Pioneers of New Melody Pt. I
The Influence of Kid Cudi
November 6, 2014.
I anxiously attended my very first concert during my freshman semester at the University of Oregon. I’d never been a fan of large crowds, being touched or bumped into by random strangers due to childhood fits of claustrophobia from having a big frame. Weeks prior, my then roommate convinced my frugal ass to cop a ticket to Kid Cudi in order to celebrate my 18th birthday. You know, “do it big” and perchance bring back some lucky lady to inspect the stability of my raised twin size dorm bed.
Laughing off the later half of the conversation, I eagerly purchased my ticket and anticipated the memories I would make. In the following weeks, I was super curved by this girl I was talking to, which sparked the beginnings of what would become the psuedo-racist fall out between my roommate and I. Now, I began to lapse into my depressive tendencies I’ve carried since my youth. It’s crazy how the feeling of being trapped expands past the physical, but when I watched Scott Mescudi take center stage, I had an epiphany:
On stage, he was freer than anyone.
To understand the influence of Kid Cudi, all you need to do is look at modern hip-hop.
We are now living in the golden age of the melodious hip-hop. A day and age where if a rapper can’t hit a note, they probably won’t have a breakout hit. Even OGs, like Royce da 5’9″ in his criminally underrated album, Book of Ryan, are demonstrating that they have versatility late in their career to carry a tune. To have a lasting effect in today’s industry rappers have to be versatile, but how did we get here?
Carrying the Torch
Much respect to the G Funk movement and the early days of OutKast, however, let’s rewind the clock back to ‘98. I was still strutting around in pampers and whipping in my 9V Jeep. Lauryn Hill released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the world lost its collective shit. In response to this perfect fusion of lyrical capability with smooth vocals, Ms. Hill swept nearly every category she was ever nominated for and topped the Billboard charts for months.
While the ability to sing and rap has always been apart (and within) the culture, hip-hop had never seen heights to the extent that Ms. Lauryn Hill reached in one project in the mainstream before. The world had not seen the vocal ability or smooth R&B delivery displayed on tracks, like “To Zion” or “Nothing Even Matters,” melded together with lyrical ability and the boom bap of classic hip-hop.
Fast-forward to the ‘00s, and acts like Kanye and OutKast dominate the airwaves. Although always having a huge presence in the South, OutKast exploded nationwide in the early 2000s. By this time, I’d traded my Huggies and jeep for a toy microphone that I’m sure my parents soon regretted purchasing. I vividly remember my parents being adamantly against rap music, yet allowing us to listen to”Jesus Walks” and more R&B orientated tracks, like “Ms. Jackson,” “Hey Mama,” “Hey Ya!,” and the clean version of “Roses.” Kanye admits to caring the torch left behind by Ms. Hill saying:
“Lauryn Hill said her heart was in Zion / I wish her heart was in rhymin’ / ‘Cause who the kids gon’ listen to, huh? / I guess me if it isn’t you” -“Champion” by Kanye West
Then, came the apotheosis in ‘08 and ‘09 with the rise of two young artists, Drake and Kid Cudi; the sonic descendants of Lauryn Hill. Being two sides of the same coin, Drake reflected the lighter half, while Cudi gravitated towards the darker.
Stop me if you heard this before, there’s a rapper that can sing a couple of notes that raps about his drug use and depressive tendencies. He sometimes raps about the money and the fame, but mainly likes to get into his introspective bag and dissatisfaction. They aren’t too lyrical, tend to lean on their vocal ability, are obsessed with the layering of their vocals, and the dark atmosphere of the instrumentals to demonstrate how much of an outcast they are. Congratulations, you have just described 90% of the wave of new rappers in the industry at the moment, and double congratulations, you have also described their father — Kid Cudi.
However, in Cudi’s case (since A Kid Named Cudi), Cudi has always had a somber tone and approach when it came to his music in stark contrast with his rap contemporaries. His music seems to sonically encapsulate an emotion or a feeling, such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia — even going so far as to make complete albums dedicated to the concept of depression; looking at you Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. While he wasn’t the first artist in hip-hop to come across as the punk rebel, he has always dared to delve deeper into his sonics and experiment outside of the realm of hip-hop; attempting to integrate elements of rock into the culture with tracks like “Erase Me” or (again) the entirety of Speedin’ Bullet. Cudi never seemed to be concerned with being the cool rapper or the nicest — he had won over the industry due to his sheer authenticity. Never once to shy away from being vulnerable, Cudi’s music has always normalized the idea of being vocal about one’s mental state. His audience has always felt like it was okay to be yourself and be different in opposition to being the coolest kid on the block. Appropiately dubbing himself as the “Man on the Moon,” Cudi challenged us to imagine beyond the stratosphere.
Probably the biggest impact Cudi has made on the game is his influence on the development of Kanye West after his college trilogy of College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. West has cited on numerous occasions how instrumental Cudi has been during the creation of 808s & Heartbreaks and his modern masterpiece titled My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Outside of the brief period with Travis Scott, Cudi has been a big inspiration for Ye — the man who redefined the vision and image of a rapper before him. Similarly, the career and trajectory of Travis Scott, the future of hip hop, resides directly in response to impact that Kid Cudi had in the music industry. Whether it be fate or some sonic form of reincarnation, Cudi remains the middle child — the all important bridge that bears the sometimes overlooked link to classic and new age hip hop.
If I hadn’t gone to that concert, I wouldn’t have rushed back to my dorm room and spent countless hours in my dorm basement with my piece of shit mic. If not for this concert, I wouldn’t have had the balls to believe in myself and imagine that I could touch the moon like Cudi did. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to perform at the biggest music event at my University four years later and be bold to show my art to the world, or even write this article. So if you are reading this, I’m in your debt Cudi. Cheers to the moon man that ignited the engine to my rocket.