saw him depressed or sad. Every time you saw him, he was in the greatest mood. And that was inspiring to me, because I felt miserable around that time. I was like, “This is the most fun, because I get to play somebody who’s happy.” When I live my life now in my adulthood, a lot of the times it’s like, “What would Domingo Dean do?” He is the natural-born hustler. He makes it f–king happen at all times. And that’s who Domingo was in the show, and that’s who Kid Cudi is. That’s what I became to be.
I want to give you your flowers, but I know it’s nothing like Martin Scorsese giving you flowers. When you have a legend like him praising you on a film you co-produced, what does that stamp of approval mean knowing this wasn’t necessarily your first calling?
I found out later that Martin Scorsese watched Pearl because he was such a fan of X. That bit of information f–ked me up even more. I was like, “Holy s–t, he’s seen me naked.” Me and Martin Scorsese are family now. We’re bros for life. I heard that and it’s all insane to me. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like when I had the meeting with Ti West in 2016 when I asked him out to dinner, because I loved his movie and I wanted to meet the man who did it. That was the universe working its magic. I knew Ti was the chosen [one]. I knew he had something different than any other filmmaker that I had seen.
This is a sidebar, but I’m really humbled that Ti kinda kept me in mind all these years to do X. Because in 2016, I met him at SoHo House and he pitched me an idea that was kinda like X and I was a character in this movie. But X ended up being its own thing but he still kept the character that he wanted me to play and put it in X. So he kept me in mind all these years later. I was the first actor they reached out to and was attached. The fact he kept me in mind is really ill. I’m just thankful to be in these movies and to have that opportunity to be in that authentic piece of cinema. It’s even more f–king crazy that someone like Martin Scorsese watches our movies. Like even in the quote, he said he couldn’t sleep! The art we’re making is stimulating and that’s all you want. You want people to feel something unsettled. You want people to cry and want your art to invoke all these different emotions.
The beautiful thing about this is that you can embrace the love and flowers you receive, but also give them back to others who are deserving. You literally did that for Sheryl Lee Ralph for her Emmy win for Abbott Elementary. I remember growing up with Sheryl and her being the mom in Moesha. What does her win mean for the Black community, especially for those trying to have that breakthrough on a mainstream level?
I think it’s Black excellence in its purest sense of the word. I sent flowers and tequila to Quinta [Brunson] and Sheryl. I was so inspired, and to see Black women achieve things of this caliber in a world where we are often very overlooked — it lets me know that times are changing, and we’re starting to see a turn in things. Someone like Sheryl Lee Ralph can get her flowers and she’s been a legend all these years. Someone I grew up on, just like you have. We’re around the same age, so we know Sheryl Lee Ralph. When I see her on something, I be feeling like that’s my mom. When I saw her win, I felt like that was my family member winning.
Same thing with Quinta. Now I haven’t known Quinta that long, but I feel like I know her enough — the way we connect, I feel like I know her forever, from back in school or some s–t. I was so excited to be able to say I know Quinta, and I had dinner with this person and we text — like, we look out for each other. She checks in on me and I check in on her. That’s the homie. I’m really proud of her and Sheryl and what they’ve done. That’s my dream. I hope the shows I create end up having that big of an impact. I think she’s a f–king genius and it’s incredible to watch her shine.
You said you’re the “most hated man in hip-hop” but also the most blessed. Talk about how you’ve been able to receive your gifts, but also deal with the bull—t throughout your career.
It’s a thing that requires a certain level of mastery. You have to be at the level of inner peace, and you have to be able to take a step back and look at your blessings. We would have to do a whole other interview about the five other things I’m working on that don’t even have anything to do with acting. I just like to focus on the positive and what’s happening in my life. The quote Denzel [Washington] said to Will [Smith] when he had the Oscars situation. Be careful when you’re high up, that’s when the devil comes for you.
I’m the highest I’ve ever been in my career on that f–king mountain, and this is the first time in my career where I have hate coming at me so hard. It’s something I have to remind myself of. The devil is alive and he’s working overtime, because I am chosen. I am chosen by God and he does not like me. I used to be his best friend and it bothers him like motherf–ker. I won’t let him win and we walk in the light.