Kid Cudi’s recent single Leader of the Delinquents marks his anticipated resurgence as a solo artist. He has a newfound confidence – and abrasiveness – as he polishes the song with a rekindled swagger. In the opening line, he acknowledges his general lack of new material, and reintroduces himself at the same time: “Hello friends, Cudder again.” Looking back at the last decade in Cudi’s career, and then at his current momentum, it’s impossible to underestimate how critical his Kids See Ghosts album was in reigniting the artist’s ambitions.
Few artists have had as big an impact on the sound of contemporary hip hop as Kid Cudi. (One of the few others happens to be his Kids See Ghosts counterpart, Kanye West). Cudi’s debut album, Man on the Moon, marked the beginning of a new genre of psychedelic hip hop. It was a cool and trippy album about drug-induced adventures, but it was also about a lonely stoner battling depression. These elements made it a groundbreaking record that listeners latched on to; people of all backgrounds felt like they could identify with the protagonist’s struggle, and wanted to sing along with the lyrics about conquering those same demons. In short – Man on the Moon was empowering. And the music, filled with the now-famous Cudi hums, was dope.
Man on the Moon came out in 2009 – within a year of Kanye’s 808’s & Heartbreak (our take for the most influential album post-2000). Together, these albums were a tour de force, transforming both the sound and substance of hip hop; it was the birth of alternative hip hop as we know it. Man on the Moon came out over a decade ago, and its sequel, Man on the Moon II came out a year later. The sequel followed in the vein of the original, and was a great album itself. Cudi has released 5 albums since then (since 2010), but the new content was mostly lackluster, or was confined to individual songs like Just What I Am and Surfin’, and features on Kanye West cuts like Guilt Trip and Gorgeous.
Flash forward to early 2020, and we already have the best Cudi single in years, the aforementioned Leader of the Delinquents, and a collaboration with Travis Scott, under the fitting new moniker ‘The Scotts.’ It was announced on Monday that The Scotts reached number 1 spot on Billboard – the first time in 12 years Cudi has achieved this. Suddenly, the music sphere is excited about Cudi again… and that’s largely thanks to the phenomenal Kids See Ghosts album that paved the way for his new singles.
Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s collaborative album Kids See Ghosts has had massive growth in popularity since its release in June 2018. The album continues to get better and better with each listen – a testament to its quality – and also an explanation for why critical response went from lukewarm to boiling over the course of a year and a half. (Anecdotally, the album has become a commonly cited favorite among hip hop blogs and forums, and many people agree its cover, designed by Japanese painter Takashi Murakami, is one of the best ever.
There’s another explanation for the hindered appreciation though. KSG came two weeks after Pusha T’s much acclaimed Daytona, and a week after Kanye’s much anticipated 8th studio album, Ye. With Daytona and Ye gaining huge amounts of listening attention, KSG suffered from being last in the queue. At almost any other time, a joint effort between Cudi and Kanye would be a headlining event pushing all other music into the background, but the timing of its release on June 8th made it directly compete with the other Good Music content people were still getting acquainted with. Almost 2 years later, Kids See Ghost has emerged from the shadows and floated into the top tiers of experimental hip hop.
Kids See Ghosts is where Kid Cudi found his voice again after a long drought, during which his albums lacked clear direction and his message lacked conviction. When KSG is at its best and most soulful, on tracks Reborn, Feel the Love, and Cudi Montage, Cudi is in the driver’s seat, launching cathartic hooks that feel supernatural in the way only his music can. His touch of other-worldliness has always brought out the best in his longtime collaborator Kanye West, and here they’ve proven their creativity is evergreen.
Creating one of the most innovative albums in a respective genre, as Cudi did with MOTM, comes with the burden of astronomical expectations and an elevated standard, which make it extremely challenging to follow up. With KSG, Cudi finds that elusive spark that made his albums from a decade earlier so visceral, evocative, and… alive. The key difference on KSG is that he’s shed his tendencies toward self-consciousness and insecurity, and replaced them with self-motivation and faith – culminating in his symbolic re-birth. The immense beauty of KSG is how Kid Cudi and Kanye West use personal accounts to illustrate the universal process of finding faith, overcoming weakness, and being reborn. And how music itself is an inherent ingredient in that process.