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Kid Cudi Returns to the Stage, and Hip-Hop May Never Be the Same

Kid Cudi Returns to the Stage, and Hip-Hop May Never Be the Same: Michael Hickey / Stringer / Getty

Michael Hickey / Stringer / Getty

This weekend, Kid Cudi will be performing at Complex magazine’s ComplexCon event. The performance is supposed to be a celebration of Cudi’s relationship with the Complex audience—as indicated by his multiple appearances on the mag’s cover—but it took on a whole new mystique about a month ago. The Con will mark his first public appearance since he checked into rehab for manic depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I am not at peace,” Cudi wrote in a Facebook post on October 4th. “I haven’t been since you’ve known me. If I didn’t come here, I would’ve done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions every day of my life.”

Kid Cudi, born Scott Mescudi in 1984, has a uniquely visceral connection to his fans. The half-crooner, half-rapper emerged in rap late in the last decade, an era when rap blogs were finding artists and pushing them to rap’s forefront—when social media was blossoming and the record-label barrier between artist and fan was crumbling away. Kid Cudi was right there, tweeting to his fans, threatening to fight people who insulted his music and posting long-form diary entries about his creative process. He was at the forefront of artist/fan interaction in the social-media age. And his music drove it all home.

Kid Cudi is often called an “emo rapper.” Sure, there was Drake rapping about broken relationships and insecurity, but Cudi took things further. His first major hit, “Day ‘N’ Nite,” a catchy, minimalist tune of claps and 808s, saw Cudi tackling insomnia, drug addiction, loneliness and depression. The song’s popularity and Cudi’s buzz landed him at Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, and the Ohio native became an integral part of the creative prcess behind West’s experimental and ingenious 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak.

Cudi’s first studio album, Man On The Moon, was a tour de force of emotional exploration and turmoil. The voice on the album was vulnerable, transparent and free of the bravado so commonly associated with the genre. When he rapped, “I was close to go and trying some coke/ And a happy ending would be slitting my throat” on “Soundtrack To My Life,” it felt like an open admission rather than an angstful boast. As a result, Cudi developed a rabid fan base—a legion of followers who who used his music to explore their own issues. That devotion manifested itself last month, when SNL star Pete Davidson revealed on a morning radio show that he would have committed suicide if not for Cudi’s music.

Kid Cudi’s emotional availability became a gift and a curse. The thing that connected him with so many fans alienated him from others and repelled some of his own peers. He developed a reputation for Twitter rants and general orneriness. He pissed off as many people as he won over in his subsequent albums and projects.

Most recently, he went on a Twitter spree in which he launched insults at mentor Kanye West and peer Drake. It was brushed off as another Cudi tantrum, but the issues were much deeper. A week later Cudi checked himself into rehab. When Drake responded with lyrics poking fun at Cudi for his depression, rap fans wondered if the Canadian MC had gone too far—partly because of a newfound sensitivity to mental health and partly because Cudi is so beloved. To his credit, Cudi didn’t exactly turn the other cheek…

This weekend, the rap community will be watching with the hope that this is his first step to recovery and a new lease on life—that Cudi’s lyrics about the depths to which depression can take us are more testimony than prophecy.

Emotional availability has been part of rap since its early days. DMX, the Notorious B.I.G., the Geto Boys, and more recently Kendrick Lamar have rapped about depression and suicidal thoughts. But even if recording booths can sometimes function as therapists’ couches, Cudi’s acceptance of clinical help takes self-care to a place rap hasn’t gone before. It can encourage rappers to translate their lyrics about their own mental health into action and getting the help they need. And who knows—it may even help erase stigmas about mental health in the black community overall.


Check out Kid Cudi’s Lucky 7 interview here.

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