Kid Cudi is hip-hop’s Peter Pan. As a founding father of alternative hip-hop, Cudi was the sad-boy antihero to André 3000’s Rapunzel wig and kilt. Hip-hop’s Cobain, so to speak. These days the 34-year-old Lost Boy’s demeanor straddles the line between cool kid and loner stoner. Thirty-four might not sound too seasoned to you, but it’s important to note that Cudi has been one of the most beloved acts in hip-hop for a decade. In rapper years, that’s practically a lifetime. Need proof? Back in 2009, he shared the cover of XXL‘s Freshmen issue with Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, Blu, Mickey Factz, Ace Hood, B.o.B, Cory Gunz, and Wale. (Let us know when you’re done Googling those people.) Point being: He’s stood the test of time while most of his peers haven’t. And the new guard of ragers—like Travis Scott—rightfully consider him a god.
Kids See Ghosts, his joint album with Kanye released earlier this year, is a bit of a departure from the emo midwesterner that his fans had grown to love. “I chose to write the light,” Cudi tells me in his room at the Chateau Marmont. “Me and Kanye both agreed that we wanted to create a spiritual album. I know kids are used to hearing me talk about darkness, but I’m living in the light now.” The album itself seems to have met people’s very high expectations of what should happen when two hip-hop legends join forces. It’s good. Almost good enough to make you forget Kanye’s MAGA hat. Almost. And in a lot of ways liberating for Cudi. I don’t feel pain anymore. Guess what, babe? I am freeeeeeee, he croons. He, like, really, truly croons. And hums—a signature of his.
If Cudi’s mood seems different on the new album, it’s worth noting that Kids See Ghosts is the first batch of music he’s created since he acknowledged on social media in October 2016 that he was struggling with depression—and checking himself into a rehab facility. He wrote that he was harboring suicidal thoughts. In his post on Facebook, admissions like “I am not at peace” and “If I didn’t come here I would [have] done something to myself” softened the hearts of the often cruel commenters. Right before he entered rehab, he tells me, things had gotten bad. “I was thinking of ways to do it. It scared me straight,” he says. “What scared me was that my mind was willing to go there. After all these years.”
But today Kid Cudi, beloved and still damn good at his craft, is safe and sound. “I’m not battling any demons right now. Thank God,” he says.
Whether you’re talking with Cudi about cartoons or rehab, he smiles. It’d be disarming if it wasn’t cinematically mischievous. He looks like the cat that gave the canary an upper. Like he has a pocket full of fireworks and big plans. Cudi smiles when he considers the various highlights of his working life—like, for instance, his stint manning the ovens at a Papa John’s. “I loved that job,” he says with pure delight. “I loved making pizzas. You put me in any Papa John’s right now and I can still throw down.”
Cudi even smiles when he’s clearly bummed—as when we talk about his 2016 album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’, and, in particular, the song “Surfin’,” produced by Pharrell. “I don’t know if Pharrell will work with me again, because those songs didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” he says with a grin. “The label didn’t do the right thing.” If you missed that album, it’s worth a listen now. It’s Cudi at his best: moody wailing, occasional grooves, and post-bender realizations. And if not for that reason, then to help get Pharrell to work with Cudi again.
Of course, a chief source of Cudi’s happiness is his 8-year-old daughter, Vada—under whose tutelage he’s been honing new skills. “I’m the greatest fort builder ever. That’s what my daughter says. I’m really good, and I pride myself on it,” he gloats. “My fort game is serious. I’ve mastered that shit.” And though Kid Cudi seems like he’d be the coolest dad on the planet, he still has some dad dad moments. Like when he embarrassed his daughter at the movies by laughing too loud. “What? That was funny,” he says with a smirk. “I can see my traits in her, but she’s her own person.” He gets serious. “She’s just a ball of love. She’s always happy. That’s a blessing, ya know?”
And besides parenting, he’s busy making stuff. He won’t let anyone—certainly not me—pressure him into offering dates for when we can expect new music. But he is creating a show with Jordan Peele. And he’s in the studio constantly. And still develops crushes here and there. (He jokes about having one on Kendall Jenner. The smile gets even mischievous-er after that.) And is trying to get on social media more often, to let the kids know he’s all right. So in case he forgets to share it, let this serve as the announcement. Kid Cudi is all right.