Kid Cudi, Kevin Abstract & The Art of Leaving Home
New York City. I saw it as an artist paradise through the eyes of a young writer. I craved to walk the streets that hip-hop was birthed on, to gaze at the graffiti on the subway walls like paintings by Picasso, to be devoured by the city that has crushed dreams and raised legends. From afar the city called me like it has so many, a voice luring me from the hospitable south, from my home, to enter the merciless lair of hustlers and go-getters.
I read stories of how Arthur Rimbaud took a one-way ticket to Paris and how that set the course for him to change poetry, stories of how Jean-Michel Basquiat at an early age started rebelling by running away from home and that spirit of defiance never left as he turned the art world upside down. I looked up to the artist that didn’t play it safe, that dared to run away, taking the midnight train into the unknown with no money, no ticket home, pushed by their beliefs that they will make it. I never bought my ticket — my balls weren’t made of brass, my heart didn’t pump the blood of a radical. I played it safe but I never stopped admiring those that didn’t.
Kevin Abstract tweeted, “Buy a helmet, steal a bike, runaway from home” attached with a picture of him wearing a motorcycle helmet with California behind him stretching into the distance. The headline for his USA Today profile reads, “The best thing Kevin Abstract ever did for himself was run away from home.” He’s a teenager, 19, the same age as I was when daydreams of running away flirted with my reality. He escaped his home life, moving around a bit before taking a risk in Los Angeles. Kevin is an artist that is following his creative vision and not accepting the circumstances of his surroundings. There’s a line from his single “Echo”:
“He was a bad son, He was a bad son, So he left home, so he left home.”
I’m not fit to write Genius annotations but I relate the lyric to his actual life — a son that doesn’t fit his family’s conventional way of living so he ran away. The bad son, the artist. “Echo” is a beautiful ballad, cut from the same side of the moon as Man On The Moon Cudi and 808’s Kanye, a song that you lose yourself in, by an artist who is prepared to lose it all for his art. He will go far.
One of Kevin’s biggest influences is the ever elusive Frank Ocean. One thing they have in common is both artists left from their hometowns for the city of angels. Frank was born in California but moved to New Orleans at age five and was raised there until after Katrina. As told in a 2012 GQ story, he drove cross country with his then-girlfriend, only $1,100 in his pocket and demos to record in professional L.A studios. A stay that was supposed to last only six weeks turned into six years. If he would’ve returned to New Orleans, his story would be vastly different. So much of his growth as an artist happened in L.A., there’s no guarantee he would sign with Def Jam or more importantly, join Odd Future, the turning point. Imagine Frank signing to Cash Money — trying to fit their aesthetic, singing all the hooks Drake was too busy for or signed to trying to help Master P’s comeback. There was very little hope for him at home. To fly, Frank had to cross the country, he had to run away.
Kid Cudi has a similar story of moving away from Cleveland, Ohio — the place that raised him since birth — to New York in hopes of making it. Luckily, he had an uncle that lived in the South Bronx that gave him a roof when he decided to make the voyage. With only $500 in his pockets and a demo, he made the move in 2004, to live with someone he never met in a city he didn’t know. In his 2009 cover story with Complex, Cudi said if it wasn’t for his uncle letting him stay for those first few months there would be no Kid Cudi. Unlike Ohio, New York is an unpredictable land of opportunity, you don’t know who is around every corner, be it a mugger or megastar. New York brought Cudi everything he needed to enter the next phase of his career, no matter how popular “Day N Night” was on MySpace, the doors wouldn’t have opened for him at home. There’s plenty of cities with talented artists that get overlooked strictly because they don’t live where the eyes are watching.
What’s a hit record if it’s never heard? What’s a superstar if he or she is never seen? Your location can be the difference between an uphill battle or a downhill slope to prosperity.
If he wasn’t there to let me stay with him those first few months, there would be no Kid Cudi. It fucked me up watching him go, but it was like, “I have to fulfill this destiny now for sure.” Things were moving but they weren’t solidified yet. I had “Day ’N’ Nite,” we were just getting started, and I was like, “This shit has got to pop off.” I wasn’t taking no for an answer. — Kid Cudi, Complex 2009
Houston, Texas isn’t some uncharted, deserted island in hip-hop. There’s plenty of hip-hop history and cultural impact in the H-Town but it still doesn’t rank up in ideal geographical territory in comparison to Atlanta, New York and L.A. The biggest Houston rapper in recent years, Travi$ Scott didn’t breakout in his home city. Travi$ really embodies the Kevin Abstract lyric, a bad son whose parents didn’t see his vision as an artist, they wanted him to finish school and get a realistic job in a realistic field. It’s a well-known story — he dropped out of school, lied to his mom about needing money for books, and bought a flight to New York burning with ambition to prove everyone wrong and make his dreams come true. It didn’t happen in New York, so after four months of trying and not seeing results, he tried his luck in L.A. Things were happening but not fast enough. Finally he returned to Houston, returning home, but it wasn’t a warm welcome, he was a liar that had nothing to show for his deceit, his parents kicked him out. With no place to go he returned to L.A. with no money, just a promise he could crash on a friend’s couch; there were 14 text messages from T.I. waiting for him when the plane landed. Finally from the soil of all his labor, the seeds planted were starting to grow.
“Last year, I was in my room and I was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’ I lied to my mom. I was like, ‘Yo, I need mad money for books. I need a new computer.’ And somehow they got me the money and I spent that shit on like living. Bought me a plane ticket next day, dipped out to New York, and I started grinding man.” — Travi$ Scott, Complex 2012
Iggy Azalea has one of rap’s biggest run away stories. She was 16 when she decided to leave Australia, drop out of high school and pursue a rap career in the United States. It’s a pretty ballsy move for a young girl to enter a foreign country with the hopes of becoming a rap artist, insane when you start to really think about it. But she did it, leaving behind everything and everyone, moving from Miami to Houston and then Atlanta. The move eventually lead to rewards, she met the right people, connects in the industry she would’ve never came across back home.
DX: To switch subjects a bit, you have an interesting story. You do not see a lot of female rappers from Australia in the United States. You ran away from home when you where 16. While you were flying here, what was going through your head? At 16, kids aren’t usually thinking about doing something like that…
Iggy Azalea: There are lots of things that kids do that make them feel invincible. Driving drunk, going to parties and doing stupid shit. I just think that I coming to America was such a dream and fantasy and I wanted to make it happen. It didn’t dawn on me on how big of a deal it was until when I was about to leave for the airport and I was lying in bed the entire night before. I couldn’t sleep thinking maybe I shouldn’t go or what if I die, what would happen to my family. I didn’t want to go. I woke up in the morning and my mom was crying and I wanted to cry too. She said, “Please don’t let anything happen to you or people will think I am a bad mom.” I said, “Okay, I promise I won’t.” As I was on the plane I kind of shat myself the whole way there until I finally got to Miami. Customs had to escort me as a child because I didn’t know how to do anything. It was overwhelming and exciting at the same time. Once I got to Miami it was nothing like I thought it would be. I thought it would be like CSI Miami with all bright colors and fancy drinks. It was not like that at all. — Iggy, HHDX 2012
Kari Faux is another young, artsy woman on the rise, she’s been making noise online since her Laugh Now, Die Later EP. When Childish Gambino jumped on her “No Small Talk” record even more eyes were looking in the her direction, and with good reason, she’s the first artist to get the Gambino stamp since Chance. The two now share the same manager and one of the reasons Kari left Little Rock for Los Angeles. Her debut album, Lost En Los Angeles is coming soon but she also started a separate project LELA. Instead of being overwhelmed by the loneliness she felt while being away from home, she started to interview others that came to L.A with similar pursuits and who were also facing a similar loneliness. It’s one aspect of escaping that isn’t acknowledged enough, all the parties and celebrities can’t fill the void of home sweet home.
Art has the ability to expand your horizons, open up possibilities to explore places on maps and globes that you only see on T.V and Tumblr. No matter the medium, going above and beyond for your art can mean leaving home. It seems like a teenage fantasy to fly from the nest and return with the world in your palms, that can be the reality for anyone who doesn’t hesitate to uproot and be guided by their passion. When Kanye was waiting on his spaceship, he didn’t stay at the GAP. He packed the U-Haul and went from Chicago to New York because waiting doesn’t bring anything but anxiousness and regret. Those 10 beats a day for three summers would’ve meant nothing if he wasn’t where the right people could hear them.
To take over the world, it means being unafraid. I was afraid, in many ways I still am, this home is the only one I’ve ever known. The internet allowed me to make my dream come true without leaving but I know there’s more to the world than my little south Atlanta. I still flirt with the idea of leaving, I still watch New York from afar, the teenage desire is still there. The day might come when the opportunity to leave will present itself and I can’t let fear keep me from going. Fear won’t keep me from going. Buy a helmet, steal a bike, runaway from home. You never know where that bike might take you.
Don’t let home be the ceiling that keeps you from dancing with the stars.
Originally published at DJBooth.net on March 21, 2016.