Kid Cudi Billboard Q&A

Cudi

Kid Cudi

 

Kid Cudi’s last album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven is a bummer. The spirit of the December 2015 set it is straight demoralizing and somber—even for Cudi. Which is saying a lot, because as a fan I know that he’s never been the smile-for-no-reason type musically. Still, Bullet, a rock album immersed in depression, drugs and doubt is especially sad.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this Ted Talk with him up on stage speaking at his old Cleveland high school to students and saw a lively Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi smiling and—dare I say—happy? I had to know how the hell he went from sounding like a guy that was one pill or drink away from having an #RIP hashtag in front of his name on social media to this guy seemingly past his darkest days.

Kid Cudi Reveals His Struggle With Drugs and Depression: ‘I Was Living a Nightmare’

I reached out to Billboard and told them what I wanted to do: Interview Cudi to find out if my wishful thinking was true. And they were with it. So a few weeks later I met up with Cudi at a recording studio in Los Angeles, where he spent the first 5-10 minutes playing me “Frequency” just hours before he’d release it to his fans via SoundCloud.

It’s a refreshing take on that Cudi most of his followers fell in love with eight or so years ago thanks to his first two Man on the Moon albums and offshoots like Indicud. Waning hums lead to a woozily sung hook, followed by tight raps that are lifted by a galvanizing “I’m done up ’til sun up!” chant.

Once the music stopped, Scott spoke. A lot. About:

  • getting over depression.
  • how he tried to use cocaine to help.
  • reconnecting with Kanye West.
  • not being interesting in making Man on the Moon 3
  • ejaculating on doubters.

I’ve interviewed him a bunch in the past and he’s always been candid. But this time I’m less proud about the more headline-grabbing quotes I got from him and more that he’s speaking about choosing to be happy. It really is a choice that eludes many.

Give it a look here.

Prince and my Dad’s Saab

saab-9000-turbo

When I was a kid, riding around Maryland and D.C. with my dad in his black Saab Turbo 9000 was special to me. Today, I stand tall at about 6’5, but I’m talking about back, back in the day when I was half this length. Dad would be getting ready to run an errand—a trip to the bank, to his tailor, to the store, wherever—and I’d sheepishly ask if I could come with. After I got the green light I’d toss on my sneakers, head down to the garage and sneak into the front passenger seat, hoping that it was a day where he was feeling cool enough to not banish his too short son to the back row. Once we’d get on the road, once the warmth of my behind melted away the chill of the brown leather seat beneath me, my attention would quickly turn to what music we’d be playing.

Cassette tapes used to jut out of every crevice and pocket our Saab’s interior had to offer. Anita Baker’s Rapture album here. The singer appears lovestruck and in a variant of the fetal position on the cover. Michael Jackson’s Bad there. MJ stares stoically at the viewer in a bad-ass biker boy get-up for that album’s art. We’d play those and more.

sign-o-the-times

Prince’s Sign o’ the Times album artwork

 

One album that also got much burn was Prince’s Sign o’ the Times. Unlike the aforementioned albums, the focus of the artwork for Times was not an image of its artist. Sure, Prince is on it, but he’s barely there. Half of his face is blurry in the bottom right corner. More-so seen in the picture is a drum set, keyboard and a guitar. I probably stared at the picture the most. “The music must be  really good on this album if the singer doesn’t care to be on the cover,” is likely along the lines of what I was thinking then.

And it was. On a nice day, my dad would put the windows down and let our music ring out. On many occasions we’d turn quiet streets into open air concerts as we whizzed by. Prince’s Sign was an special album on several fronts and stayed in constant rotation in the car.

As a child not yet able to grasp lyrical depth, all I knew was feel. Songs like “Housequake,” “Play in the Sunshine,” and “Starfish and Coffee” were my favorites. They sound like wild, genreless joy. The title track, cuts like “Strange Relationship” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. It’d take some more life experience for me to even partially understand the perils of drug use on society and how love could make someone trip out the way he did over the girl he’s singing to on those last two. I knew they were great tracks, but not why. That’d come later.

Memories, man. That’s what I thought about when I found out that Prince Rogers Nelson unexpectedly died this morning at age 57. He’s one of the guys that soundtracked good times with my dad when I was a kid.

Minutes after I got the news, I called Dad up at work to break it to him.

“No kidding?” he asked. No kidding. Another one of our guys is gone.

Michael Jackson passed in 2009 during my rookie year as a professional journalist. I was working at Vibe Magazine when the publication was on its last legs, weeks away from folding. Green, I didn’t quite know what to do. The veterans on staff shifted into an emergency mode of sorts, delegating tasks for top writers to handle. I was not one of them. So I sat there, sad. I pulled up Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker movie—one I watched endlessly as a youngster—on YouTube and tried not to cry as people went crazy around me.

I had that nostalgic feeling again today. Being a kid and enjoying that Prince guy whose album cover says, “It’s about the music” to me. So I opened up my Tidal app, the only streaming service that hosts Prince’s catalogue, and bumped Times.

Mourning people that didn’t know you is a strange thing. I never met Michael or Prince (Though I did at least see Prince in concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City years ago.) But he’s given me so much. And with those memories, Prince is still alive. Just like Michael is.

So I must correct anyone that speaks about prolific creatives like him in the past tense. Michael Jackson is, not “was.”

Prince is, not was, an icon.

Memorable art will always outlive its creator, as magical as they may be.

Legends are forever.

Zayn Malik, Being Yourself and Success

ZAYN-MM-PRESS-Miller-Mobley

ZAYN | Photo c/o RCA Records | Shot by Miller Mobley

 

Being yourself—fully—is way more fun than not.

I was a bit annoyed when several notable magazines and blogs published posts that teased Zayn Malik for this exchange in his April/May Complex cover Q&A about his time as a member of boyband One Direction:

Zayn: …There were certain restrictions in terms of the way that we could come outside of that young teen boy look.

Complex: What type of restrictions?

Zayn: Mainly my beard, honestly. I wasn’t allowed to keep it. Eventually, when I got older, I rebelled against it, and decided to keep it anyway. That was just because I looked older than the rest of them. That’s one of the things that is now quite cool. I get to keep my beard. I also wanted to dye my hair when I was in the band, but I wasn’t allowed to.

Sure, on the surface, a rich young man complaining about being forced to shave as he rakes in money to perform basic anthems for tweens is ripe for the picking and depending on where you stand on the Bully-o-Meter, it essentially makes Zayn a target for Grade A internet slander. Several pubs took a whack at Zayn for his hair woes. I thought about linking off to a few of those pieces so that you could see what I’m referencing. But then I thought, “Fuck bullies.” No links for y’all. I’m not assisting in getting them any traffic. Google it if you must.

What all these jerk writers missed and failed to do is look within. Ask yourself simple questions: How much does your individuality cost? How much does your personality cost? If you’re someone that creates anything for a living, how much could someone pay you to quiet your ideas to funnel theirs through your lens? And make you truly happy about it?

When you think about it like that, Zayn’s old plight—a boy coming into manhood that wants to not only get out his own thoughts, but have a look that stylistically fits who he is—doesn’t seem quite so trivial anymore.

ZAYN-Nabil-1

ZAYN | Photo c/o RCA Records | Shot by Nabil Elderkin

 

Joe La Puma, the question-asker in that Complex piece followed up with another good one: “What’s more important to you, being real or being successful?”

“Being real,” says Malik.

It’s probably way easier to answer the way Zayn did when you’ve already achieved a massive level of fame and notoriety, but I’m tempted to believe that he believes that to be true. Especially since him going solo is like he’s hitting Restart as far as his artistic output is concerned.

As someone that’s worked at several well-known magazines, I’ve yet to work at a place that fully let me be me. Even at the places that I enjoying staffing at, I’d often find myself in meetings discussing topics I had no interest in or being asked to write in a tone that was far from mine. That shit is frustrating. It’s why I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 months as a freelancer. I’ve been pitching my ideas and my voice to places where I think they’d fit. Things often go my way. And when I can’t make someone understand my idea, I let it loose here on HTS.

I have a real, visceral need to be myself without compromise. That doesn’t mean I’m against collaborating or joining another team professionally. It just means that if and when I do join one, it’s going to be a place that appreciates me and my skill set enough to say, “Do Brad for and with us!”

Which brings me back to Zayn. Listen to songs like the sullen “It’s You.” Peep the mid-tempo “She,” about a boozy beauty that’s too wild for his style. Check out “Truth,” an R&B-leaning open letter penned after realizing that the life he was living was not the one he wanted.

Could you imagine walking around with these lyrics, melodies and desires in your head and then having to instead make strawberry gum pop music so bubblicious that even a scruffy beard supposedly threatens to pop the air from it? Yikes.

I’m super happy to see Zayn win. His Mind of Mine album’s been out for a month now and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. A world tour will soon follow. It’s been cool seeing him as he’s wanted to be seen. Here he is singing “It’s You.” No choreographed dances moves. Just his voice, a few grooves and freedom.

In the end, no amount of money or accolades, social media likes or favorites will make someone truly happy with a product they created if it’s not true to them. True success, to me at least, is telling a story you believe in and presenting it as yourself.

“Success follows authenticity,” Zayn says during that interview. I agree.

In the end, all you have is the work you’ve made. Are you proud of it? To those that can answer, “Yes,” cheers.