The ultimate multihyphenate and VMAN40 cover star just might save the planet.
The ultimate multihyphenate and VMAN40 cover star just might save the planet.
This interview appears in the pages of VMAN40: The New Vanguard Issue, hitting newsstands on August 23. Pre-order your copy today at shop.vmagazine.com!
Earlier this year, Jaden Smith shook up the music industry by releasing his LP Syre: The Electric Album on Instagram— a democratic alternative to paid streaming services. But the Hollywood royal is hardly disrupting just one landscape. With projects like a sustainable bottled water company that may one day generate building material for schools, Smith is trying to change the face of the earth. This fall, he’s also impacting pop culture with roles in festival hit Skate Kitchen and tear-jerker Life in a Year. Here, he chats with “big bro” Kid Cudi about life in the public eye, environmentalism, and what gives him hope.
KID CUDI Yo yo!
JADEN SMITH Big bro! What’s poppin’?
KC I’m fantastic. Well, let’s get right to it! How do you approach fashion?
JS I actually pull a lot of fashion inspiration from you. It’s a rock-and-roll vibe, with a lot of denim. I love flannels; you put me onto that. I like picking a time in history, or a kind of music, and I try to model my outfit after that.
KC Well, thank you for making me feel fresh [laughs]. Is it difficult to wear what you want when you’re in the public eye?
JS People try to say wild stuff all the time, but I just let it go. I really don’t pay attention. I just know how to be on my own vibe, and say something for myself.
KC Is the definition of masculinity changing?
JS I feel like the definition is not changing, but the way [masculinity] is shown is changing. People are getting hurt, losing their lives over petty things, and that has to do with people just trying to prove a point of being overly masculine. Everybody just needs to get along. We need to come together. That’s definitely a point from your music that I always listen to: Let’s all just get along. It’s gonna be totally fine if we do that.
KC Exactly. You make me feel good about what I do, brother.
JS How do you feel about what’s happening with fashion right now?
KC I feel fashion is in a beautiful place, especially seeing what Virgil’s doing [as Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director]. It was an incredible experience to be part of that—a monumental moment. It makes me excited for fashion. He’s doing groundbreaking things. That’s what this business needs: thinkers, people that push boundaries. At one point, I got made fun of because I wore skinny jeans. I remember I wore a kilt, and everyone made fun of me, like, “Cudi wears a dress.” It was just people being ignorant. But at that time, I thought, “Hip hop is the most judgmental genre of music.” Now, you can be yourself and do your own thing. This is what I dreamed the business would be like.
Watching you makes me feel like what I was doing was for a reason, for a purpose. I’m like, “Yo, if I never made music anymore, I’m cool because Jaden’s making music.” [Smith laughs.] I feel like you’re out here really pushing boundaries, like I passed a baton. It’s really nice to see you doing your thing. I’ve really watched you grow as an artist. I met you when you were 11 or 12, and you’ve been on this shit ever since. You’ve been a dedicated artist—it’s crazy I was the same age when I first started writing my first raps, and you were way more advanced than I was at 12. You were able to get in a studio and perfect your craft. What was it like working on Pursuit of Happyness with your dad?
JS I really didn’t think I would be talking about it 10 years later. It was really interesting being young and on set, specifically with that movie, because we were constantly in homeless shelters. I had no idea films could really live on and have that type of longevity.
KC It’s a beautiful moment to see, father and son. That movie was really impactful—it’s one of my favorites and is definitely something that touched me. I’d definitely say it subconsciously had a hand in me creating “Pursuit of Happiness.”
JS Wow, that’s awesome! Man, I still listen to that song all the time. When I was younger I would just be tripping out, like, “Oh my God, that’s so cool.”
KC [Laughs.] I love hearing your stories about discovering my music, how you listened with your big brother.
JS Obviously, Kids See Ghosts, Cudi, is absolutely amazing. I really love it.
KC I’m glad you fuck with it, bro. Thank you. I worked really hard on it. Can you imagine the day Kanye asked me to do the album with him? I thought he was joking; maybe it was a moment he was excited about the idea, and after a couple months, he’d just be over it. [Laughs.] It took me a minute to realize, “Yo, I’m making an album with my big bro. This is a dream of mine.”
JS That’s so cool.
KC Having to go toe to toe with him in these songs was crazy. It was a lot of pressure, but it was fun. I was up for the challenge. Everything I’ve been doing led me to this point.
JS I’m so happy that that finally happened. We would always talk about that happening one day.
KC Yeah, man! Maybe one day we’ll do an album, bro.
JS Oh, stop playing, Cudi! I’ll have to get a few more albums under my belt. I’m going to have to grow—but that would be the biggest dream of mine.
KC It’s possible. I would love to do more music with you. I remember trying to encourage you to sing. I remember you were experimenting with it and I was like, “Man, just sing. Just do it.” Now, tell me a bit about your quest for sustainability. When did you realize you wanted to advocate for the environment?
JS I started surfing when I was really young. I learned how the ocean is alive, and has tides. Then, I learned about the environment and the ecosystem, and discovered we’re putting out so many CO2 emissions, creating plastic for agriculture and even for processed meats. We start to overheat the planet, melt ice caps, and water levels start to rise. It’s only getting worse. That’s why I started Just Water; I wanted to create a bottle of water that was more sustainable, had less plastic, and emitted less CO2. Right now, I’m trying to launch this water filtration system in places where the water quality is very, very poor, which is sadly a lot of places in the world right now. I got on my whole quest at age 11.
KC Man, you started so young! You know what I was doing then? [Laughs] I was just chilling, being a kid. It’s inspiring. My daughter is going to read this interview and see that you can do things no matter what age you are, as long as you’re passionate about it. We need more of that in the world. Why do you think people should care about sustainability?
JS We get very comfortable in our lifestyles, and ultimately [non-sustainable practices] threaten comfort in the everyday human experience—the ability to come home and turn on your lights, to go outside and breathe fresh air, or go to the beach. It can mess up the whole ecosystem of our lives. It’s not just the ecosystem of plants and animals that are in danger; we use those plants and animals to survive. That ultimately puts us in danger, too.
KC What’s this process been like?
JS It’s been really long and very difficult, working with manufacturing companies, laws, getting certifications, and [handling the logistics of] moving a lot of water. It’s a lot of fine details. But people are getting behind the brand and message, and owning it. We’re working with companies like the Rainforest Alliance, sustaining trees in a responsible manner—for every tree used, we plant two more—and in our water agreement with Glens Falls, New York, we pay them six times the amount we need to, so we can help with their water infrastructure.
KC You’ve talked about wanting to turn recycled plastic into “even doper things.” Such as what?
JS Right now, I’m in a room where the walls are made out of probably 2,000 Just Water bottles, pressed—it can be used as a drywall, so I really want to help people create schools using these materials. If you combine a lot of plastic together and melt it down, it almost becomes cinder block. You can use trash to create an entirely new structure. People will probably give you their trash for free if you’ll take it away from them. That’s why I feel like it can spark a new industry: I’m trying to make and create so many things out of recycled plastic. If you raise the price of plastic on the ground and in the oceans, more people will begin to pick up trash.
KC You on fire, man!
JS Bro, you are just the inspiration. Literally, you’ve inspired me so much from day one, so thank you.
KC Man, but look at what you’re doing. You’re inspiring more kids. Tupac said he’s not trying to change the world, but he’s trying to inspire the mind that will. I live by that shit. I make a lot of mistakes, and I’m here just trying to figure it out—hopefully, somebody can learn from my mistakes. Because that’s what my big brothers were for me: They let me know what not to do. It’s beautiful to see you doing your thing; you’re inspiring people all around the world. I see these kids at your shows, bro. They love you. You hit them with the moonwalk, they fucking love it. It makes me so happy. Since we met, I’ve always been sure to just be in your life for whatever advice or guidance you needed. I wanted to help you because I knew you had the glow, man. So here we are.
JS You’re the one, big bro. Thank you so much. You just have no idea, I’m over the moon.
KC You’re the chosen one. I’m with you.