Kid Cudi is a rapper with an ear for unexpected melodies. In the past year, he’s helped make Lady Gaga and Patsy Cline sound hip-hop and co-written four moody tracks on Kanye West’s lovelorn 808 & Heartbreak album. The year ahead is expected to be even bigger for the 25-year-old Cleveland native, who recently inked a major label deal with Universal Motown. His down-and-out stoner jam “Day N’ Nite” hit number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and he’s prepping singles and music videos for the Gaga-inspired sex jam “Make Her Say” (formerly “I Poke Her Face”) and the epic, Kanye West-produced track “Sky Might Fall”.
When we rang up Cudi for an interview, he was in his New York studio working to finish his Man on the Moon LP in time for a summer release. Judging by his long list of collaborators (Dot Da Genius, Emile, Plain Pat, 88 Keys, Common, Snoop Dogg, Ratatat, Just Blaze, Swizz Beats, Ryan Leslie, Alchemist, Kanye West and Will.i.Am), the hip-hop world is mobilizing behind this newcomer. Read the interview with Kid Cudi after the jump!
Kid Cudi’s video for “Day N’ Nite”, directed by So Me.
You are being credited with bringing a more classic dance sound into hip-hop. Is it fair to say that pop music is moving away from a hip-hop sound and back toward disco?
Everything in life is a cycle, everything you do. Definitely we’re bringing back the true essence of what hip-hop is supposed to be about: self-expression and dope music. Just making something that we’re feeling. It’s not so much about the gimmick or selling yourself. It’s all about the music now. Rappers are thinking more about their records rather than the rhyming part of it. They’re songwriting and putting together bridges and trying to get these hooks right and singing a little bit when they rap and using melodies a little bit better and not just getting a beat with a sample on it and rapping. People are starting to get more creative.
When you were growing up, who were your favorite rappers that incorporated disco or house beats?
I was definitely into Run DMC and I love Slick Rick. I think he was the first rapper to freak melodies. It was really dope that he did that so early on, back in the day then. I just remember being so young and those melodies caught me ’cause I was always a melody baby, I guess you could say.
Where were you exposed to music the most? Did you collect a lot of records?
In the house, my mom was a music teacher. She’s a singer as well. She was always singing in the house, playing music ⎯ it was always in the crib. She tried to get us all to play instruments. She made sure we were all musically inclined.
What instruments do you play?
None, I wasn’t the one who played instruments. I tried clarinet and I tried the trumpet but it just didn’t work. I was going to attempt the drums but my mom just wasn’t ready to invest.
You mentioned that you’re big on melodies, but what’s your approach to rhyming?
It’s definitely about the message. The message is the only thing I think about when I’m making these records. ‘What’s the message am I trying to get out on this one?’ What’s the ultimate at-the-end-of-the-day statement?
Even with ‘Day N’ Nite’ there’s a message. There are people in the world that relate to you if you’re having issues. My thing was, I felt like nobody understood what I was going through until I started making music and putting it out there and seeing people approach me about it.
You recently guested on the Sharam track “She Came Along”, which samples a Patsy Cline record. How did that song come together?
Yeah, he hit us up and sent us the beat and asked us if we wanted to get on it, if we were vibing to it. I listened to it and I was like wow, this is really, really innovative. I haven’t heard anything like it: the Patsy Cline sample and how he blended it together and made it hip-hop too.
CLICK TO PLAY “She Came Along” by Sharam feat. Kid Cudi:
What about the Lady Gaga track, “I Poke Her Face”, what’s the story there?
That was another one that was like, ‘hey let’s just create something.’ Kanye found the YouTube clip of her doing the piano version of the song and he chopped it up and put it into this beat and I thought it was just going to be a freestyle but it ended up being a song. Kinda just stumbled upon that one.
Can you tell me about your recent collaboration with Ratatat?
We got one record on my album and we started another record, but it’s not done, the beat still has to be finished. Ratatat is the most amazingly dope sounding music I’ve ever heard in my life. Ratatat makes me feel things. There’s no words and each time I listen to them I can feel different things. I can imagine what the song is about; it’s so dope as a musician to listen to music because you can create different stories for it, whatever mood you’re in. That’s what made me get into Ratatat. The song from my album is magnificent. It’s my favorite joint so far.
How important is the visual side of the music to you?
Visually everything I do I want to be fresh and cutting edge and something that hasn’t been done before. You’ll see as much creativity in the visuals as in the music too. I went to college for cinematography, I was going to be film major. I wanted to shoot movies. Briefly it was one of my Eurekas before I started to do music professionally.
Have you ever shot anything?
No, no, no, I wish. I didn’t even get past the first year of college bro! That was the thing that made me stay in school: the film classes. That was really ill, working with Ye that he’s really on the same thing and two heads are better than one. We can really brainstorm some really dope shit.
What are your favorite music videos?
Oh man, Run DMC and Aerosmith. The Jackson Five, “Can You Feel It” ⎯ that was like, one of the illest videos. I don’t think anybody understood what that was about ⎯ that was so before its time… The visuals are so fresh. I’m gonna mock that video for ‘Sky Might Fall’ ⎯ you know how it starts in the mountains and then goes into the narrative? It’s so cinematic and that’s how I want all my stuff to be. Oh, and the Nelly Tip Drill video is my ultimate fav.
Just joking! I’m like, what’s the most ignorant video I could think of? Oh the Nelly Tip Drill video.
What do you think of Michael Jackson now?
I’m a super Michael Jackson fan. I never judge anybody, I try not to and sometimes I joke around and I play around and make fun of people. Michael has got a good spirit, he’s misunderstood – I’m a Michael fan forever. He inspired me and millions of other people, he’s the reason why people still wanna create and create and create. Everyone’s trying to top his shit but you really can’t ’cause it’s so dope.The Jackson Five, “Can You Feel It”
Kid Cudi’s summer tour dates:
May 14 – Newport Music Hall – Columbus, Ohio
June 6 – Penn’s Landing Festival Pier – Philadelphia, PA*
June 12 – Fiddler’s Green Ampitheatre – Englewood, CO
June 13 – Toyota Park – Bridgeview, IL*
June 14 – Comcast Center For The Performing Arts – Mansfield, MA*
July 2 – Rothbury Festival – Kalamazoo, MI
July 5 – Wireless Festival London – London, UK
July 8 – Live at the Marquee – Cork, Ireland
July 9 – Les Ardentes Festival – Liege, Belgium
July 10 – Openair Frauenfeld – Frauenfeld, Switzerland
July 11 – Hultsfred Festival – Hultsfred, Sweden
July 12 – Splash Festival – Leipzig, Germany
July 25 – White River Ampitheatre – Auburn, WA
August 7 – Congress Theatre – Chicago, IL*
August 7 – Lollapolooza – Chicago, IL
* w/ Asher Roth
EARLIER: OMG, what a no-brainer: I Poke Her Face!