BAPEKid Cudi was 20 years old when he decided to leave his hometown of Cleveland and moved to New York. He had tried college for a year, but wasn’t feeling it, and even considered joining the Navy, 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 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. He recalled, she was giving me a hug at the airport and leans in and goes, “I can always turn back around and we can go home.” You can change your mind. Everything will be fine. But Cudi stuck to his guns, “I was on a mission,” he said it was bigger than just wanting to be a musician or movie star. It was about finally showing the world what I could do.

Except things didn’t immediately pop off for him, his first few jobs in New York were in retail working at American Apparel, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Dean and DeLuca. He held most of his jobs just to cover his bills from the studio. But there was one that until this day, he calls a dream job.

Shortly after relocating to New York, Kudi learned about The Bathing Ape (BAPE), the wildly popular, exclusive Japanese brand founded by NIGO in 1993, and fell in love with its loud graphics and bright colors. At the time the two-story, million-dollar flagship store in SOHO – the label’s first store outside of Japan, a strategic move by the designer to expand his empire internationally in 2004. Kudi desperately wanted to work there, so he applied. And then applied again. And again. Until he finally got hired in 2008.

At the time, Kudi was so broke he didn’t have a bank account and 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 coworkers. It didn’t matter, though; he was just happy to be there.

“I didn’t own anything BAPE prior to being hired. So it was a dream come true to be able to work at the store I dreamed of shopping in one day.”

The year before, while he still worked at Abercrombie and Fitch, he met DOT DA GENIUS through a coworker. They clicked instantly and began making music together, including what wound up being his first hit single, Day N’ Night. DOT DA GENIUS later became Kid Cudi’s main producer. 

Day N’ Night didn’t blow up at first. Well, it was racking up hits on Myspace, and then as a single, radio didn’t get around to it until 2008. But eventually, after making its rounds on music blogs and the charts, the single and the remix by Italian production duo, CROOKERS brought Kudi enough buzz that he got the opportunity to tour in Australia. He had a tough choice to make: continue working at his then dream job or his ultimate dream to be an artist.

He chose music.

“I was like I have to chase this but if I don’t take this, I’m gonna always be like what the fuck? What did we come here for?”

But by that point, the BAPE store had become a special place of sorts for him. It’s where, perhaps serendipitously, he had one of his first encounter with Kanye West, who later became a collaborator and mentor to him.

“I was helping him get a couple of things and I forgot to take the sensor off of one of the jackets he bought, and I had to run out of the store to catch him before he left.” – Kid Cudi

It’s also where he first met NIGO.

I don’t think he remembers me. But he says 11 years later, laughing as he recalls the time now he got stopped by the BAPE shop with the Teriyaki Boys, the rap group NIGO founded in 2005.

“I still had a faux hawk. I was a little quiet, and I was trying to stay out of the way. I was freaking out.”

But, Cudi admits, in the subsequent years, he imagined what it would be like when he officially meets him now that he’s become an artist. All of who Cudi meets today is all the more special.

Kid Cudi at this time is a Grammy award winner, multi-platinum artist – and meets NIGO for the first time that chance encounter. 

—”I can’t believe this, he says as he flashes off smiles so wide his cheeks puffed up.”

NIGO then shares his journey with Cudi…

I had no confidence (when I was) starting out. My clothing wasn’t selling at all and coming at it as an amateur was turned out to helpful. I didn’t do things by the book, which created something that was totally different.  —NIGO

After all, my pieces are now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and, more importantly, belong to one of his heroes. But his fandom is less that of psycho fans and more of that of someone with a genuine, child-like admiration for a person he’s idolized most of his life: he’s just happy to be in his presence and eager to support him.

For instance, the day before the photoshoot for his cover, he repeatedly told the sellers that he wanted to wear BAPE and, for the next two days I’ve seen Cudi, would make it his uniform.

He’s an originator, and that inspires me, Kudi says. I always wanted to create my own sound, so anybody that I see doing their own thing and leading the charge in their lane, I have so much respect for them. It’s pretty amazing.

“I had no confidence [when I was] starting out. My clothing wasn’t selling at all…Coming at it as an amateur was helpful. I didn’t do things by the book, which created something that was totally different.”

NIGO, Founder of Bathing Ape