Make room for some old school Cudi
In times like these when the world seems to be steadily losing a sense of humanity, and it feels like everything is burning down around us. We turn to music to shake ourselves loose, to reclaim rationality. We look to artists who can cut past the superficial, and give language to the puzzling situations life throws at us. We look to them to do something that is too rare in the music industry: Engage the mind. Too many times this year I’ve felt like I’ve wanted to shut everyone out, I’m a fairly introverted person, but I’ve chosen to be alone far more in these latter months than I have in my entire life. All this time in solitude has me revisiting the early albums of Kid Cudi, there is something special about his songs. Listening to his music when you feel isolated has the same effect of scratching an itch you just couldn’t get to before. It brings an aura of satisfaction that other hip hop artists can’t deliver, and maybe above all else, wets the appetite for abstract thought.
Take, for instance, “Day ’N’ Nite.”
This is textbook Cudder. It sounds like the theme song to a lucid dream. Astral synths, unforgettable half-sung melodies –“The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night.” And the inexplicable feeling when that bass kicks in. This isn’t just a record, it’s a rallying cry for the rejected and depressed, for those who have a love-hate relationship with the lonely nights. Instead of having to deal with the never ending onslaught of problems lets just fade away, and slip into some white Nikes. Strangely relevant to today, but wholly unlike anything at the time of it’s release; whoa, was Cudi ahead of his time?
Perhaps the reason why it sounds like it could be just as popular if this song dropped now, is because of how his music shifted the genre.
In the aftermath of Flo Rida’s 2008 mega hit “Low,” hip hop was in an identity crisis. This was a time in which the rap world remained contained under one umbrella, somehow strangely non-versatile much to its own detriment. There were a concerning amount of Hip-hop songwriters who were almost exclusively focused on getting their music to play on the radio. Being recognized as “real” was a matter of including a certain set of lyrical rhetoric and beat archetypes.
The industry was slowly moving away from the musical stylings of 90’s foundation laying icons like Tupac, who used the medium of rap music to deliver a political and meaningful message. It was in this climate that relative unknown Scott Mescudi released “The Prayer.” The record combined humor with solemn grief over ominous guitar loops and lines like: “I’m gon make my words important so if I slip away, if I die today, the last thing you remember won’t be about some Apple Bottom jeans with the boots with the fur.” That’s when people could see this guy was different. People such as Kanye West.
Kanye signing Kid Cudi to his label was like the teacher calling the new weird kid up in front of the class to introduce himself. Much like the new kid in any typical high school, Cudi didn’t quite fit in. Yes, he’s a star in the traditional sense-good looking, charismatic charm, but he shoulders a burdensome amount of insecurity. It’s an embraced weakness that was uncommon for the modern day hip hop artist. In an age overloaded with irony, Kid Cudi’s vulnerability and grim honesty stick out like a sore thumb. Almost as if he’s a photo negative of Jay-Z. His comfort zone is outside the orbits that traditional hip-hop and R&B songwriters are willing to venture. His body of work brought definition to what being “real” actually was, which is agonizingly unglamorous.
One of my favorite songs by him is “REVOFEV.” It opens with an acoustic piano melody that I could see being played at an old-timey carnival and brings a certain gleeful ingredient to what otherwise would be a completely dreary tune. In this record Cudi issues a call to arms amongst the depressed youth of the world. Calling not for a violent revolution, but for a revolution of resolve. “Wake up, things might get rough, no need to stress, keeps you down to much.” His music attracted a crowd of people who were desperate to find a voice, desperate to be distracted from the gloom inside themselves, and Cudi knew that. His message to them was one of encouragement. But also an acknowledgment that the battlefield of the mind is not something to be taken lightly. Although just about every song following “REVOFEV” on Man on the Moon II comes from a place of frustration. “REVOFEV” is a stunning reminder that no matter how dark it gets, you can find a silver lining in the gloom.
In today’s hip-hop world, the rappers who are leading the way such as Chance The Rapper, J. Cole, Wale, and Kendrick Lamar are breaking ground following the method that Cudi popularized. Gangster rap no longer dominates the game. Instead of solely busting rhymes about the harsh streets and focusing on the external. They are focusing on the internal, describing the high-stakes confines of an individual’s inner world. Rap has entered this bizarre revolution of introversion that is bringing it into an era of profound reinvention. All of these artists are doing things reminiscent of what Cudi did 8 years ago. It’s certainly each individual’s own brand and style, but they’ve undoubtedly been influenced by his music.
While guys like Drake or Kanye might be more far-reaching and more relevant at the moment. Kid Cudi’s early music is a reminder that creating something outside the margins of the status quo is, in itself, a form of revolution, and maybe that’s exactly what we need right now. It wouldn’t be such a waste of time to make a little room in your daily music intake for it.