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Kid Cudi, “When I Was On Drugs, I Became This Character.”

Photography by Fabien Montique

His big break came in 2007, after West’s A&R, Patrick “Plain Pat” Reynolds, heard “Day ‘N’ Nite” off Cudi’s MySpace page. Pat sent the record to West’s DJ, A-Trak, who then passed it along to West. Cudi released his first mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, in July 2008 and soon jetted to Hawaii to collaborate with West, who was there working on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint III. Those sessions eventually bled into West’s 808s & Heartbreak, where Cudi’s influence on West was perceptible. Cudi co-wrote 808s’ “Welcome to Heartbreak,” “Paranoid,” “Robocop” and “Heartless.” The records were emotionally wrenching, moody, dark, contained both singing and rapping and couldn’t be confined to a single genre—though some have dubbed it “emo rap.”

Cudi joined West’s G.O.O.D Music in late 2008 and in March 2009 signed to Universal/Motown. Released six months later in September, Cudi’s debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, further pushed the boundaries of rap, but it found a willing audience, selling over 104,000 copies its first week. “The day my album came out, I drank all day,” Cudi says. “We all went out when we found out the sales. I was screaming, ‘104,000,’ and doing shots. Then I didn’t really think of it much. I accomplished that goal and was like, ‘Let’s do this next project.’”

Despite the album’s success, Cudi finds flaws in The End of Day. He thinks it was too downbeat and that he struggled expressing himself. “It was hard for me to get my thoughts out,” he says. “I hadn’t lived life yet.”

The past 12 months changed that. Cudi found fame, fortune and the admiration of legions of devoted fans, but it was all a little too much for him. He turned to cocaine to cope with it. “Trying to adapt to this business made me start doing drugs,” he says. “I would go out high, to make sure I was chill and could speak with people. If not, I would be so creeped out. When I was on drugs, I became this character and was able to communicate with people. I liked feeling free and feeling unstoppable.”

The arrest a few months ago was a wake-up call. “I was just thinking about shit,” Cudi says of his night in jail. “It was like, When I get out this cell, things have to change.”

So he refocused on music, and hopes fans relate to his message on The Legend of Mr. Rager. “I’m really starting to see that I’m an unstoppable force with the strength of these kids,” he says. “They understand me. They really connect with me.” Producer Emile, who made four tracks on The End of Day, and is slated to contribute to this new album as well feels Cudi’s tribulations fueled his creative drive. “It’s darker than [his debut] but it’s a reflection,” he says. “It’s been a pretty eventful fucking year. He’s got a lot to talk about.”

Cudi’s anger issues, however, resurfaced at a show this summer in Ohio. Cudi slipped from the grasp of a stage crasher and then jumped the kid when he had eluded security. “I saw that he was about to get away and no one was going to apprehend him,” he says. “So I just blacked out.”

The incident, he says, drove him back to his downtown Manhattan apartment. It’s probably for the best. “I don’t trust how I react to people,” Cudi says. “I just want to do the right thing and react [properly] in certain situations. I just wish someone could teach me how to act. In certain situations, I just don’t know. That’s the scary part. If some shit happens, I feel like I might get myself in trouble. I just don’t want to get in more trouble.” —Thomas Golianopoulos

To read more from Kanye West’s 40-page blowout, including his self-penned cover story, be sure to pick up the October 2010 issue of XXL, which is on nationwide newsstands now!

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