This article originally appeared in The Florida Basement, the former Swamp Records Gainesville-based blog. Since writing, Kid Cudi released Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’.
Recently we have been blessed with a Travis Scott album. I say blessed, but I’ll be upfront. I wasn’t much of a fan before I acquired my copy of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. Travis Scott does an excellent job delivering a highly anticipated album, and has refined his craft into a marketable sound. I don’t want to take away from his success, but the most impressive thing about his album on face value are its features. Andre 3000 brings hot fire, and surprises the listener with his presence. Kendrick Lamar, Quavo, Young Thug, The Weeknd, and a slew of other artists make their presence known. But probably the most prominent feature, lending his voice if not his raps on three songs in a row, is Kid Cudi, one of Scott’s biggest influences.
Many of the kids my age (let’s be generous and include everyone from 18-30) remember Cudi from his role as the bread and butter of your existence in high school. A Kid Named Cudi and the Man on the Moon series, while not BOOM SPLASH WOW “confirmed classics”, are certainly worthy of the pantheon of formative music for many. Travis Scott at 24 is releasing his album at the same age Cudi released his first project, and the influence Travis Scott describes Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi) having on him is more clear on Birds in the Trap than any of his previous releases.
Cudi’s niche community was, at least in my experience, the loners and the brooders, the partiers and the weed kids, the cosmically depressed of our generation. His beats and lyrics didn’t really bring clarity, but they were self-indulgent, like teenagers and young adults, reaching out for a voice of understanding. To me, Kid Cudi tapped into the desire for a reassuring voice we all need more than most any other artist. What issued forth from the earliest phases of his career refined in his time singing and songwriting for Kanye. The five song stretch on the deluxe version of MOTM of “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Hyyerr,” “Up Up & Away”, and finally “Man on the Moon”, is probably my favorite five song stretch (arbitrary, I know, but it’s my metric of greatness now, readers) of any rap album. Here Cudi is at his best, delivering on the isolation, difficulties of life and love, and the depression of youth by juxtaposing it with happiness, a satisfaction with one’s surroundings, and a trajectory for greater success.
Critically, if not commercially, Cudi has slowly found himself stalling. I’m not going to be the asshole that says absolutely nothing he’s produced recently is worth listening to. WZRD was panned, and to be honest has very little redeeming it. Ignore the fact I just said I wouldn’t do that this once. Indicud is a different story, where Cudi works with a bevy of other artists and produces many of his own tracks. It is a formative work, one where Cudi is not afraid to push artists like Haim at the forefront of a track, or blaze an unbeaten trail by including stellar acts like Father John Misty or Michael Bolton. Though “Red Eye” is my favorite track, “Just What I Am”, “Mad Solar”, and several others are quite listenable. As a whole, Indicud fell short of the soaring heights Kid Cudi found in his earlier releases.
Satellite Flight continues the trend of Cudi’s mostly independent ventures with an album almost entirely devoid of features. “Balmain Jeans”, “Going to the Ceremony”, and a couple other tracks fit well into the overarching discography of cosmic madness Cudi is known for. Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was his worst received record to date, and one that I truthfully have not yet listened to. I am apprehensive about coloring my appreciation for Cudi more than I already have, but eventually my curiosity will outweigh my fear.
To the point: Cudi’s only verse off Scott’s album comes on the track “through the late night”, perhaps a name fitting for his presence. He lays down a solid hook, practically his trademark, and a great verse that holds up to Scott’s own. But the most remarkable thing other than an offhand remark where Travis Scott suggests he’ll “stroke his cactus” upon arriving at his home is when Scott interpolates into Cudi’s seminal Day ‘n’ Nite a few lines of his own: Day and night, I toss and turn / I keep stressin’ my mind, mind / I seek the peace, sometimes I can’t restrain / To join a rage at night, come out and play, play.
The respect Travis Scott has Kid Cudi must be as meteoric as some of Cudi’s own imagery, and familiar listeners will revel in that legendary moment. Where Cudi goes from here is anyone’s guess, but I sincerely hope his trajectory has all along been to the moon.