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Mister Misunderstood: Kid Cudi

Written By James Schofield on 03/30/2016

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I wrote a short time ago about how for some people music is a commodity, and for others it is an artist. For those to who it is a commodity, adventure is scary. These are the people who will tweet an artist after an album release, or song release, and beg them to ‘bring back’ their ‘old stuff’. These commodity music fans do not appreciate evolution, or progression. They’re the Miley Cyrus fans still hoping she magically turns back in to Hannah Montana. They are the Justin Bieber fans still hoping that his next single will be another Baby. They are the Kanye West fans crossing their fingers for another College Dropout. They are the fans who have hounded, in hordes, Kid Cudi for the entirety of his career. Or, at least, since the release of Kid Cudi’s debut full-length Man on the Moon: The End of Day in 2009.

It began slowly, like a trickle or a dribble. Cudi’s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager released the following year was, retrospectively, only subtly different to its predecessor. It was a more mature sound to Cudi’s debut album, an album trapped in the distance, utilising space and emptiness where the first Man on the Moon better reflected claustrophobia, and enclosure. The differences, again, were only subtle in retrospect, but nonetheless quite telling considering there was only a single year separating the two releases. In 2012, two years after Man on the Moon II saw the light of day, Kid Cudi flipped the script entirely – joining forces with producer, and frequent collaborator, Dot Da Genius to form ‘WZRD’. WZRD, and its sole album of the same name, amounted to a unique blend of rock music, psychedelia and electro pop influences to create a sound almost entirely removed from any of Cudi’s previous work (excluding one-off single No One Believes Me from 2011, which to this day remains one of the single best Kid Cudi songs ever released). The outcry was instantaneous – Kid Cudi had changed, and commodity fans couldn’t keep up. To them, Scott Mescudi (aka the man behind the act) was supposed to be a hip-hop musician. He was supposed to write raps, do songs with Kanye West and artists like Wale. Now he was some sort of space rock musician? Not only that, but a space rock musician covering another cover song performed by none other than Nirvana?

Imagine the surprise of commodity fans when, in 2013, Kid Cudi became a hip-hop musician again. Only, this time, he was the host. For 2013’s release Indicud, Kid Cudi largely made way for an eclectic roster of featured guests, choosing instead to turn his focus to production – singularly responsible for the entire production of the album (with the aid of hip-hop producer Hit-Boy in a co-producer role on only one song). It was hip-hop, a bit of pop, it had Kid Cudi’s name on it – but, to many, it wasn’t a Kid Cudi album. Though, assuredly, ‘Indicud’ had its standout moments (eg. On Solo Dolo Part II which acted as both a throwback to Cudi’s previous releases and as a means to feature the hugely talented Kendrick Lamar), fans of the ‘original’ Kid Cudi remained dissatisfied. They cried foul, they wept – their hero had disappeared without a trace. Yet, in 2014 – the following year – the disappearing act that is Kid Cudi reappeared with his fourth solo album Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon, bringing with him an entirely new genre of ‘space hip-hop’. As though some kind of hip-hop David Bowie, Cudi’s full length ode to the mystery of space piqued the intrigue of fans and listeners – but still couldn’t satisfy. Though he had released an album closer to his initial releases than any of the other previous two, Cudi still had his detractors. And why? Simple answer – he had new fans. New commodity fans. Fans of his space rock, and not of his hip-hop.

Not to be stopped, not to be altered or otherwise thrown off – the tail end of 2015 saw Kid Cudi’s singularly most ambitious and polarising project yet see its release. What, exactly, was/is Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven? A punk record? Psychedelic rock record? Alt rock record? All of the above? In a total departure from all of his previous releases (with respect to WZRD, with which it has very vague similarities), Kid Cudi released an album that breathed and heaved with attitude, with anger, with introspective and with sheer daring. Perhaps no-one else in music could pull off a song titled Judgemental C*nt, and not force listeners to curl their lips up in disgust. Even the ‘Beavis and Butthead’ sample sound clips put in throughout the record would be a bold inclusion by any other artist, but for Kid Cudi? This is evolution. This is progression. Critics, fans and music lovers alike were split down the middle on how to receive Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. After all, what was it? What *is* it? On my year end list for 2015, of which I chose the ten best albums as I heard them for the year – Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven placed in the top five. It was brave and unique, it was like nothing that I had ever heard – be it from Kid Cudi, or any other artist. And, furthermore, as a fan of Cudi’s and of music – I was profoundly proud and envious of what I was hearing. This is sonic evolution, musical progression at its peak. Who else could pull this off but Cudi?

The surprise died down, the buzz died down, as all of both frequently and consistently do. Kid Cudi, the brave warrior of sonic revolution and evolution, ceded back to his working silence. Over Easter Weekend, for 2016, Kid Cudi’s Soundcloud unleashed to the world his latest song – The Frequency. The response was extraordinarily positive, with Cudi fans praising the song as proof that Cudi was ‘returning to his old stuff’. Even the man himself seemed hyped about the new release, retweeting tweet after tweet on Twitter praising The Frequency. Yet, the question abounds – just what ‘old stuff’ has Cudi returned to? After all, one of the most curious things about Kid Cudi’s music is that, at this point, a definitive ‘old stuff’ definition does not exist. No one album, or even one song, has ever sounded precisely the same for him one after the other. At any given time, his ‘new stuff’ may sound like his ‘old stuff’, and his ‘old stuff’ may sound like his ‘new stuff’. Kid Cudi is not a formulaic musician, or artist – he is an abstract one. Meaning what?

Longevity. Defiant longevity. Almost entirely unheard of longevity. Kid Cudi, unlike a great many other artists of all genres, will never have to force himself to sound like anyone else or anything else. He forces music to sound like him. He defines influence, and influential. Let’s not forget that trap superstar Travis Scott, he of one of 2015’s hottest albums ‘Rodeo’, cites Kid Cudi as his personal hero. The writing is there on the wall. Kid Cudi – artist – here to stay. Mister Misunderstood, Kid Cudi – the Revolutionary.

https://soundcloud.com/cudderland/the-frequency