Hometown: Brooklyn via Cleveland, Ohio
Album: Man on the Moon: The End of Day
For Fans Of: Kanye West, A Tribe Called Quest, N.E.R.D.
“I used to love taking trips to the planetarium at school—like that was my shit,” says the 25-year-old MC born Scott Mescudi. This fascination with the cosmos has resurfaced on his early mixtapes and now in the title of his dreamy debut LP, Man on the Moon: The End of Day (out Sept. 15 on Dream On/G.O.O.D./Universal Motown). Cudi’s spaced-out sonic style certainly fits the imagery: With his sing-songy flow, he sounds right at home rapping about late-night meditation and self-medication over slow-burning, soaring melodies as showcased on his breakthrough single, “Day ‘N’ Nite,” which introduced him to the world as “the lonely stoner.”
“I didn’t necessarily write it talking about, 'Yeahhh, wakin’ up, smokin’ blunts,'” he explains, fake-rapping. “Nah. I was talking about the conflict, the method to the madness of why someone would want to do drugs… It’s just what I was going through at the moment and what I’m dealing with now.” Cudi lost his father to cancer at age 11, and wrote “Day 'N' Nite” in 2006 while shouldering another heavy load: On his own in New York City, he was out of work, dealing with relationship issues and the recent death of his uncle. Since then, he’s proved resilient, waiting patiently as his introspective anthem garnered growing attention online and eventually became a radio hit in 2008. Along the way, he caught the ear of Kanye West, who invited him to contribute songwriting for 808s and Heartbreak and added him to the G.O.O.D. Music roster. Now, with a forthcoming major-label release and one of hip-hop's biggest taste-makers in his corner, Cudi is poised to showcase his playful humor, runaway imagination and confessional lyricism to an even larger audience.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that the guy can hold a note. “When the homies hear [me sing], it’s like ‘Oh man, this guy’s not crooning me. He’s not gonna 112 me to death. He’s singing in a way that I could sing it,’” he says. Well aware of the limits to his range, Cudi avoids syrupy R&B and lets his vocal chops carry him gracefully through his own hooks, tailoring his rhymes' fluid cadence to soul-inflected melodies, guitar riffs and throbbing club beats with equal finesse. Cudi's beats of choice reveal a catch-all musical taste: He's rhymed over industry beats and original production, but also curveball samples from indie artists (LCD Soundsystem, Band of Horses) and classic pop and country (Paul Simon, Pasty Cline). Man on the Moon features a collaboration with MGMT and beat production from Ratatat that will likely grant the genre-melding Cudi broad appeal outside the hip-hop community.
But as the space cadet readies for takeoff, he still wrestles with daily stresses, especially given his newfound fame. Good thing he’s figured out how to deal. “You know, my life is changing, and I’m definitely a kid with issues, but I don't take that shit out in a negative way,” Cudi says. “Music is the most therapeutic thing I have-—instead of going to therapy and seeing a shrink, I go to the studio and see those beats.”