What does G.O.O.D. Music mean to you?
Big Sean: Quality—the best. Kanye put himself in a class that nobody can match, as far as evolving, progressing, and taking the best of what we learn and making more out of it. So the brand is just being the coolest. We dress the best, we rap the best, we sing the best, we look the best. [All laugh.] It’s about getting the money, but it’s also about changing the world and doing what the fuck we want to do.
Pusha T: And knowing that it’s limitless. That’s the biggest thing that comes with G.O.O.D. Music. You get so much, and the fans get so much, in fucking with this brand. From G.O.O.D. Fridays to these 30-minute movies in the Middle East…
Kid Cudi: —made on a whim.
Pusha: There’s just so much that comes along with the brand, as far as showing people that we can do what we want. There are no limitations.
John Legend: It starts with the name itself. We want to be known for quality. We want to be known for stuff that we all can be proud of. That creativity, that attention to detail, that quality control—that’s what distinguishes us from other folks who might just be chasing a hit. Kanye picks artists who care about making great art. We all want to make money and do well, but we also want to make great art that’s important and interesting.
Common: There was a moment in hip-hop when I went to SOB’s and I saw Kanye perform before he came out with The College Dropout. The thing that amazed me was that the “backpack” crowd was there, and then there was the Roc-A-Fella crowd, dudes who were throwing up the Roc. I was like, “Yes.” It reminded me of when I grew up. There was niggas who sold dope that was listening to Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest—and there wasn’t no separation. They just liked it.
What does it mean to have Kanye West involved in the production of your album?
Cudi: He knows what he’s talking about. It’s crazy how insanely smart he is—it’s frustrating at times. When I’m playing him stuff, he usually likes it. [Laughs.] But I remember there was a time when I played him something, and he was like, “Turn it off. That was terrible.” We were in Hawaii, working on 808s & Heartbreak. That was when I first got on board, and I was doing hooks, and I was just trying to find my place. One day, I got to the studio early, and I was like, “I’m going to make a beat.” Then he came in, and I was all excited to play it…. He made this face. I was like, “Oh my God. I want to make sure he never feels like that about anything that I ever make again.”
Common: He was the first producer that I had that was like, “Man, change that verse.” or “Nah, that line is weak. Hell nah.” [All laugh.]
Cudi: But that’s what it’s about, man. And I didn’t feel bad. I was like, “OK, back to the drawing board. I bet that nigga won’t say that again.” I don’t think he’s shot down any song I’ve played for him since.
Kanye is well-known for his ruthless pursuit of quality. He doesn’t accept less than 100 percent from himself, and he certainly doesn’t from those around him. Do you feel pressure?
Tip: I don’t feel like that because, like you said, he understands what the talent is—it’s on par with his. One thing that we all have in common, Kanye included, is that we all want to be great. We all have that drive. Kanye channels it—he’s the nucleus. But at the same time, it’s collaborative. He’s open to whatever it is. If there’s pressure, it’s just to do outstanding shit. And that’s more of a drive than a pressure.
Cudi: Luckily, everybody has their own vision. No one is lost. A lot of artists get lost. They drop an album, and then they go fucking blank. But everybody here sees their career 10 years from now. I don’t think anybody is seeing their career year to year, like a motherfucker working check to check. Everyone has their own vision, so there’s no pressure.
John Legend: There have been plenty of artists signed to artists’ labels that haven’t had nearly the kind of success as the head of the label. Even with G.O.O.D. Music we have artists that have done very well, and we’ve had artists that haven’t. Being attached to Kanye is only going to get you so far. You’ve still got to have the records, the talent, and the artistry to carry it on your own.