June 7, 2012 11:29
When alt-hop artist and Kanye West protégé Kid Cudi released his latest project—WZRD—a few months ago, it shocked those accustomed to his catchy beats and expert flow. That’s because the record—named after a Black Sabbath song—is comprised of 11gritty-yet-honest rock songs that Cudi wrote and recorded with producer Dot Da Genius.
Unlike prior albums, WZRD tosses out Cudi’s party-friendly, upbeat rap sound and instead showcases his singing voice and newfound ability to shred. But this is all to be expected from a guy who has been blurring boundaries and breaking down stereotypes in unexpected ways since he was born Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi.
Kid Cudi recently spoke to CULTURE and other media outlets about the album during a recent listening party to hype WZRD.
On Working with Dot
Kid Cudi: Me and Dot [Da Genius] have been working on this for a year now. We started recording the record on the tour bus when we were on tour last summer. We were recording before then, but we actually went in and started focusing on completing an album when we were on tour. “High Off Life”—that record in particular—which was the second record off our [WZRD] album, I did on a tour bus. I recorded that riff while the bus was moving, you know on a 14-hour drive—just making jams. We could have went to a real studio and do it official, but I felt that there was something about doing it gritty—something in that—that would give us our sound. I also just wanted a story to tell; to one day say that this album was recorded on a tour bus. And it’s worked for me ’cause I’m using this story right now. It was really exciting to work with Dot. I’ve been working with Dot since day one. I guess he’s the person that helped me develop the Kid Cudi sound, so to speak. I started singing—like singing—and he told me not to do that. Do the in between, kind of sing it and say it, and that’s how “Day ’n‘ Nite” [from 2007’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day] was created. So, we’ve been trying to perfect this sound, so to speak, but it’s not really a sound because it’s ever changing. As you can hear, [WZRD] is very different from [Man on the Moon and Man on the Moon II]. It’s a really, really gigantic leap outside of anything I know—which is scary—but if it’s not scary then it’s no fun. I really got a thrill off of putting my neck out in there and risking my name. People will probably hate me if they think this is shit, but I got fulfillment out of making this record, and that’s what counts. I’m happy with it. Dot’s happy with it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I got to make it with my friend, somebody that I started out making records with.
Dot Da Genius: [Kid Cudi] took on the task of learning a new instrument on a whim. It wasn’t something he thought about—he just jumped into it—but it wasn’t long after he started playing that he decided he wanted to make an album focusing on him playing the guitar. He learned quickly—it’s human nature, you know? Every time he picked up the guitar, it sounded like he’d been playing and practicing, but he hadn’t. It’s very impressive to me—being a musician and having gone to school and learned music [theory]—to see him not have to be taught at all. He’s just teaching himself to play and coming up with these incredible riffs that we built around.
Cudi: I think I did a fair to midrange job.
On Learning New Instruments and Playing Rock Music
Cudi: Well, Dot picked up the bass and started playing like a motherf*@king professional right off the top because he’s a musician. He just let me know that we were onto something real, you know, because some songs are bass-driven. The bass walks and that was something that I specifically wanted, but it didn’t take that long. It took me a couple months to squeeze out a jam I was proud of. We did a song called “Rocket” that isn’t on [WZRD] because we’re trying to get it just right and “Upper Room,” which is the last track on the album. It was the third song I’d written on the guitar after only five months of playing. After those records, it wasn’t so much the playing guitar that took a while, but we had to find that sound. When we started out, we were real particular and went to Wikipedia and looked up “rock” and it said that you just need an electric guitar, a bass and a drum. And I said, “Well, we’re making rock, so let’s just use those elements.” But because I can’t control myself as a creative person in the world, I told myself to try some synths—let’s try it. Let’s add some strings. What I really wanted to try and duplicate was Electric Light Orchestra. I wanted to modernize it. That was really my main goal when mixing the grunge vibe.
On the Moment you Realized Everything Just Clicked
Dot: It didn’t take long at all. Maybe three or four songs and I said, “Let’s do this.”
Cudi: . . . When I started getting [into] writing, I was a little self-conscious about how people would respond to this project, but that’s pre-“The Dream Time Machine,” pre-“Dr. Pill.” There were a lot of songs that we made at that time that didn’t make it. It was maybe two months in before we got to a sound that we started taking seriously.
On the Rock Acts that Inspired WZRD
Cudi: I would definitely say one of the major inspirations was Electric Light Orchestra. From there, of course, I’ve always been inspired by [Jimi] Hendrix and stuff like that, but [with] this album I really wanted to duplicate ELO, Nirvana, the Pixies, the Doors and infuse all those things together and create something that people haven’t heard. People haven’t heard me sing in this way, with this much passion. Pink Floyd has also always been an inspiration of mine, so there [are] breaks that are my tribute to that because that trippiness is part of my roots. I made Dot listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” over and over.
Dot: I got put onto a lot of music doing this project. I’m from East New York, as you know, and [Kid Cudi] put me on a lot of music that I wouldn’t have listened to. I always think of myself as open minded, but doing this album has opened my mind to a whole world of musicians and albums that changed the way I appreciate music, probably forever now.
On Recording On-the-fly
Cudi: I never thought that I would bring this kind of grittiness to the table—this authenticity. You know, I could have totally reached out to whoever and had people come play guitar and spend a shitload of money on a studio. But I’d rather be able to say that Dot and I have an album that was recorded in my house—in my basement—in the strangest of places where you didn’t think these songs could be made. It adds to the story. I wanted this album to have a story, not just we had this funky idea and had a bunch of musicians come lay down some shit.
On why WZRD’s Profanity-less Lyrics
Cudi: Firstly, “pussy” is not a curse word. We debated with Best Buy about this. They wanted to put an “explicit” sticker on the record because we say “pussies.” But that’s not a curse word—we could be talking about multiple cats. There’s a movie called Puss in Boots, you know? Puss is in reality, it’s in life. My daughter loves Puss in Boots. We didn’t set out to make an album that had no curse words. We had 10 songs, and I was listening to them straight and I was like, “Holy shit, I didn’t curse!” I wasn’t trying to make this semi-Christian album with no curse words, I just made a bunch of records where I didn’t curse. When my shit’s written down on paper, it’s nice to use it as poetry. You can’t do that with rap.
On Getting Flak for Doing “The Rock” Thing
Cudi: We never even thought about it. The music speaks for itself. I respect anyone who tries to go outside of their comfort zone and do anything different. It’s a really bold move for anyone in the music industry who is known for one medium to go out and try something else. You got to honor that. We don’t think about anything other than that we hope people pay attention to what we’re doing and take it seriously. My roots are in hip-hop, but as you can hear on the record, this shit is made by motherf*@kers who know how to make music. We don’t always have to rap, we get beats from other people and we make jams.
Favorite Songs on WZRD.
Cudi: I’m drawn to a couple of records on the album because when we were recording them, we didn’t know what it was going to be. So when it came together, I was like, “Yes! This works!” It’s always nerve-racking making an album, but my favorites would definitely have to be “The Dream Time Machine,” “Love Hard,” “Live & Learn,” “Efflictim” and “Upper Room.” I mean, just to name a few. I love them all equally though and I can’t say I have a favorite. I’m really proud of myself. I haven’t been proud of myself in a while. It’s really good for myself.
On WZRD Being an Alternative to Everything Else
Cudi: I meant that nobody else is doing what we do. That being said, it’s an alternative to everything else because there’s no one else like us. Everybody’s caught up in the same shit, it all sounds the same. We are the ones that will do something left field, but we will do it in good taste and with the utmost professionalism, and we just don’t f*@k around out here. I think a lot of people look at me as this dude who raps on these trippy stoner records, but I’m a little bit more than that and I’ve been working this past year to get people to see me as a musician. When I said that, it was really me rubbing my nuts and saying that I’m proud of my project.
On More WZRD-style Music Planned for the Future
Cudi: Funny you ask that because we have an EP coming out in a couple of months. We just can’t stop making records, I’m really excited. That’s why we’re putting out an EP, just to put out some jams.