Kid Cudi is standing in front of a jumbo screen at the home of the New York Mets, watching a stadium full of fanatics chant his name. He hasn’t toured in five years, and he forgot how much he needed this feeling. Not just the idolatry but the physical connection with fans that’s kept him alive all these years. Night after night this summer, he’ll feel it again when he embarks on a twenty-seven-city world tour, an ambitious, theatrical exhibition combining his love of singing and acting into a concert that’s romantic and “trippy as fuck.”
It’s day one of Governors Ball, and thousands of music lovers have descended upon Citi Field to watch Kid Cudi headline. For him, the show is a warm-up for his upcoming tour, To the Moon, but my evening has been decidedly grounded. I’m trying to locate his team, and it’s taken an hour of phone calls and texts before I’m finally whisked into a golf cart and escorted to the side of the stage, minutes into Cudi’s opening song.
Sock by Dior Men; sunglasses by Jacques Marie Mage; necklace and earring, Cudi’s own.
It’s a whole other world up here, removed from the sardine can of screaming kids, drunk and high, elbow to elbow, happily singing along to “Sad People” (a hopeful anthem). Above all, it’s validation on a massive scale.
The stadium is a sea of swaying arms illuminated by houselights, larger than life. The lyrics are indistinguishable, and the sound is just a wall of vibrations. A glimpse at the teleprompter in front of me reveals what Cudi is singing: “Close call, life on the edge / Ah, when the time comes, I’ll find peace.” And now the crowd is chanting his name again. “CUH-dee! CUH-dee!” It’s an outpouring of unconditional love normally felt only by gods, musicians, and babies in their first hour of life.
For years, the overwhelm of balancing this kind of experience with his personal life sent Cudi spiraling. He has since undergone an existential growth spurt ahead of his next career phase, which includes developing projects with his new production company, Mad Solar. In September, he’ll release his tenth album, Entergalactic, accompanied by an animated Netflix series of the same name. Cudi (born Scott Mescudi) considers the show his first significant flex as a producer and creator.
The plan is for me to hear all about it when we meet on a June afternoon in midtown Manhattan in the Civilian Hotel’s Blue Room, a space embellished with Broadway memorabilia. Cudi arrives and sits in front of the display case housing George Washington’s saber from the musical Hamilton. He’s wearing a very Kid Cudi outfit: pink corduroy pants and a ripped Wiz T-shirt. His shoes are Off-White, a label that’s been deified by a universe of cool kids. His hair is “Now and Later blue” (a color sourced, logically, from a Now and Later candy he had sitting on a table at home). Over two days of interviews, he politely asks members of his team—his manager and childhood friend
Dennis Cummings, his assistants, a label rep, studio engineers—to leave the room so we can talk in private. He immediately puts his phone on Do Not Disturb. He’s like the Serenity Prayer come to life.
Cudi tells me he’s starting to feel like the adult he’s wanted to be, one who has his shit together for the first time. Lately, he’s been waking up not just happy but enthused. Most days, he’s showered by 9:00 a.m. and dressed in the most Kid Cudi outfit imaginable. He looks in the mirror and feels sexy. “Ain’t nobody about to see me. I ain’t got shit to do for the day, but I’m still dripping,” he says, two custom gold caps gleaming in his smile. “I actually can say, at thirty-eight, that I love myself. And I couldn’t have said that six years ago. I can say that with confidence now and truly believe it, and it shows.”
Ironically, much of his public persona revolves around his private well-
being. Earlier in the week, as the guest of honor at a Youth Anxiety Center dinner cohosted by Anna Wintour, he spoke about his periods of depression and rehab. His songs are snapshots of his inner turmoil, submerged in hip-hop, rage, electronic, and rock anthems that plot his flight from despair to resplendent self-love. Cudi parlayed this story into a 2021 documentary he executive-produced, A Man Named Scott. Peers (Pharrell Williams, Kanye West) and friends (Shia LaBeouf, Timothée Chalamet) paint him as a hero for young people struggling to attach language to emotions. Like most musicians, he has engaged in a bit of mythmaking, but you get the sense that his desire to control his narrative stems from years of feeling out of control.
Fans will be relieved to know he’s still happy, of course. But when a celebrity tells you they’ve never been in a better place, it can be hard to believe them. Could it be a necessary part of the job, the ability to project peace even if you don’t feel it? In Cudi’s case, he’s likely reached a feeling of fulfillment the way many of us do—by having a bit of self-doubt and faking it at first. Not to mention a few things have changed along the way. He’s pursuing passion projects while actively seeking long-term love and being a celebrity dad to his preteen daughter, Vada Mescudi, who wants to be a singer and is experiencing fame secondhand. He has two assistants now. (“The team is complete like Voltron. It’s great!” he says.)
Headpiece by Gucci; sunglasses by Jacques Marie Mage; monogram bold ring by Louis Vuitton Men’s; blossom ring by Louis Vuitton; necklace by Louis Vuitton LV Volt.
Cudi’s rock bottom forced him to become a fortress of mental fortitude, adept at using the tools he picked up through years of therapy. It’s not that the stress ever goes away. He’s just more equipped than ever to handle a seismic disruption, be it heartbreak, grief, or an epic fallout with a famous friend known for weaponizing text-message screenshots. But there are no guarantees; you have to work to be there. “I have so much awesome shit going on in my life. My family is good. Work is good,” Cudi says. “I won’t allow anything to fuck up my mojo right now. I can’t.”
We have to talk about love. But when speaking about matters of the heart, especially in the age of the apps, it’s easy to skew too jaded or I’ll-never-let-go-Rose melodramatic. Cudi’s philosophy is somewhere in the sweet spot: “Love is the answer. It is gonna hurt you at times, but it’ll heal you, too.” Entergalactic is a love story in this vein. Cudi voices an animated version of himself, Jabari, a New York City artist looking for love, alongside an all-star cast, including Jessica Williams (Jabari’s love interest, Meadow), Chalamet (Jabari’s best friend, Jimmy), and Vanessa Hudgens (Meadow’s friend Karina). Cudi envisioned it as an anthology of vignettes with one animated episode. Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, who became an executive producer on the show, suggested he turn it into a fully animated series.
Cudi talks about the power of love the same way he does performing. “It’s one hell of a ride when you’re in it with someone, especially what they’re experiencing in Entergalactic,” he says. “It’s fucking magic, you know.” The show is his version of a visual album, for which he recorded the music first—a suite of songs on the beauty of being freed by love—and worked backward to storyboard the narrative before hiring a writing team to script it. When Jabari meets Meadow at a party, you hear a snippet of “Angel,” a delicate overture about a romantic savior. A sex scene—yes, there is an animated sex scene—is soundtracked to “Willing to Trust,” which sounds like a proclamation to a future partner: “I got you / Don’t worry about it,” Cudi repeats.
Blanket, trousers, and boxers by Dior Men; necklace and earring, Cudi’s own.
This article appeared in the SEPTEMBER 2022 issue of Esquire
Cudi’s friend Virgil Abloh, the late visionary designer, sketched some of the outfits the characters wear (Jimmy and Jabari appear in pieces from his label, Off-White), extending years of collaboration between the two, from album artwork to runway shows. It was also their last. Abloh died in November 2021 after a private battle with a rare form of cancer, setting off a chain of tributes about his influence across fashion, hip-hop, and art. Cudi spoke to Abloh the day before he passed.
“I’m happy I had contact with him, that it wasn’t months since I’d talked to him, and then this happened. Then maybe I’d be destroyed,” Cudi says. “Over the months, I found peace with it because I got a chance to tell Virgil how I felt about him, and he knew. It gets hard sometimes. I think about him a lot. I get emotional. But what pushes me through that is knowing.”
Cudi and I first met in 2009, when I was an editor at the rap publication XXL, which featured him on a cover showcasing a new school of rappers that included B.o.B. and Wale. He had a hit stoner’s anthem, “Day N Nite,” as well as Kanye West’s cosign. From the beginning, Cudi’s melodic style has had the emotive blueprint of artists like Scarface and DMX and pushed the limits of expression into a deeply emo zone; his 2009 debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, unexpectedly became the source code for Gen Z rappers now accustomed to purging their inner demons via crooning.
Thinking back on that time, Cudi says, “The first album for me was a lot of self-discovery because I saw how tormented a soul I was. You’ll write some shit and sit back and be like, Huh, I didn’t know I felt that way. Where is this coming from? Then I have to dig a little deep to finish the song.”
Cudi grew up a quiet, observant kid in Solon, Ohio, where his mom, Elsie Mescudi, studied music and taught at public school for thirty-eight years. She remembers discovering a seven-year-old Scott—the youngest of four kids—singing “Jesus Loves Me” under his bed while playing with his Ninja Turtle. He drew a lot, kept notebooks full of poems, and recorded his first raps using a Talkboy. He was eleven when his dad died of cancer. The family had visited him every day in the hospital. “He listened and got everything he could get from his dad,” Elsie says.
His twenties were tougher. Cudi thinks of that decade as his Hulk period, when anything was liable to tick him off. By then, he was a rap star, coping with the pressures of stardom through work and drugs until, after a two-week coke binge, he realized the music he was making as therapy (Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager and Indicud came out during this time) wasn’t purely therapeutic; it had also become destructive, even parasitic. In a 2016 Facebook post, Cudi wrote that he’d checked himself into rehab for “depression and suicidal urges.”
One day Elsie got a call from her son telling her he was on his way to rehab and that he’d chosen her as his emergency contact. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to wait until they were ready for him to call me,” she says. When they did, she flew out and saw Cudi daily. They prayed together as he recovered. “It was the best thing that could have happened to Scott. It was. There is no saying, ‘My child won’t do this. My child won’t do that.’ If you’re a parent, you can’t say that. You don’t know what they’re going to do from moment to moment, and certainly, when you get to the point where your career blew up overnight, it’s a very difficult thing.”
Cudi’s time in rehab is a significant part of his lore, but what many people don’t know is that two weeks in, he had a stroke and was hospitalized. In the following months, his speech and movement were slow. “Everything was fucked,” he says. Cummings suggested he needed a break from music.
Overalls by Off-White; necklace by Louis Vuitton LV Volt; earring, Cudi’s own.
Cudi spent the next few months in physical rehab. He didn’t fully feel back on his feet until a moment in 2017 when he read with Michael Cera for a role in a Broadway play about law enforcement, Lobby Hero. The audition required him to memorize an intimidating amount of dialogue, but Cudi felt up to the challenge. In the end, the production went with a more seasoned actor, but he got a better prize: “I proved to myself that I could do it. I needed that at the time,” he says. “I was happy. Like, damn, my brain is still strong. I didn’t lose something in that shit that happened.”
In a landscape overflowing with celebrity mental-health advocates, Cudi has become an ambassador in the most intuitive way: through his music. He gladly accepts the responsibility of influencing young people. To him, there’s a bigger picture. “I’m ready to wear those shoes and be a role model.” Yet his approach to being a big brother to many is “very, very rock and roll. And I will not apologize for shit. . . . I’m so in tune with my emotions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to manage and control those emotions.”
I ask Cudi what might be an insensitive question: Does he ever get tired of being a mental-health spokesperson? “It’s a lot of pressure, but it keeps me alive. So I’ll take it. It doesn’t stress me out,” he says. “It keeps me thinking, Nah, Scott. You gotta be here. Let old age take you out.”
Jacket by Commes de Garcons Hommes Plus; sunglasses by Gucci; necklace and earring Cudi’s own.’
Williams, his costar, says Cudi has mastered the art of being vulnerable. “It’s important to expand the way we perceive Black men and the way we perceive rappers as well,” she says. “Scott has always been ahead of that. The way he’s always wearing a dress, painting his nails, or singing about all the shit he’s been through. He creates room for more Black men and people of color to be themselves the way they want.”
“I think he has inspired other artists to be more vulnerable,” says
Chalamet. “There’s something just so raw and authentic about Cudi that just speaks to your heart.” In many respects, Cudi has become better known for his message of survival than for his critical standing as a rapper. As Stereogum writer Patrick Lyons put it in 2019, “Cudi is important to his fans in a way that transcends artistic merit.” Cudi himself is unbothered by the idea of being slept on as a rapper. He doesn’t even see himself rapping past forty. “Like, my name is Kid Cudi.” He laughs. “It’s different. I’m not Nas. I’m not Jay. These names are legendary, godly, forever young. If I felt like I had that ability to be cool all the way to my forties, fifties, and shit, I would be like, ‘Yeah, I’m rapping to the end, motherfucka!’ But I just . . . I don’t know.”
We’ve been at the hotel for an hour, and smoking is only allowed on the terrace. Do I want to head to the studio to hear the music from Entergalactic? Yes, to the moon!
In the Blue Room, Cudi declined to say anything about Kanye West (the artist we now know simply as Ye) and their severed relationship. He knew that if he spoke about it, a journalist wouldn’t be able to resist writing about it, and he’s “appreciated the peace of not hearing or dealing with that shit at all.” He hasn’t even processed the end of the friendship himself. But as we speak, he realizes the best response to someone who’s an expert at stealing the spotlight is to steal it back.
Blanket by Dior Men; necklace, Cudi’s own.
The studio is a brand-new label-opened space in Chelsea, equipped with a spectacular Dolby Atmos system. I don’t ever get to hear it. Settling into a fluffy cream chair the texture of an Ugg boot, Cudi begins to let off steam.
He and West have been tethered for more than a decade as both friends and collaborators, ever since Cudi signed to West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music, in 2008. They appeared in each other’s recent documentaries and multiple other projects, though Cudi sees an imbalance. “I’ve been on every one of that man’s albums. He’s only been on two of mine. That should tell you something,” he says. “And don’t think I didn’t ask.” Over the years, the two have repeatedly feuded, mostly over creative differences, but they reconciled publicly.
Then, in February of this year, West announced that Cudi wasn’t featured on his album Donda 2. On Instagram, he posted a photo of Cudi posing with Chalamet and Pete Davidson, who’s famously dating West’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian. The picture had an X over Davidson’s face. Cudi responded with a tweet calling West a dinosaur, adding, “Everyone knows I’ve been the best thing about ur albums since I met u. Ima pray for u brother.” In April, Cudi wrote on Twitter that they were no longer friends.
Overalls by Off-White™; scarf by Michael Kors Collection; sneakers by Louis Vuitton Men’s; necklace by Louis Vuitton LV Volt; earring, Cudi’s own.
“Do you know how it feels to wake up one day, look at your social media, and you’re trending because somebody’s talking some shit about you?” he asks. “And then you got this person’s trolls sending you messages on Instagram and Twitter? All in your comments? That shit pissed me off. That he had the power to fuck with me that week. That he used his power to fuck with me. That pissed me off.” He adds gravely, “You fucking with my mental health now, bro.” Cudi eventually brushed it off and burrowed into his peace bubble.
Here in the studio, he leans forward in his chair, a blunt between his fingers. “I’m at a place in my life where I have zero tolerance for the wrong energies. I’ve watched so many people throughout the years that are close to him be burned by him doing some fucked-up shit. And then they turn around and forgive him. And there’s no repercussions. You’re back cool with this man. He does it over and over.”
He addresses West directly: “I’m not one of your kids. I’m not Kim. It don’t matter if I’m friends with Pete or not friends with Pete. None of this shit had anything to do with me,” Cudi says. “If you can’t be a grown man and deal with the fact that you lost your woman? That’s not my fucking problem. You need to own up to your shit like every man in this life has. I’ve lost women, too. And I’ve had to own up to it. I don’t need that in my life. I don’t need it.”
Cudi is also bothered by the idea that people credit his success to someone other than him and his original team of producers: Patrick “Plain Pat” Reynolds, Oladipo Omishore (aka Dot Da Genius), and Emile Haynie. He says he was hesitant to sign to G.O.O.D. Music. His fear manifested when West released 808s & Heartbreak and you heard Cudi’s haunting vocals on the second track and his songwriting throughout, playing what he felt was a critical role when he had yet to release his debut album. Cudi’s a little stuck here: He was a young rapper who emerged in the shadow of a superstar.
“I just want to clear that up for anybody that feels like Kanye made my career or made me who I am,” Cudi says. “He brought me on to do 808s. I thought that was really fucking awesome. I wanted to be a part of a family and saw G.O.O.D. Music as that opportunity. So I finally said yeah. Kanye West did not come and pluck me out of Applebee’s or the Bape store.”
This is a lot of talk about Kanye for someone who didn’t want to discuss him. Cudi says the difference is that he’s speaking about it on his own terms. If there is an olive branch in the future, it’s somewhere lost in the woods. Cudi continues, “With all due respect, I’m not Drake, who’s about to take a picture with him next week and be friends again, and their beef is squashed. That’s not me. What I say, I mean. I will be done with you. It’s gonna take a motherfucking miracle for me and that man to be friends again. I don’t see it happening. He gon’ have to become a monk.” (Since this is Ye we’re talking about, I consider this unlikely but not impossible.) In a twist of fate, Cudi replaced West as the headliner of this year’s Rolling Loud Miami festival. But after a few concertgoers tossed objects at Cudi during his set, he threatened to walk offstage if they continued. True to his word, he dropped the mic and left. (Ye, meanwhile, made a surprise cameo during rapper Lil Durk’s set.)
Necklace by Louis Vuitton LV Volt; earring, Cudi’s own.
Cudi has decided that letting go is the most adult thing he can do. “The twisted thing is that I love him, but I love you so much that I can kick you the fuck out of my life and be done with your ass. ’Cause you are not good for me,” he says, closing his sentiment with an affirmation popularized by the great turn-of-the-century philosopher Samantha Jones: “I love myself more. I love myself more.” Cudi repeats it like a mantra, still addressing his former friend. “I didn’t love myself all them years you knew me. I love myself more now, bro. I love myself way more.”
Arriving at maturity can take years of self-sabotage until you finally acknowledge what you already know. Also a lot of therapy, one of the most interesting things a person can do and least interesting things a person can talk about. But therapy meant a great deal to him, and it took some persistence to get it to work: He had two male therapists whom he quickly dropped. Then he was paired with Nika.
“I had never had a therapist that was so nurturing and loving. When I was in rehab, I wanted to leave so many times. She was the one talking me down,” Cudi says. It was what he needed. “I’m very much a mama’s boy, and feminine energy is nurturing and comforting for me. When I’m telling you some shit that’s deep, I need to know the person receiving this on the other end has a heart, someone who’s open, whose voice is calming and soothing. And somebody that’s going to challenge me. Nika used to do that all the time.”
Hours before Governors Ball, we meet again in the studio instead of backstage as planned. Today, he’s wearing another Kid Cudi outfit: orange-and-yellow puffer pants and a pair of Off-Whites with mismatched laces. Something about him is more starlike than the day before, when our meeting had a therapeutic quality to it. (Maybe it’s that he’s speaking from behind iridescent shades.) He tells me his preshow routine is a workout and a nap. “I need a nap every day now. I’m in baby mode again like I’m back in kindergarten,” he says. “After I eat, it’s like, mmmm, naptime.”
The Cudi of yore knew he wanted a relationship, but his destructive tendencies kept him from getting into one. “I kept fighting it. Like, I want a girlfriend. I want a girlfriend. I need to be with somebody. Most people would think I enjoy being single, because I’m single a lot. But I’m a relationship man,” he says, a traditionalist in that sense. “My goal is to find someone. Soon, hopefully. And get married and have more kids.” Being a dad to Vada (he describes her as “the coolest, bravest person”) is the best part of his life, and he wants to expand the family tree.
Jeans and monogram bold ring by Louis Vuitton Men’s; necklace by Louis Vuitton LV Volt; blossom ring by Louis Vuitton; earring, Cudi’s own.
A few years ago, he joined the celebrity dating app Raya but stayed on it for only a few months. He prefers the real-world awkwardness of meeting someone and not knowing what to say. “Take twenty minutes to type a hello,” he says—that sort of thing. He speaks wistfully about an ex-girlfriend, Rocky, who’s still in his life. He cherishes her role as a teacher of sorts, the way men hold dear the women who prepare them to be decent before they’re capable. These days, he’s able to take accountability.
“You learn to own up to your madness and be a man. And I had a lot of madness inside me,” Cudi says. “I was trying to keep that shit deep down and tucked because I had to be the guy that was the savior to millions, and I was still doing shit from when I was young because that’s all I knew.” He feels remorse over it. “I wish I showed up and had been the man I was supposed to be for Rocky. But I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make up for it, whether we’re together or friends, whatever it ends up being,” he says. “Proving how much she means to me and how important she is in my life—that’s one of the things that I regret that I think about a lot, the fact that I let her down so many times.”
No one word can quite capture what it’s like when the child of a famous person learns their parent is famous, but Cudi has seen it in his daughter’s eyes. Vada turned twelve in March, and her father has been trying to divine what’s behind them. On a recent trip to Cleveland, he left her side briefly to take pictures with two fans in a parking lot. He returned to the car and noticed she was quiet. “I said, man, let me just ask her how she feels about this shit,” he says. “Finally, once and for all.” He asked her, “How does it make you feel when fans come up to me in the street?”
“Sad,” Vada replied, “because I want it to just be us.”
Her answer made Cudi want to put people on notice: “Let this be an APB for everybody out there,” he says, his tone stern. “Please, if you see me with my daughter, let us have our moment. This is Vada asking, not me.”
The day after Governors Ball, his manager, Cummings, texts me, saying Cudi wants to hear my thoughts on the show. The rapper is endearingly self-conscious and nervous about his upcoming tour. Vada is a theater fan and has seen him perform before, but he says, “This tour I’m about to do is the biggest one she’ll see. I’m excited to see what she thinks about it.”
Vada’s approaching the age when she’ll have the language to express complicated emotions. She’s learning. Her dad is learning. And it’s the type of uncertainty he welcomes at this point in his life. It’s taken him some time to get here, as he nears forty. “She might not have it all figured out. But once she’s out in the world and she’s in college, whatever she chooses to do, she’ll have some living under her belt. She’ll be out in the world on her own. And she can maybe understand some things,” Cudi says. “It might take her some time.” Vada is his North Star, and her well-being and his own solace are the most important things to him right now. Sure, the fandom fuels him, but when the noise dies down and the heat of the crowd recedes, it’s just them. He’s lived in the same home in New York City for ten years without being hassled by fans, and he doesn’t take many walks—late at night, maybe, when there’s no one around. Those are the moments that bring him down to earth.
Styling by Andrew Mukamal
Grooming by Allie Smith using Dior Backstage Foundation
Hair Styling by IBN Jasper for Frank Reps
Set Design by Todd Wiggins
Manicure by Tak Okamura at the Wall Group
Production by Jean Jarvis at Area 1202 Productions
Clover Hope is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and author.