The Chosen One: Kid Cudi

Trigger warning: This article contains details about depression and suicide which might triggering to survivors.

Last week, American artist Kid Cudi made headlines when he wore a floral dress as a tribute to Kurt Cobain while singing ‘Sad People’ on Saturday Night Live. Cobain, the Nirvana frontman, had worn a similar dress at a live performance back in the day. Cudi, who has had suicidal thoughts on multiple occasions, has survived, but Cobain did not. He died by suicide in 1994. Cudi’s performance was for suicide prevention and awareness.

I think Cudi has been the most influential artist of this generation. Let me tell you why I think so.

Today, 28-year-old Travis Scott is arguably the hottest rapper in the music industry today. Since the release of ‘Astroworld’ (2018), he has been releasing a stream of hits. The ‘Scott’ in his name is in homage to 37-year-old Kid Cudi – whose real first name is Scott.

His single ‘The Scotts’ with Cudi, released in April 2020, broke many records and got Cudi his first US number-one single. It took Cudi 12 years to achieve this since he debuted on the world stage, leaving fans like me delighted to see him finally getting the sales and accolades he deserves.

Artwork for The Scotts. Credit: Epic Records.
With Cactus Jack/Wicked Awesome.

My reason to write this piece is Joyner Lucas’ song ‘Will’ from the album ‘ADHD’ (2020), dedicated to actor Will Smith. Lucas raps about how Smith inspired him, and the song contains the following lyrics:

And we never know just when it’s our time
The legends are gone and we don’t know why
So before they go, look here go a toast
So give ’em a rose while they still alive.

It is essential to celebrate the icons who impacted cultures and saved lives when they are alive instead of writing eulogies once they are gone. Cudi is a living legend, and his music has stood by me time and again.

I believe Cudi is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated artists of our time. Most people associate him with a decade-old song, ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ and featuring on the dance club hit ‘Memories’ by David Guetta. But there is so much more to his legacy.

Like many Indian millennials, I was introduced to rap music by Jay-Z and Eminem’s early works. NWA, 2Pac and Biggie were a bit before my time. My 2000s were spent discovering the brilliance of Nas, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. And then from nowhere came Cudi.

Artwork for The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady . Photo: Republic Records, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

West discovered Cudi and the duo shared a love-hate relationship over the years, but all is well now. They released an eponymous critically acclaimed collaborative album ‘Kids See Ghosts’ in 2018. Last year, Cudi released a song with Eminem called ‘The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady’. Previously, he worked on an alternative rock album WZRD (2012) with Dot da Genius. All of this goes to show that Cudi is a good collaborator as well as a versatile musician.

Cudi is much loved by his fans and is respected in the music industry but hasn’t attained far and wide recognition yet. To know why he is so loved and respected, one should check out his debut studio album ‘Man on the Moon: The End of  Day’ (2009). The concept album has songs that touch upon the important topic of mental health. Tracks like ‘Day ’n’ Nite’ and ‘Sky Might Fall’ take you on adventurous journeys and give you hope. This is not what mainstream hip-hop music was about. Cudi changed that for me and millions of others. By being open about his mental health struggles in his music, Cudi saved the lives of many people who had hit rock bottom.

His subsequent two studio albums ‘Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager’ (2010) and ‘Indicud’ (2013), were certified Platinum and Gold respectively by the Recording  Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The 2010s were ruled by Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, but Cudi continued to make an impact on hip-hop culture with subsequent albums ‘Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon; (2014), ‘Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven; (2015) and ‘Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’’ (2016). He stayed true to his music while battling depression and suicidal thoughts in this period. Drake, who was once inspired by Cudi, was slammed for dissing Cudi when he was in rehab. I think that was the beginning of Drake’s downfall. There is no excuse to make fun of someone’s struggle with mental health. Period.

I would say the depth of intellect of Cudi’s music is on the same level as music created by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. They are brutally honest about life’s experiences and yet eternally optimistic.

Some say his music is meant for introverts only. I don’t think so. By most definitions,  I am an extrovert. Even though I would like to believe I am an ambivert (or emotional extrovert – a term I first heard by singer-songwriter John Mayer on one of his Q&A sessions on Instagram), I take “lonely” comfort in Cudi’s beautiful lyrics and other-worldly beats.

Uproxx made an accurate observation about Cudi’s legacy: “Compared to modern icons like Drake, Kanye, and Lil Wayne, Cudi doesn’t have a boatload of sales, or a room full of  accolades, but his weighty impact is reflected in adulation from the people, which is the intangible, everlasting achievement that most artists live for.”

His latest studio album, ‘Man on the Moon III: The Chosen’, was released in December 2020.

Cudi appeared in the HBO drama series We Are Who We Are (2020). Photo: Instagram/@wearewhoweare

Outside of music, Cudi is an excellent actor. He starred in the HBO TV series How to  Make It in America (2010–2011), where he played a friendly dog walker and marijuana street dealer. Recently, he was seen in We Are Who We Are (2020), a TV series by Luca Guadagnino, the director of the Oscar-nominated film Call Me by Your Name (2017). He will be next seen with Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Timothee Chalamet in Don’t Look Up (2021).

In a tweet last year, Cudi expressed that his new mission is to write and direct movies and TV series. Just like his music, I am sure Cudi will make a lasting impact on the screen as well.

Abhijeet Dangat is a sports law & business professional from Pune. He is also an occasional writer, who has written for publications such as Newslaundry. 

Featured image credit: Instagram/@kidcudi