A Look at Kid Cudi’s Artistic Career and Future Music Trajectory
Issue   |   Tue, 10/03/2017 - 23:53
Graphic by Justin Barry ’18
After a few years out of the spotlight, Kid Cudi may be making a comeback with Kanye West, whose associates have hinted at a joint album titled “Everybody Wins.”

I want to talk about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while: the career trajectory of Kid Cudi. Most people probably know Kid Cudi as a stoner rapper from the late 2000s who fell off after two decent albums. Back in 2009, Kid Cudi was riding high. With the release of the first “Man on the Moon,” Kid Cudi was right up there with the likes of Drake — granted, Drake was on the come-up as well, but he’s still Drake. Under the mentorship of Kanye West, Kid Cudi grew a devoted fan base that latched on the emotional, loner appeal of his music. That era in Kid Cudi’s career was so big, you still here songs like “Day ‘n’ Night” and Steve Aoki’s remix of “Pursuit of Happiness” to this day. However, at the time, the album was more much more than a few singles. Drawing on material from his breakout mixtape “A Kid Named Cudi,” Kid Cudi came up with a complete hour-long concept album. The original “Man on the Moon” followed a consistent theme of being an outcast determined to make it. The quality stayed consistently high throughout, culminating in a classic album.

Cudi quickly followed “Man on the Moon – The End of the Day” with a sequel. 2010’s “Man on the Moon, Vol. 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager” took a darker approach to similar themes as the first. While the quality of songs may have been more variable, the album still attracted attention with gloomy hits like “Mr. Rager,” stoner songs like “Marijuana” and in-betweens like “Mojo So Dope.” The album took a new approach, blending rock with hip-hop. Opinions were divided on some of the more rock-based songs like “Erase Me,” which featured Kanye West. Nevertheless, the album still did well commercially, and it seemed Kid Cudi had carved out a niche for himself in the rap world.

However, things would change with his third solo album. After taking a break on the more experimental “WZRD” album, a collaboration with producer Dot da Genius, most people expected Cudi to complete the “Man on the Moon” trilogy. But Cudder decided to follow his own way. Just before the release of 2013’s “Indicud,” Kid Cudi split with Kanye West’s GOOD Music Label. Instead, Cudi also chose to produce the album entirely by himself, a decision many people questioned. The album did well in terms of sales due to Cudi’s dedicated following. Critics, however, gave “Indicud” mixed reviews. The album retained much of the sound and spirit of “Man on the Moon” but its more upbeat themes didn’t appeal to all fans. The album also saw an even greater range of inconsistency, with its highlights being some of Cudi’s best work with its duds some of his worst. Many people see “Indicud” as the start of Cudi’s descent as an artist. The real culprit, however, is “Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon.”

“Satellite Flight” should not have been released, and it certainly shouldn’t have been released as a studio album. The album was meant to be a prequel to “Man on the Moon III,” but the songs just sound like weaker versions of “Man on the Moon” tracks. Critics actually liked the album more than “Indicud,” and it certainly has its saving graces, but the best songs should have been saved for later and the worst songs scrapped. The album was released without marketing, which hurt its commercial performance. While it piqued the interested of his core fan base, “Satellite Flight” didn’t have the broader appeal of his previous albums. Because it lacks a strong single, “Satellite Flight” has also had little of the staying power of his previous works. By the album’s release in 2014, it was apparent that Cudi’s popularity was falling behind some of his contemporaries, like Drake, Wiz Khalifa and Wale, but nothing prepared anyone for what was to come.

What came the following year can be described as nothing less than a disaster. “Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven” was an experimental indie-rock album that included almost no listenable songs. The album, which lasted a whopping one and a half hours, went on for far too long, and I pity anyone who has listened to it all the way through. It sold the worst out of any Kid Cudi record, and critics bashed it. “Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven” was a common sight on many 2015 Worst Album Lists. It seemed like Cudi had went off the deep end, calling the album “100 percent the purest form of my artistic self.” Many were ready to write Cudi off at this point, and he lost even more presence in pop culture.

Thankfully, this phase in Cudi’s career was just that, a phase. Even though we still didn’t get a “Man on the Moon III” for Cudi’s sixth album, we got the next best thing, relief from crude rock music. In 2016’s “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” Cudi came off with fresh new energy. His “old-self” shined through in many of the songs, and Cudi tried out new, invigorating styles, including a new trademark hum. I’ll concede the project was far from perfect. It went on for too long, accumulating “filler” tracks. However, the album was complete and professional. Unfortunately, it appeared to be too late for many fans who had already abandoned hope. It didn’t attract the hype of some of his earlier projects. The song “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” seems to be a step in the right direction. Not enough to put Cudi back on the level of his “Man on the Moon” days, but certainly on an upward trajectory.

The pressing question now is, where does Kid Cudi go from here? This question is vital to his continued career. With a false step, Cudi could lose the traction of “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” and slowly descend into obscurity. On the brighter side, if Cudi’s next project is a winner, he could easily climb right back into the mainstream. Currently, Kid Cudi is touring for “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin.” The tour hasn’t broken records or even sold out most shows, but any promotion is good. As an optimistic fan, I see two possibilities that could reinvigorate Kid Cudi’s career. The first is “Man on the Moon III.” Solely based on the name, this album would receive a lot of attention from fans that have slept on Cudi in recent years. The album would basically promote itself. All Cudi would have to do is make another classic album. Simple, right?

In all seriousness, this option doesn’t seem very likely. Cudi’s music has evolved passed the “Man on the Moon” style, and he might not be enthusiastic to go back even if that’s what fans want. Another possibility, though, is a collaborative album with Kanye West. Despite no longer being label mates, the two have continued to collaborate over the years, most recently on Kanye’s 2016 “The Life of Pablo.” But what really started rumors of collaboration is a joint trip to Asia this summer. The two went to China and Japan, where they visited Takashi Murakami, who designed the cover art for Kanye’s “Graduation.” The meeting was instagrammed by various associates of Kanye with captions hinting that a project called “Everybody Wins” would be released on New Year’s Eve. Cudi and Kanye have also been recently spotted leaving studio sessions in Los Angeles with longtime producer Plain Pat. While the rumors surrounding “Everybody Wins” are still shaky, the project would almost certainly reignite Cudi’s career. The star power of Kanye would secure sales numbers, and his collaboration almost guarantees a classic album. With that in consideration, Cudi’s next move could be career defining. Most people still know Cudi as the “Man on the Moon.” The monumentality of his first album has cast a shadow on his entire career that he still can’t seem to shake. While he may currently enjoy an upward trajectory, his next move might permanently define him as a has-been or reestablish his place in the music world. Either way, I am eagerly anticipating Dec. 31.