Kid Cudi brings "dat new new" to pop's Babylon
PROFILE "It's a new wave, and a new positive light," says Kid Cudi of rap's vaunted new generation. "It's a different time now. [Jay-Z] was raised in the '80s when shit was bad. And we grew up when times were much better."
Kid Cudi explains this while riding in a car from Manhattan to upstate New York. Earlier that morning, he appeared on MTV's talk show It's On with Alexa Chung, and now he's en route to Camp Bisco, a three-day camping and music festival in Mariaville, N.Y. The next day, he'll return to the road and "the Great Hangover," a national tour alongside Asher Roth, Pacific Division, B.O.B. and other purveyors of rap's fresh optimism.
"Day 'N' Nite," Kid Cudi's laconic ode to smoked-out surrealism, pipes out of car radios everywhere. "The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night," he sings with the chopped, slightly off-tune delivery of a rapper on holiday as producer Dot Da Genius' spacey electronic beat blips and bloops. Harmonizing rappers isn't a recent trend, of course, but by focusing on his weed-induced daydreams, Kid Cudi blazes uncharted territory. He tickles the intellect with "dat new new." Radio stations usually censor the word "stoner," but it's the only element that fits within pop radio's Babylon of hormonal sexploitation and sophomoric debauchery.
Leaked to Websites and blogs in the fall of 2007 and officially issued by Fool's Gold Records in early 2008, "Day 'N' Nite" took over a year to float into the Top 5 of Billboard's singles chart. It's the best proof yet that the "leaders of the new school" phenomenon isn't a blog-concocted fantasy. For the past year, such superlatives have followed a wave of fresh-faced emcees and producers flooding the Web with unauthorized "remixes" of pop hits, freestyles, hastily-recorded demos, and periodic mixtapes to collect it all. Until now, with the recent success of "Day 'N' Nite," Drake's "Best I Ever Had" and Roth's "I Love College," it sometimes seemed like meaningless ephemera, just content for blogs and Web sites (and even some traditional magazines) that demonstrate their marketing skills to win ad dollars.
At the center of it is Scott Mescudi, a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based 25-year-old who professes crippling shyness. "I've always been a loner. I always felt like I needed to be alone sometimes to think and meditate a lot," he says. "I know a lot of people feel the same thing. It's important to address these issues on record because you don't hear other rappers speaking on behalf of people like that."
Sorry, but these revelations aren't a Guardian "exclusive." Cudi has repeated this in numerous interviews and in posts on his frequently updated blog, Kidcudi.com. It's part reality, part image-building. His societal alienation dominates the 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi. "Embrace the Martian," he harmonizes." "I come in peace, but I need you rocking with me." His quest for fame and fortune alternates as a path of redemption, a triumph over the haters and ex-girlfriends who doubted him. "I just kill a bitch with success," he crows on "Save My Soul (The Cudi Anthem)." "While she at home stressed out eating ice cream, I'm at the Grammy's, living out a nice dream."
Cudi says he's a child of urban pop who grew up with a steady diet of mainstream hip hop and R&B. "I was influenced by my older siblings and what they listened to," says Cudi, who is the youngest of four. "I was able to get into R&B because my sister was into New Edition and Al B. Sure. My oldest brother was into the Pharcyde and a Tribe Called Quest. My middle brother was into UGK, No Limit, Snoop Dogg, and NWA."
Cudi admittedly slept on the indie scene of the late '90s that paved the trail for today's alternative up-and-comers. Unlike Mos Def, he didn't press up 12-inches and sell them to record stores on consignment. Instead he hooked up with a former Def Jam executive (current manager Patrick "Plain" Reynolds) and launched his A Kid Named Cudi mixtape across the Web's biggest music sites.
Currently slated for Sept. 15 release, Cudi's Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Mtown), probably won't disprove the notion that he's a suburban rapper who has experienced little struggle. But maybe that's the point. By not pretending to be a ghetto Horatio Alger, he's free to expand our view of blackness, and hip-hop in particular. The harmonizing vocals, the introspective rhymes, and the hormonally driven R&B (rap & blues) add up to someone who explores hip-hop as a state of mind rather than an inconvertible, street-anchored style. "My whole thing is expressing yourself in any way possible."
THE GREAT HANGOVER TOUR: ASHER ROTH AND KID CUDI
With B.O.B., 88 Keys
Fri/24, 8 p.m., $27.50
1300 Van Ness, SF