We’ve got several visual albums in recent years, providing cool visuals and a resemblance of a story to showcase an artist’s musical talents, from Beyoncé’s Lemonade to The Lonely Island’s The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience and Adam by Eve: A Live in Animation. Now, Entergalactic aims to do more, to provide a visual album with an actual story, with stunning visuals, with characters you care about, all driven by music from a new album by Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi.
Entergalactic follows Jabari (Mescudi), a street artist who just got a new job turning his street art into a comic book series, giving him a kind of economic and social stability he hasn’t had before. But with this newfound success comes an uncertain love life, with Jabari focusing on everything but dating. That is until he runs into his new neighbor, aspiring photographer Meadow (Jessica Williams).
What follows is an adult animated rom-com the likes of which we seldom see in the medium, let alone American animation. It is serious, grounded, lacking in broad humor and violence, but purely focused on the characters and their emotional arcs, all of this driven by a new album by Mescudi and some stunning Into the Spider-Verse–inspired visuals. Additional voices are provided by Ty Dolla Sign, Timothée Chalamet, Vanessa Hudgens, and Laura Harrier.
Rotten Tomatoes met Entergalactic creators Mescudi and Kenya Barris and Mescudi’s co-star Williams over Zoom to discuss the tone of this special, how the music drives the visuals, and how they built chemistry using only their voices.
(Photo by Netflix)
Rafael Motamayor for Rotten Tomatoes: The tone of this project is not something we see often in animation, especially in the U.S. — how was finding that dramatic tone and making it fit within the animation medium?
Kenya Barris: We wanted to do something that felt special and specific, and something that didn’t really come out of like urban places, that you don’t get a chance to do. The fashion was a huge portion of the aesthetic design of the world. We got the best aesthetic designers in the world. The music, the characters that we picked, the dialogue, everything sort of integrates into like a really immersive sonic and visual experience that we really want you to feel like you’re just drawn in and want to watch over and over and over again. Let’s make it something we haven’t seen before. And let’s put all the other things around it to make it an event.
Scott Mescudi: That was something that was important to me. It’s kind of filled that void; it was nothing that I really have seen before. And my approach is always trying to like push it and try new things, things that haven’t been touched before. And it was just something that, when it came together, kind of me working with our animators and my writers and I wanted it to have a mature tone, but I also wanted to be lighthearted and fun and not too heavy. I wanted to have the love in there and have it mean something but not like be too weighty of the other thing in the story.
Jessica Williams: I was just really excited to be a part of Scott’s vision … the jokes really hit and the jokes are really funny, and I was really excited about just sort of exploring this adult humor in this really beautiful backdrop and setting — so it was kind of a no brainer.
(Photo by Netflix)
New York feels like its own character in the film, and we see plenty of real and familiar places, but through an illustrated style that makes it look heightened. Was that important to you? How was seeing the city in its final animated form?
Barris: We took trips to New York and spent time in the city. We scouted it. Cudi spent a good portion of his life there, and so we wanted to make this feel as real as possible. I use people [like] Scorsese who’s made New York a character or Ben Affleck with Boston as examples; some of my favorite filmmakers take places that they love and turn them into another character. We really felt like we wanted to do that, but in a different kind of way with the animation.
Mescudi: That was something I approached Fletcher, our director, about when we first met. I wanted this to be something that visually people haven’t seen before. The nice part of doing something animated is that anything can happen.
Williams: I thought it was really cool how Mr. Rager would sometimes move in the environment and then kind of in Jabari’s dreams, and seeing New York in an animated way actually shows it from a cool and different perspective.
(Photo by Netflix)
Scott and Jessica, for you two, how was it to create a chemistry between your characters using only your voice?
Mescudi: We recorded during the height of COVID, so we did our recording sessions separately. But it was one of those things that just the energy happened and also just great casting. Having Jessica as my scene partner, she just got the character, got the energy, got the tone of every scene. So it was really dope when I saw that for the first time. The dialogue spliced in the scene and everything coming together like, Oh, man, it sounds like we’re right there next to each other doing the scene.
Williams: For my sessions too, I had Fletcher, who directed and Maurice [Williams] and I felt like they really were the connective tissue for everybody. We all recorded over time, I think it took like two years, a long time. And they were in charge of making sure everything was consistent or they’d be like, actually, Scott ended up recording it like this, maybe you can give a response like this.
Something that makes this different than most visual albums is that it is not a collection of music videos, but a narrative that has songs in it. How did you find the balance between the two?
Barris: We started making the music as we were hearing the story. Some of it was actually before the story and we took some of the story and wrapped it around the music and then sometimes we took the story and make music around it. And so we thought that they really were partners in each other. I think one of the things that we did that felt really interesting was the motif, which is one of my favorite things. It’s like Close Encounters of the Third Kind; sometimes you know the music leads to a happy moment, sometimes to a sad moment.
Quincy Jones has a thing where he says, “Music is a motion notion.” We really wanted to take the songs and turn them in the score, turn them in the needle drop and really use different motifs to sort of inform what the show was going to be or what their event was going to be. And I think we did in a way that I’m really really proud of. Every track in the album relates to a chapter in the series, which I thought was really interesting.