The autographed picture of Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash in the lobby of the Sunset Marquis hotel in West Hollywood makes clear that more than a few rock stars have had more than a few crazy nights there. Tonight, though, the hotel is tranquil, and the star ensconced within is the same. Kid Cudi's demeanor on this evening in August is a far cry from what you'd expect, based on everything that's happened to the 26-year-old rapper since we sat down with him last year. Getting into scuffles with fans, being arrested in June for possession of cocaine and criminal mischief—true to his newest alter ego, Mr. Rager has indeed been ragin', though it's hard to reconcile that whirlwind of controversy with the leather pants-clad young man emerging from the lobby. We're going house-shopping with him in the Hollywood Hills (he ends up copping a plush two-story where Fred Durst and others have laid their fitteds), and he wants to confirm with a realtor that he can install custom lights. A successful album and an HBO show have treated him well, clearly.
Afterward, we settle back in his black-on-black SUV and go over everything: the good (his highly anticipated sophomore album, Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager), the bad (the night he spent in jail, which Cudi will explain was a far more serious wake-up call than he'd get at the Sunset Marquis), and the ugly (his drug use throughout the past year). As we talk, the tattoo on his forearm flexes occasionally; a person's , split in two, divided into sides labeled GOOD and BAD. And given Cudder's year, we can't imagine a more fitting image. There's a rift between thought and action, ideal and real—and sometimes it threatens to grow so wide that a man can get lost in it. But we hope not.
Complex: Forgive me, but we gotta start with some controversy. In "Mojo So Dope," you say that you "live through words, not metaphors, so I pass to be the rest of the freshmen." What did you mean by that line?Kid Cudi: I didn't want anybody to take it the wrong way, because it wasn't a dis. But most of the rappers that everyone loves are rappers that use metaphors. That's not my of rap. I like to rhyme in a more poetic way. Sometimes you don't have to use these...witty ways of trying. It just sounds like somebody is overselling shit.
You're big on not having your music compared to anyone else's.Kid Cudi: Did you see that Wale interview that he just did, comparing us to sports? Let me clear this up: I'm incomparable to anybody. I don't care how people take that. No one can compete with me. I'm unfuckwittable; no one can knock me off my shit. I'm an unstoppable force, I'm a bullet. My trajectory is to the sky. Niggas got to do something really spectacular to fuck with me and my realm, and niggas be so bitter that you hear it in their voice.
Speaking of Wale, when you hit that fan at your show last December, he came out with a line about it ["Throwin' 'round wallets like the dude that Kid Cudi hit," from "Thank You Freestyle"].Kid Cudi: It wasn't a shot, it's just a simple-ass rhyme by a simple-ass rapper. You can't let that shit faze you. That's one of those raps that just shows the world that you wack. Why would you even use that as a metaphor? Everybody think they Hov. Niggas ain't got the magic like they think they do; there's only a couple of wizards in this game. I'm a wizard and I know it.
Are your peers not seeing that?Kid Cudi: The last album, I let people dis me, throw out those jabs in their verses and have their little remarks. This time around, I'm not fucking around. I have no time to think about other niggas. These other motherfuckers like feeding off another nigga's energy, so they mention their name. You hear me talk about niggas? I don't even talk about Kanye, and that's my homeboy! They talk about Kanye like they're bosom buddies with this nigga. Talking about "I be in Hawaii"—man, shut the fuck up, why you got to tell everybody everything? Then people like Wale get mad that 'Ye ain't give him no beats—'Ye ain't give you no beats because we ain't fucking with your raps. It's not a conspiracy theory. We don't fuck with you musically, so we're not going to provide music for you. The shit is a service, it's a quality of a certain standard. Niggas are just so thirsty it's ridiculous. I've been eating humble pie forever, and people still call me an asshole. These people don't know my fucking life—now I'm going to give them something to talk about.
Is that the album's tone? Is it just about you going in?Kid Cudi: It's explicit, but smart explicit. I'm not holding back. I have no regard for what people consider right or wrong. Some things I follow—like the law, from here on out. But other than that, I'm doing whatever the fuck I want to do. I'm not holding back. That's why I've been so excited about this move to L.A., because I just want to keep growing creatively, all over, as a human being.
And part of that is anti-metaphor.Kid Cudi: I want my shit to be like you're reading a novel, not a Dr. Seuss book. I felt like the last album was too short. This one is a little bit longer, it's 18 tracks and counting. It's just ten times better on all levels. The story's deeper, darker, with no holding back. It's beautiful, man. It's an emotional album.
How do you feel about the "emo" label?
Kid Cudi: DMX is emo and he's one of the realest niggas in the game. Emotion is what hip-hop thrives on. Don't you want your music to have emotion in it? People like to always throw some negative cloud over it. Doesn't even make sense. Jeezy is emo. When that nigga be rapping, you feel it. You know that nigga's talking some real shit.