Kid Cudi’s done a lot for music. He made Man on the Moon which arguably gave us Drake, he started the conversation on mental health in the rap community, and he saved Pete Davidson. Say what you will about his recent musical bouts, Kid Cudi is an important figure in music. He had mental breakdowns on stage before it was cool.
After whatever the hell Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was, we had to have seen the breakdown coming. What R&B artist makes a horrible noise-rock record and is completely fine mentally? Nonetheless, the inevitable meltdown and cry for help towards Kanye West and Drake led to an apology and admission of severe depression, which opened up the conversation. Isaiah Rashad, the recent TDE signee, put his two cents in over Twitter:
Don’t go through the problems in your head alone. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. The worst thing to do is think ur alone in it (October 9, 2016)
Kanye West even offered his support, calling Kid Cudi “his brother,” “the most influential artist of the past ten years,” and offered a song in prayer: “I hope you’re doing well.” I would have loved a full version.
Drake on the other hand, doubled down. On his song “Two Birds, One Stone,” he wrote:
You were the man on the moon
Now you just go through your phases
Life of the angry and famous
Rap like I know I’m the greatest
Then give you tropical flavours
Still never been on hiatus
You stay xann’d and perk’d up
So when reality set in, you don’t gotta face it
I’m down 200 in Vegas but winning life on a daily basis
It seems like nobody wants to stay in my good graces
I’m like a real estate agent, putting you all in your places
Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy
Is you crazy?
In what can’t be viewed as anything other than a diss at Kid Cudi (I mean, he starts off by addressing the “Man on the Moon”), Drake rounds off a series of horrible lines that basically say “yeah idiot, people go a little crazy when they start doing drugs. I guess you’re just weaker than me.”
It’s the classic diss, used for decades, that anyone in rap who isn’t a straight-male that can party and fuck girls without facing the consequences of such a lifestyle is a real man. It’s the same horrible logic that Quavo recently used to defend his homophobic remarks towards a fellow Atlanta artist.
After Cudi checked himself into rehab for suicidal tendencies, he had this to say about Drake: “You think it’s a game. I wanna see you say it to my face. I’ll be out soon. Promise,” and it all ended there. Drake released “Fake Love” and everybody forgot how unsympathetic and mean he just was to his once good friend Cudi.
Regardless of how powerful or wide the message was or could have been, Kid Cudi opened the doors for a conversation on black mental heath, began his treatment, and then released his sixth studio album entitled Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’.
With the new rule from Billboard that 1,500 song streams now equal one “streaming equivalent album sale,” some artists have been making longer and longer albums, with the number of tracks reaching into the low-twenties. Kid Cudi’s record may be nineteen tracks, but’s almost an hour and a half long. So was Drake’s VIEWS, which was what probably helped it brake all of those streaming records.
The problem with overtly-long albums though is that it’s not only hard to create that much great material, but it’s also hard to make it seem cohesive. That might not be an issue for artists who still make albums like a list of single-compilations, but I feel like a constant scrutiny I have of recent records has been: “if only these five or so songs weren’t on it, it would have made a great twelve or thirteen track record.”
Kid Cudi’s new record, for sure, is way too long, but it’s also beyond ethereally boring and vapid. “Swim in the Light,” a track that begins to take on the theme of his recovery, holds the chorus “you can try and numb the pain, but it’ll never go away.” It’s followed by the dark “Releaser,” a song about his drug addiction with the lines “you know where to find me” and “it’s blinding your glory” being the only actual words sung for five minutes.
It’s not that a depressing record can’t also be good, I mean, just look at Sufjan Stevens, the National, or Bon Iver (dang these indie guys really got the depressing record vibe down). It’s just that Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’ plays out like a man huddled up and crying in the corner for an hour and half. It’s purely ambiance and on-brand production for the first fifteen minutes.
Lyrics have been Kid Cudi’s largest problem for his entire career, and it’s never been more evident than by either the complete lack of them, or tracks like “By Design” where I wish there were way less. It’s a lose-lose situation for Cudi on PP&D. When there aren’t any lyrics, I wish there were, but when he writes a song with a lot of lyrics, I wish they were better.
He opened the conversation about black mental health, but then he made an album about “tuning into the frequency,” like some supposed audio-guru-prophet:
We have reached a frequency only the chosen can hear. The more open the mind and heart, the more powerful the experience (October 6, 2015)
Even when he begins to talk about his depression on “ILLusions,” it’s at an aggravatingly slow pace with lyrics like “as I ghost ride through my mind” and a third f**king reference to “the frequency.” It’s borderline Christian-rap at this point. Not like Chance the Rapper or Lecrae … like real Christian-rap.
Plain and simple, Kid Cudi just doesn’t have it anymore. Artists like Travis $cott have taken his inspiration and created the new sound of R&B/trap, and Cudi’s features on Birds in the Trap counted for some of its greatest moments, but he can’t hold up an hour and a half record in today’s music world, not even with the help of Pharrell Williams and André 3000. Even so, there’s no denying the impact Kid Cudi had on the music of today, and I hope he’s doing well and getting the help he needs.