After over a decade, NIGO® and Kid Cudi have inspired many of the biggest names in music, fashion, and pop culture. But how did they do it, and what’s next? The two cultural icons get together for the first time since they met 11 years ago and open up about their beginnings, new projects, and legacy.
Kid Cudi was 20 years old when he decided to leave his hometown of Cleveland and move to New York City. He had tried college for a year, but wasn’t feeling it, and even considered joining the Navy, though that didn’t work out, either. Ultimately, he wanted to pursue music, and craved an environment where he could “grow and meet interesting people.” New York, he thought, could be that place.
So one day he bought a one-way ticket to New York, packed up his things—clothes, sneakers, the demo he made in college, and $500 in cash—and left. It wasn’t easy. He still remembers the day his mom dropped him off at the airport. “She was crying,” Cudi recalled during his TEDx talk in 2015. “She was giving me a hug at the airport and leans in and goes, ‘I can always turn back around and we can go back home. You can change your mind. Everything will be fine.’” But Cudi stuck to his guns. “I was on a mission,” he added. “It was bigger than just wanting to be a musician or do movies. It was about finally showing the world what Scott could do.”
Except things didn’t immediately pop off for him. His first few jobs in New York were in retail—at American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Dean & DeLuca. He held most of the jobs just to cover his bills and studio time. But there was one that Cudi, to this day, calls a “dream job.”
Shortly after relocating to New York, Cudi learned about A Bathing Ape, the wildly popular and exclusive Japanese brand founded by NIGO® in 1993, and fell in love with its loud graphics and bright colors. At the time, Bape’s two-story, million-dollar flagship in SoHo—the label’s first store outside of Japan, a strategic move by the designer to expand his empire internationally—had just opened in 2004. Cudi desperately wanted to work there, so he applied. And then applied again. And again. Until he finally got hired in 2008.
At the time, Cudi was so broke he didn’t have a bank account (he used his mom’s instead). And for the first few weeks on the job, he wore the same outfit every day or borrowed clothes from co-workers. It didn’t matter, though; he was just happy to be there. “I didn’t own anything [Bape] prior to being hired,” he told Hypebeast. “So it was a dream come true to be able to work at the store I dreamed of shopping in one day.”
But Cudi’s stint at Bape wouldn’t last long. The year before, while he still worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, he met Dot da Genius through a co-worker. They clicked instantly and began making music together, including what wound up being Cudi’s first single, “Day ‘N’ Nite.”
Hello, my name is Christopher Kenji. I’m a 24-year-old singer-songwriter, graduate of Berklee College of Music and a print/runway model.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO BOTH MUSIC AND MODELING? Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve always had a deep passion for music. I picked up the guitar when I was about 10 years old and fell in love — I would spend all my free time playing and writing music (sometimes seven hours a day until my fingers hurt and I couldn’t play anymore). Music has always been and will always be my biggest passion in life; there’s nothing that compares to performing on stage, wearing your heart on your sleeve with your lyrics and melodies and having people connect with you so purely and intimately. Before anything else, I am first and foremost a musician.
As for modeling, it’s kind of funny — I never in a million years ever thought I would become a male model. I know a lot of people grow up having dreams of becoming a supermodel and living that glamorous lifestyle or something but that was never me as a kid. Growing up, I never really thought of myself as a physically attractive person; if anything, I was told the opposite at times so it’s still kind of surreal to me when I think about it. Anyway, my modeling journey started last September when I was at my friend’s show in LA and he introduced me to a woman there who happened to have spent years working in the fashion industry (little did I know, she would go on to become my mentor). She told me that I should become a model and I kind of laughed it off at first but then I realized she was actually very serious about it. I was kind of tipsy at the time, but I told her I guess I could give it a shot and she held me to it.
She then signed me up for a runway show casting in San Francisco. I went, got placed in two shows and ended up being awarded best model of 2018. They made me make a speech in front of the whole audience and it was one of the few moments in my life where I was truly and utterly dumbfounded. It almost felt like the world was playing a big joke on me but it wasn’t a joke; it was real. Having that experience really gave me the motivation to seriously pursue modeling and ever since then, it’s become a huge part of my life.
DO YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIFIC TO KEEP UP YOUR APPEARANCE FOR MODELING?
Yes, I actually kind of changed my life for modeling. I treat modeling like a job now because, well… it is my job. So, that means I can’t just make poor lifestyle choices all the time anymore. I remember getting an interview with IMG Models in New York City, which was pretty much the biggest interview of my entire life and asking my mentor what I should do to prepare. The first thing she told me was to completely cut out booze for the two weeks before I met with them. I said to her, “I’ll cut it out after tonight when I’m done performing at the bar” and she said “no, cut it out starting right now”. I remember feeling super weird playing 100% sober to a packed crowd of wasted people that night but it really taught me something. After just four days, I noticed that I looked and felt better than I had in literally years. Nowadays, I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat sugar, I work out super hard in the gym at least 3-4 days a week, I don’t drink any caffeine and I take ice cold showers to wake myself up every morning. Despite it seeming like I gave up all the things that I love in life, as a byproduct, I feel the most healthy and confident in myself that I have ever been. To me, that’s the most rewarding feeling of all.
DID YOU ALWAYS BOTH SING AND PLAY GUITAR OR DID ONE COME AFTER THE OTHER?
No, I used to never sing. I was terrified of the idea. I remember specifically not applying to a music school I was really interested in because they required all of their students to sing. Singing always really fascinated me but I was always too nervous to try to do it myself. When I first ever tried to sing, I immediately realized my voice was weird. An astounding majority of the famous male vocalists we all know and love such as Freddy Mercury, Michael Jackson, Sting, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, etc. are all tenors with very beautiful, clear, high-pitched voices. I am basically the complete opposite (a bass/baritone with a very low, gritty voice) and I found out pretty quickly that I would never sound like any of them no matter how hard I tried.
It took me a long time to really find my voice. When I finally first gathered up the courage to start singing in front of people, I remember getting comments like, “you’re good at guitar, I think you should stick to that” and whatnot. It was a lot of work behind the scenes to get my singing to where it is today but it’s interesting —the qualities of my voice that I used to view as imperfections are now often the things that people tell me they like most about my voice. It’s crazy how things work out like that ––I’ve come to realize that sometimes a lot of the things in life that seem like curses really are just blessings in disguise. DO YOUR TATTOOS HAVE MEANINGS? IF SO, WHAT DO THEY SYMBOLIZE?
Yes, all of my tattoos have meanings. I’m a very OCD person and all of my tattoos are organized. The right side of my body reflects my internal qualities (my birth name, birth year/place and birth order) and the left side of my body reflects my external qualities (my music and my martial arts). On my right side: being a quarter Japanese, I have my Japanese middle name “Kenji” (which translates to ‘healthy; rule’) on my right upper arm. I was born in New York City in 1994 and when I was in New York last year, I got that tattooed on my right forearm. I’m also the oldest of three boys and under my right collarbone, I have an arrow with three circles in it symbolizing me and my brothers; the biggest circle represents me (the oldest) and the other two smaller circles represent my two younger brothers.
As for my left side: I have a guitar fretboard which symbolizes my passion for guitar/music on the back of my left forearm ––pretty self-explanatory. And lastly, after training three days a week for 14 years, I wanted to have something on my body representing my black belt in mixed martial arts, so on my left shoulder, I have a rising sun blended with an American flag, which is a symbol that was on the wall of my martial arts studio all the years I trained there.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GOAL FOR THE FUTURE?
The short simple answer is that I just want to be a rockstar — not going to lie that would be pretty cool. But really, the bigger answer is I want to create art that brings people together. It’s so easy to feel lonely and lost in this world and I hope to make art that helps people feel less alone and inspires them to use their own voice and be heard. When you feel like no one in the world understands you or knows what you’re going through and you hear that one song that just somehow you gets you when no one else does ––a song from a person you’ve never even met but who’s music and lyrics help you know that they’re there living somewhere in this same, big world as you and they feel it too; that’s power. It could also be a character from a story you connect with or a piece of art — it’s something bigger than you or me or anyone.
That’s the reason I chose to be an artist. If I could just even make one person’s life a little bit better or inspire them to express their own individuality whether that be through my music, fashion/modeling work, art, etc., it would make my purpose feel served. I would rather have one person really connect with my art and be invested in what I am trying to say than a million people who don’t really care that much. I’ll either shoot for the stars or die trying but I refuse to be mediocre — that’s how it’s always been and that’s how it’ll always be for the future!
The artist, who’s ready to
drop long-awaited new music, redefined hip-hop vocally and visually—and
lifting up other artists only burnishes her superstar legacy.
This spring, Melissa Arnette Elliott stood before a mass of Berklee College of Music students and faculty in Boston. She requested a moment to gather herself. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and tears began to fall freely over her smiling face. She opened her eyes. She began to speak to the graduating class, herself among them, just before being awarded an honorary doctorate.
A few days later, I watched Elliott’s speech on YouTube from my living room couch. I scrolled back to when she closed her eyes and counted the seconds until she spoke again. Altogether, there were 20 seconds of what I assumed was silent meditation, perhaps gratitude, in service to a life so successful, it had fashioned itself into this spectacular moment.
Two weeks later, at a recording studio just outside
Atlanta, where she’s working on a long-anticipated seventh album, I ask
Elliott if she remembers standing there for those 20 seconds. She
hadn’t known it had been quite that long. I confirm. I counted to make
sure. Her eyelids, painted green and shimmering under the overhead
lights, flutter a few times while she thinks about it more.
didn’t even realize,” she says. “You know what’s so funny? I wrote a
speech and got up there and choked up, and before I knew it, I was like,
‘Oh my God, where’s the paper?’ And it was just crumbled up on the
podium.” However, she hadn’t closed her eyes to remember her speech or
make a harried backup plan for giving one on the fly. She’s Missy
Elliott. She went somewhere else entirely.
“I went to the side of my grandmother’s house where I used to play church. I used to shout and sing all kinds of gospel songs. Ones I had made up, ones that existed in the church…I was at that place.” Elliott considers herself a very spiritual person. For her, “God is real because I went to that place and felt like he had his hands on me from a child.”
“I don’t ever make moves under pressure,” Nipsey Hussle explained to me back in February 2018. His final album, Victory Lap, had been out for less than a week, and he was stopping by New York City for an on-camera interview.
The early numbers were looking good on his latest release. Last time
that he checked, the project—which would eventually be nominated for a
Best Rap Album Grammy—was headed for a top 5 debut.
On one level, the title Victory Lap
represented the third installment of his Marathon trilogy. But as he
savored the moment, reflecting on his accomplishments to date, Nip
unpacked the words more fully. “We was able to become real successful in
the mixtape space,” he said, sipping a cup of tea. “And obviously we
announced the partnership with Atlantic Records. We established
businesses and built an ecosystem around the music with the Marathon
Store, with the Marathon Clothing, with the Marathon Agency. One of the
things [Victory Lap] means to me now, when I think about it, is
being able to stand up in the game. Being clear that Nipsey Hussle has a
clear lane in the game, and built it, and took the stairs. We had
opportunities to be assisted, but chose to do it on our own.”
In the weeks since Ermias Joseph Asghedom’s senseless murder, his legacy has come into sharper focus. If anything, the man known to many as “Neighborhood Nip” downplayed his impact as an entrepreneur and community leader during our conversation. Any misconceptions have been erased by his memorial service at the Staples Center, not to mention his hearse’s heroic last ride down a street that would soon be renamed in his honor. The intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue—where he came up hustling, invested millions, and ultimately lost his life—will henceforth be known as Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square.
The all-too-familiar rap star narrative of diversifying into new
business ventures while turning one’s back on the streets that raised
him did not apply to Nipsey Hussle. He had a vision that went way beyond
handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving. Nipsey was extremely involved in
his local community, founding and supporting numerous L.A. businesses
and organizations. According to some estimates, the businesses he and
his partners built employed over 40,000 people, many of them ex-convicts
who might have had difficulty finding a job elsewhere. From the
co-working space Vector90 (a business incubator with built-in STEM
academy) to local ventures (a FatBurger partnership, Steve’s Barber
Shop, Elite Human Hair, the World on Wheels skating rink, and more),
Nipsey Hussle put on for his city like no other rapper in history.
was just getting started. Plans had been drawn up to open a six-story
residential building atop his smart store with a light-rail train
connecting the area he dubbed “Destination Crenshaw” to LAX. More than
just meeting with LAPD officials to discuss curtailing gang violence,
Hussle was also planning to visit Washington D.C. along with T.I. and
their business associate Dave Gross for a series of meetings with
Congress to discuss the nationwide rollout of Vector90 as part of a
larger initiative called Our Opportunity. There was a lot of important
work left to be done, which helps explain the widespread sense of
outrage at his untimely death.
Back in February 2018, Nipsey spoke
about how he dealt with one of the most difficult times in his career,
between the end of his deal with Epic Records and the game-changing
rollout of his 2013 Crenshaw mixtape, which he famously sold
for $100 apiece. “Real-life things,” is what he said he was going
through at the time. “Street shit that never really got written about,
’cause it doesn’t belong on the front page. My brother going to jail. Us
getting raided. Us having real war in the streets.”
At times like
these, this son of an Eritrean immigrant evoked a Red Sea metaphor that
may be helpful today. “I tell my daughter don’t let the water in the
boat,” Nipsey said. “The boat’ll never go down if you don’t let the
water in the boat. And that’s just water—you know what I’m sayin? That’s
just rough seas. We got a destination. We trying to get across the
ocean to the other country, or to whatever land on the other side of
this water. All that other shit, you go straight through the waves. Just
don’t let the water in the boat.”
Over the past few weeks, I spoke with some of Nipsey’s family members and inner circle about their plans to carry his legacy forward. Having spent years living and working alongside this visionary artist, thinker, activist and entrepreneur, they were all used to life in Marathon mode. Even as they fought back tears, they all agreed that this particular marathon will continue.
What is it like to create the raw sounds that producers and musicians use to make songs?
For William “Sound Oracle” Tyler, it’s like making the art that Nick from Family Ties would construct from garbage. For Raymond “!llmind” Ibanga, it’s like cooking. For Robert “G Koop” Mandell, it’s like creating (and then immediately destroying) an elaborate sand mandala. To these elite music makers, the metaphor for describing the art of sound design may differ, but the creativity and dedication needed to stand out in this essential but little-understood corner of the hip-hop universe remains consistent.
Given how producer-centric hip-hop has become in recent years, most fans understand that a producer is the person who makes beats that rappers spit on top of. But less examined is how the sounds that producers use are created. The drums that knock in a certain special way, the head-turning keyboard sound, and the “ahhhh” that you hear everywhere? Someone had to create those in the first place, before they could be deployed in your favorite songs.
Given how producer-centric
hip-hop has become in recent years, most fans understand that a
producer is the person who makes beats that rappers spit on top of. But
less examined is how the sounds that producers use are created. The
drums that knock in a certain special way, the head-turning keyboard
sound, and the “ahhhh”
that you hear everywhere? Someone had to create those in the first
place, before they could be deployed in your favorite songs.
process of creating those sounds is called “sound design”—a term that
encapsulates not only individual sounds, but also melodies and loops
that producers will then sample, rearrange, and add elements to (you can
get an in-depth look at that process here).
As if willed into existence by our collective despair, Solange surprise-released her fourth album, When I Get Home,
last night right at the intersection of Black History Month ending and
Women’s History Month beginning. Her mind! Like her previous,
groundbreaking album A Seat at the Table, Home
is a rich tableau of collaboration, black history, and references to
her Houston upbringing (the homeward destination implied by the
collection’s title), but the album takes even more experimental risks
with her sound. Among the mix of artists involved are Gucci Mane, Dev
Hynes, Earl Sweatshirt, Cassie and … a viral Atlanta public-access
sexpert? Let’s plunge right on in to the world of When I Get Home.
It’s not entirely clear how soon after A Seat at the Table Solange broke ground on When I Get Home — she took some time off in 2017 to treat an unspecifiedautonomic disorder — but exactly one year ago, she revealed in a Billboard cover story
that she’d been working on new music. She mentioned writing in Laurel
Canyon, Topanga Canyon, and Jamaica, and said she was “following” Joni
Mitchell for inspiration, sometimes unknowingly: “It has been really
wild. The house that I was just recording in [in] Jamaica, I stayed
there for four days. And then the last day, the owner was like, ‘You
know that mural that’s downstairs in the spare bedroom that the engineer
booth is in? Joni Mitchell painted that.”
Later in the year, Solange did another interview for the New York Times’ T magazine,
where it was reported that her fourth album would “likely arrive into
the world fully formed at some mysterious and unexpected moment, like a
meteor cratering into the culture” sometime that fall. “But she will not
be rushed,” the piece warned. The album would be “still very much in
progress until the very end,” and it remained untitled at the time of
publication. “I like to be able to tell the story in 13 different ways,
then I like to edit,” she said. Though it was unfinished, Solange knew
how it would sound, noting that jazz would be at its core — though not
exclusively. She said electronic and hip-hop drum and bass elements
would also be present with the intention to make it “bang and make your
Once again citing Joni as an influence (for “lessons in balancing a career as a musician with the demands of visual creation”), she named other muses: director Busby Berkeley, dancer and choreographer Diane Madden, and Vegas theater, for inspiration for her new live shows; Missy Elliott, for visuals; and Aaliyah, Sun Ra, Rotary Connection, and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, for sonic cues. The Times wrote, “The record will be warm, she says, fluid and more sensual than her last one.”
Like A Seat at the Table, Solange gave us little time to prepare for When I Get Home, mostly because sharing her art makes her antsy; drawing out the process would only make it worse. (“I have this fear living in my body about releasing work,” she told the Times. “I don’t know any artist that doesn’t feel that before they hit the send button.”) Instead, Solange reemerged on — of all places — BlackPlanet, bringing back from the presumed dead one of the original social-media platforms (predating even Myspace) that was created specifically by and for black people. She launched her own page with lyric excerpts and a dossier of new images, both still and moving, that appear to be pieces of a larger visual project. They — along with the album’s cover, another striking portrait of Solange — were shot by Max Hirschberger and Alex Marks, creative directed by Cary Fagan, and styled by Kyle Luu and Mecca James-Williams. Images included a pole dancer (Instagram’s @neyon_tree) and scenes from a ranch, with horses and dancers styled in modern cowboy looks. Solange had referenced the latter inspiration in an earlier interview as something she’d recently taken an interest in. “Hundreds and hundreds of people every weekend are getting on horses and trail-riding from Texas to Louisiana,” she told Billboard. “It’s a part of black history you don’t hear about.” She later teased what appears to be a music video on her Instagram, instructing fans to dial the number 281-330-8004 for more clues. It’s the exact same number Mike Jones used in his song “Back Then” (“Mike jones 4 life!” she added in the caption.) She then shared the album’s full 19-song track list, with multiple songs named for geographic locales within Houston. Per her mother, Tina Lawson, it’s a map of Solange’s life: “Binz” (the street where she grew up); “Almeda” (the street where she’d get a shrimp po’boy at There’s No Place Like Nola — or Nolas, for short); “Exit on Scott” (the street where she’d eat fried chicken and beans at Frenchy’s); “Beltway” (take it to get seafood at Pappadeaux); and “S McGregor” (for a “trip down memory lane” on the street where Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad’s father lived and “we jogged on the bayou”).
Though Solange undoubtedly sits at the head of her table, there are others who got a chair. When I Get Home
is her most experimental work yet, the result of massive group effort
between more than a dozen artists who’ve been in Solange’s orbit for
some time. The album features guest verses from Gucci Mane (“My Skin My
Logo,” on which Solange also tries her hand at rapping) and Playboi
Carti (“Almeda”); Cassie and Abra are the lone featured women, with
vocals on “Way to the Show” and “Sound of Rain,” respectively. The rest
of the album includes repeat production and vocal contributions from her
circle of close friends: Dev Hynes, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt,
The-Dream, Pharrell, French artist Chassol (with whom she’s toured),
Panda Bear (a.k.a. Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox), Sampha, and Jamire
Atlanta producer Metro Boomin is also brought into the mix, with production on “Stay Flo” and vocals on “Almeda.” Gio Escobar, the de facto leader of the “post-genre” New York group Standing on the Corner and a close collaborator of Earl Sweatshirt, has multiple production and composition credits, lending his group’s freewheeling, sample-heavy sound as the album’s connective tissue. The Internet’s Steve Lacy also contributed production, which Solange hinted at when she previously told the Times that the two had been “jamming” together. “He’s like, ‘OK, I got these chords.’ ‘Hey, papa, let’s go!’” she said.
While A Seat at the Table
was narrated by New Orleans legend Master P and Solange’s personal
legends, her parents, this new album doesn’t have a narrator in that
sense. But it is chopped up by interludes and snippets that involve
Houston’s finest, specifically focusing on Solange’s heroes of the Third
Ward, where she grew up. Most of them are samples, but even rap titan
Scarface makes an original one-line special appearance for the interlude
“S Mcgregor” This first interlude samples a clip from the 1987 TV movie Superstars & Their Moms, where Houston’s own Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen recite a poem called “On Status” written by their mother Vivian Ayers-Allen, accompanied by piano: “And now my heart knows no delight. I boarded a train, kissed all goodbye.” The song’s title is a reference to S MacGregor Way in Houston, where the sisters grew up. READ MORE: https://www.vulture.com/2019/03/solanges-when-i-get-home-explainer.html