“You can never publish my love,” Rogue Wave chants, in the song that the title of this series riffs on. Maybe that’s true, and we can never quite account for our love on paper or in print, but we sure can try. That’s what this series is devoted to: publishing our love. Us, the Arts section of The Michigan Daily, talking about artists and their work, some of the people and things we love the most. Perhaps these are futile approximations of love for the poet who told us we deserve to be heard, the director who changed the way we see the world, the movie with the script we’ve memorized. But who ever said futile can’t still be beautiful?
In maybe the most vulnerable stage of my life, I had clear, simple mantras. Sometimes I embraced the simple truth: “I’ve got some issues that nobody can see / And all of these emotions are pouring out of me.” When I was hopeful, “One day / This will be my world.” When I was hopeless, “All along / I guess I’m meant to be alone.”
My pursuit of happiness was spent in the Cudi zone.
Few artists have had a footprint so large on our current era of hip hop, or an influence so quick to manifest — other sad rappers began following in his footsteps just as soon as he’d paved the path. Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak is often credited with ushering in an era of melancholic songwriting over glamorous production. However, A Kid Named Cudi came first — and just as it began making waves, West brought in Cudi to give creative input on the upcoming 808s. The superstardom of artists like Drake and Travis Scott were to follow.
The reason I give Kid Cudi the title “Man On The Moon” is to make it clear for whom my love is published. Not the 2013 Cudi releasing the middling Indicud and disappointing my 14-year-old self when he put on an appalling performance at my first-ever concert. Not the 2015 Cudi tweeting “Poopé Fiasco” is a dweeb. Not even the 2018 Kid Cudi co-creating KIDS SEE GHOSTS with Kanye West, although I do have unpublished love for that collaboration. This is about Cudi of A Kid Named Cudi mixtape and Man On The Moon album series fame, hip hop’s heartfelt superstar in ’08, ’09 and ’10. Kid Cudi, Lord of the sad and lonely.
When I was in eighth grade, all was doom and gloom. My main schtick was bad posture and having no friends. Instead of other people, I made eye contact with my sneakers as I walked through school, shoulders hunched, memorizing every crease and stain. I look back on that time the same way I look at an episode of “South Park”: funny to watch and talk about, but alarming when you start to think about it. I’m happy now, all smiles and surrounded by good people. Still, there was a time when Cudi was the only voice I let in.
As a lover of clever rhymes and writing, I am all about the roundabout: I could dissect the dual meaning in lyrics from MF DOOM or Del the Funky Homosapien forever. I wasn’t always like that, though. Being a troubled teenager struggling to make sense of the puzzling social dynamics at play, I wished so badly for a presence I could understand, someone to understand me. Only Kid Cudi could capture my despair and lay it bare on the mic. People confused me. Cudi didn’t. I found comfort in his clarity. “They all couldn’t see / The little bit of sadness in me” spoke to me so lucidly.
Man On The Moon: The End Of Day and Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager were not critically hailed on release, and some of the writing has not aged well. “Dudes who critique your clothes are most gay” and “I want to kiss you on your space below your navel at / The place that you keep neat, so moist, like a towelette” were always terrible lines. Even so, much of the lyricism on Man On The Moon will remain iconic. The direct lyrics envelop an intrinsic loneliness. For me, “I’m trapped in my mind, baby / I don’t think I’ll ever get out” resonated with my sustained sadness. But “They gon’ judge me anyway / So whatever” can also touch someone that’s just going through a low moment.
Raw lyrics alone are not the key to Cudi’s charm. It’s also the work of the production talent surrounding him: Emile, Plain Pat and of course Kanye West (among others). The glitzy beats backing his voice are a key component in conjuring Cudi’s musical mood. But if there were a standout element of his sound to credit for becoming hip hop’s hero of sadness, it’s Cudi’s voice. His humming has been featured on every Kanye project since 808s for good reason: Cudi’s voice is an instrument no less powerful than a drum or a synth.
Since I’ve grown older, separated by years from my eighth-grade affliction, Cudi fell out of rotation for me. Listening to his music brings back frightfully vivid memories. Tears staining my pillow every night. Staring at my phone wishing anyone would text me. The creases and stains of my sneakers over the ugly tile of my middle school hallway. The thing about mental illness, though, is that once you’ve developed one, it becomes a part of you forever — even when it’s dormant, the looming risk of relapse remains. It wasn’t until I left for college, and that soul-sucking monolith of depression began bearing over me once again, that Cudi would return to regular listening. “All along / I guess I’m meant to be alone” hit me harder the second time around.
Now, feeling better than ever before but barely a year removed from my last low phase, listening to Kid Cudi feels like treading in dangerous waters. The electrifying Cudi connection clicks back nearly instantaneously when I hear “The Prayer” or “Heaven At Nite.” I’ll always have love for the Man On The Moon, gratitude for the years keeping me company when nobody else did. I’ve just accepted that love might best remain at a healthy distance.