‘A Kid Named Cudi’ Fought For Scott Mescudi’s Soul 10 Years Ago
The lasting impact of the project is how far its disparate elements go in introducing the world to a new type of rap character.
Kid Cudi was never weird. Sure his gravelly textured singing voice was novel in a pre-808s world and the way his slim fit jeans nuzzled so perfectly into his Black Cement III’s may have given a nation of baby hypebeasts butterflies. However, he wasn’t an anomaly even if early cringeworthy interviews would have you believe otherwise. Seriously, why would a publication ask a grown man if he classifies himself as “emo rap?” Thankfully, in 2009 the Shaker Heights hummer was still accessible and candid enough to oblige those dusty shenanigans. In a sit down with HipHopDX, he divulges how part of his character came from growing up without his dad. “Yeah, it’s definitely important to me to make mention of my father because I think that does play a major part in why I am who I am,” Cudi explained. “Like my character and how I think and how I move in life.”
Ten years later, thinking of the kid who drives the narrative of A Kid Named Cudi makes it such a brutal and affecting listen. Scott Mescudi was 11 when his father died of cancer and a young man when he buried the uncle who helped him when he first came to New York. The lasting impact of A Kid Named Cudi is how far its disparate elements go—hypersensitive lyrics, eclectic samples, and pop-leaning ambition—in introducing the world to a new type of rap character, the boy suspended in animation in the wake of grief.
The three pillars of A Kid Named Cudi—“The Prayer,” “Day ‘N’ Nite,” “Heaven At Nite"—allude to the spiritual, mental, and emotional toll of losing two father figures. Understanding the Cleveland rapper lyrically is appreciating that his rhyme patterns are deliberately simple, his flow should sound like molasses, and his tight delivery is in service of the message. A Cudi mantra uttered in a 2008 Prefix Mag interview speaks volumes. “If you make it too deep, people don’t catch it. The only way you can win is if you simplify it.”
“The Prayer” is effective, because it turns a passage every child hears growing up in church—“If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”—into an earworm hook. On the back of Plain Pat’s sped-up Band of Horse’s sample, Cudi’s raspy baritone sounds paradoxically haunting and comforting. When he sings an interpolation of Horses’ “Ready for the funeral,” his suicidal thoughts seem less like an alarm and more like a release.
On “Day ‘N’ Nite,” the spectrum of loss highlights a dichotomy. The death of his uncle inspired Cudi's most famous hit, but Dot Da Genius’ haunted N64 cartridge beat plays direct opposition to the lyrics. The “lonely stoner” is singing about freeing “his mind at night,” but it sounds pop amid the hyper-synth glitches. No bar over the course of three verses goes over eight syllables shaping the song into one continuous hook.
It is fitting that the narrative arc of A Kid Named Cudi ends with “Heaven At Nite.” If “The Prayer” is about the promise of heaven and “Day ‘N’ Nite” details the restlessness of life in the aftermath of death, the mixtape’s closer centers on being at the precipice of eternity and imagining forever. Over Ratatat’s “Tacobel Canon,” Cudi envisions a place where “happy unites and feelings take flight.” On the song’s outro, he sings of needing what the world can’t give him and it is clear what alludes him.
Most people won’t tell you that you can forget voices. Give it enough time and distance, and even the most cherished memories fade. I was around the same age as Cudi when I lost my dad. Riding across the Brooklyn Bridge, I can remember listening to “Heaven At Nite.” As soon as I got home, I pressed an answering machine over and over. The voice saying he’d be home soon was the only recording I had left. Somewhere in the last 10 years, I lost that machine and my recollection of what he really sounded like with it. So much of my approximation of his voice is tied to Cudi asking if I’ve ever been to heaven. I haven’t yet.
Death is like amber. The force and crystallization of the event has a tendency to suspend people at the age they were when they lost someone they love, forever a fossil. Of course, there are songs on A Kid Named Cudi that aren’t about death. “Embrace the Martian” from the Crooker’s beat to Cudi’s flow still sounds like the future. “Maui Wowie” should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. “Man on the Moon (The Anthem)” is indeed an anthem. A decade later, the story of the kid wrestling to be free of his demons is still raging. It was felt in 2016, when Cudi announced to fans that he was going to rehab for “depression and suicidal urges.” In his heartfelt note, he admitted, “I am not at peace. I haven't been since you've known me.” Fast forward to 2018 and the kid still sees ghosts, but even he admits “I’ve come a long way from them haunting me.”
To get to the end sometimes, we have to go back to the beginning. On A Kid Named Cudi's opening track, he raps over Outkast’s “Chonkyfire,” — “For even in hell I still have faith / To one day be free with my father at the gates.” Most kids never stop looking for that freedom and it doesn’t look like Cudi has stopped either. I’m just praying my freedom has a forgotten voice attached to it.