It's been MONTHS since rapper Kid Cudi's breakout single "Day 'N' Night" earned him a standing ovation from fans across the world. Thanks to the Internet buzz following his 2008 mixtape A Kid Called Cudi, and an endorsement from Kanye West, Cudi has quickly become the most popular kid in hip-hop's new school of MCs.
Not since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has a Cleveland artist cracked the mainstream with such force. With his highly anticipated debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day, set to drop this summer, and a world tour underway, 25-year-old Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi of Shaker Heights is determined to turn hip-hop on its ears.
"I'm making music art for people," says Cudi. Judging by his schedule, he has little time for anything else.
Just last week, Cudi was rushing off to Australia after finishing a video shoot in New York for his next single, the mischievous banger "Make Her Say," which features West and Common. Cudi is also co-headlining the Great Hangover Tour with newcomer Asher Roth.
"A lot of people are still skeptical," says Cudi, who seems inspired by the challenge. "So I only get one impression."
With several leaked tracks like "Mr. Solo Dolo" increasing his fan base and "Day 'N' Night" selling more than 540,000 digital singles, it looks as though Cudi has little to worry about.
Then again, fans can be fickle. When asked if he feels pressured to duplicate the success of A Kid Called Cudi, he simply says, "Hell no."
"Maybe a year ago I felt pressure. But I've leaked a lot of tracks that were just rough mixes, and the kids still responded well. So I'm confident with it now. They will like it."
Though Cleveland hip-hop artists have long depicted the hardships of working-class life, Cudi is refining that image. True, he's a "Heights dude," but Cudi's introspective musings on everyman issues are what resonate. In fact, local fans are so excited by him that some local radio stations spin "Day 'N' Night" day and night.
"I am definitely embraced in Cleveland," says Cudi. "Coming from Cleveland, I didn't think nobody [here] would fuck with the stuff I was doing. We were not open-minded people. You graduate high school, go to college, get a job, find a wife and have kids. There was a formula to follow in Cleveland, and I was against the grain. I was an outcast. So, I ultimately moved to New York to find myself, to transition. I had a story I wanted to tell, and I knew Cleveland would back me once I got to that level."
Sounding like he's had this conversation many times before, Cudi says, "We don't have much to be proud of here. Yeah, we got LeBron, Arsenio, Bone, Ray Cash, Halle Berry — but we need something now. So, I'm trying to be the Eazy E of Cleveland. I want to be for Cleveland what Eazy was for L.A., and I'm going to do it."
Man on the Moon is a mix of alternative, hip-hop, electro and some R&B. Uncluttered with guest appearances, it pops with some of rap's most obscure, yet lyrically sharp contenders like Cleveland's Chip Tha Ripper.
"Chip submitted a track and killed it so well, I was afraid to rap on it," says Cudi.
"Initially, I was focusing a lot on features [guest appearances] because Man on the Moon is a concept album, and I wanted them to play characters in the story. But I was compromising the creative for features, so I said, 'Let me write this song' and I recorded so much on my own that I didn't need a lot of [guests]."
The album also boasts collaborations with several unlikely artists, like the psych-rock duo MGMT.
"I've learned to genre-bend and find collaborations that are not forced," says Cudi, adding that he'd like to work with Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li and indie darlings Band of Horses.
So what can we expect from a man who wants to be Cleveland's Eazy E?
"An amazing project," says Cudi confidently. "I got people in Australia talking about Shaker Heights."