The last time Kid Cudi spoke with Esquire, he had just found the path to self-love. That was a little over a year ago. Today, the rapper-slash-artist-slash-designer’s debut campaign with Calvin Klein came out. In it, he’s confident and sexy, sometimes lounging on red bed sheets, sometimes half-underwater. He’s standing tall, shirtless in black-and-white photos, hands on his hips, looking at the camera head-on with a glint in his eye that says, “Don’t fuck with me; I know what I’m doing.”
“I think when I did that interview, I was at a place in my life where I was just beginning a new chapter,” Kid Cudi says. “But since then, so much has happened. And it's just a really beautiful thing that I've been able to let go of the shit that's been holding me down all these years, and I've been able to really, truly step into this new chapter with a clean slate.”
Oh, the difference a year can make. Kid Cudi has always been certifiably cool—the 39-year-old never, it seems, misses the mark, whether it's in the realm of music or television or fashion. He’s got his finger on the pulse, his eye on the prize, and, lately, the confidence and empowerment to back it. If a picture can speak a thousand words, his Calvin Klein campaign tells a story of growth, confidence, and a whole lot of self-love.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
First of all, I love this campaign, and congrats on making your debut with Calvin Klein.
Oh, wow. Thank you.
Do you have any favorite memories from set?
I mean, dancing to the music and letting the camera pop off and feeling it, just being in a groove. Every time I do a shoot, I like to have music, but it was something about what it was, the weight of what we were doing. I just walked into epic-ness, so it was easy to kind of fall into the groove of things. My spirit came alive in those photos and I was just having such a great fucking time.
I have to ask, what's on your photoshoot playlist? Do you listen to your own music?
Well, it depends. Sometimes I like to listen to Ratatat and MGMT, stuff like that, because those are my favorite bands ever. I love having those guys set the tone. But if I'm working on new music, of course I'll play some of my own stuff, just to see what people around think of it. Sometimes I'm just really excited about something new I have and I just want to play it.
Calvin Klein is a brand that's so rooted in confidence, and making people feel and look confident. So what makes you feel confident?
Man, I think what makes me feel confident is knowing that I'm truly myself at all times. I'm 100 percent unique, me. And I know that's what carries me in every situation. The fact that I love myself. That's really it. That's what gives me the most confidence in the world.
The last time you spoke to Esquire was around this time last year, for your cover story. In that story, you spoke about the difference that years can make for a person, especially when it comes to things like self-love and growth and maturity. Between that interview last year and this interview today, what have been the biggest changes for you?
Oh, man, I think letting go has been the big thing. Letting go of the things that don't serve me, the things that don't make me feel good. Kind of letting things go and moving on and opening up new chapters. I think when I did that interview, I was at a place in my life where I was just beginning a new chapter. But since then, so much has happened. So much with business and movies and me writing movies, me writing TV shows. My clothing line has also taken off. There's just a lot that's happened since. And it's just a really beautiful thing that I've been able to let go of the shit that's been holding me down all these years, and I've been able to really, truly step into this new chapter with a clean slate. I'd say that's the biggest difference between last year and this year.
How do you let go?
Man, I think you have to pray on it and find peace and focus on your own happiness. Focus on the things that are right there in front of you and the people that love you and the people that are in your life, that support you, that make you feel special, that make you feel important. The same people that you give love to, they know that's really it.
As you said, you've got a lot on your plate. You're a fashion designer, you're working on TV, movies, music, and now you're also modeling for Calvin Klein. What keeps you inspired through all of that these days?
Just life in general and where I'm at and seeing that I can create and do anything. I think of anything that comes to mind, and I can make it happen. So that's what really inspires me, to know that. Because when Entergalactic came out, that was my first really big, ambitious outing. And it was well-received and the fans loved it, and we just got nominated for an Emmy. And it's just really knowing that, Hey, if I put my mind to something, it could turn out really fucking good. I got to lean into that a lot.
This Calvin Klein campaign seems to me equal parts playful and sensual. How did you channel both of those energies on set? Where did that come from?
I think the settings and the music is what really set the scene for a lot of the other stuff. The set, the black and white photos, the classic shots, you know, that was just them playing a lot of alternative classic rock shit. Me just kind of jamming out. But then the shoot where I'm in the bedroom, it's the vibes were a little bit more chill, and we switched it up based on the scene. But a lot of the outside stuff, we were doing mostly rock and alternative.
How would you describe your own personal style?
Do you have any piece in your closet that you absolutely can't live without?
Yeah, my varsities from my clothing line [Members of the Rage]. I just wanted to make the perfect varsities, and they came out so wonderful. And I'm just going to be wearing them forever today, and all-time, you know what I mean? They're just perfect.
You've had such a big year, so much going on, but what's next on the horizon for you?
Man, the sky's the limit. I've got some movies in the works, pre-production. We're just trying to figure some things out and get some financing, more animation. Got some exciting news coming in October, I'll be at Comic Con debuting some news. The next collection comes out in January. We'll do our first presentation in Paris, so that's going to be pretty big. And then also in June next year we're doing our first runway, and that'll be in Paris as well. So I'm just really excited. I think next year is going to be really big. There’s so much pressure to do a runway show, but I've been wanting to do one for years now, and I really feel like we could do something really special, something unique. It's all coming together. It's all happening.