'Indicud' Was Kid Cudi's Dark Bid For Independence

It’s been five years since it was released but it feels longer.

Tasbeeh Herwees

The first time I smoked weed, it was an indica blend, and I sucked hard on the blunt, waiting for the magic moment. When it wasn’t instantaneous, I complained bitterly to my friend—a professional pothead and my guide for the evening—that maybe her weed was faulty. It was New York, after all, and this illegal herb was of indeterminate origin, having been delivered from the coat pockets of a stranger summoned by text message to her door. Back in Los Angeles, the dispensaries looked like candy stores, and the cannabis came wrapped in pretty packaging.

It was 2013 or 2014. I was about to graduate college or maybe I was fresh out of school. If I were looking for the dull impact of an indica high, I could have have found it elsewhere. We were experiencing the wane of post-Obama political optimism. “30 Rock” was airing its final episodes. And somewhere, in the muddle of those years, Kid Cudi released Indicud.

The G.O.O.D. Music alum’s third studio album represented a departure from his well-established Man On The Moon sound, a darkly atmospheric project that vibrates with the thrum of Scott Mescudi’s uncontained anger and defiance. These 19 tracks depict a man struggling deeply with fame and success—having too much of it, not having enough—and aching for the curative powers of a chemical reaction. “I had to ball for therapy, my shrink don’t think that helps at all,” he raps languidly over “Just What I Am,” the album’s first single. “Whatever, that man ain’t wearing these leather pants / I diagnose my damn self, these damn pills ain’t working fam.”

When the album was released in 2013, critics were surprised to receive a Cudi album that lacked the feverish emotion that powered his first three projects. While Cudi’s depressive sensibilities remained, there were also renewed attempts at optimism. On “Immortal,” the rapper describes a terrible month, devoid of hope, but then, “the day came when it hit me like lightning through my veins / A sudden change in my groove, in my walk.” His monotone vocal delivery makes this a difficult admission to believe—not only for his listeners, but also for himself.

Much of the lyrical content on Indicud foreshadows—both obliquely and often explicitly—a breakthrough that would come three years later. Re-listening to the album with the knowledge of Cudi’s real-life, present-day struggles with depression makes Indicud, which he self-produced, feels more like eavesdropping on an intimate, internal conversation than his other albums. Although it’s chock-full of notable features—Kendrick, RZA, Haim, Father John Misty, Michael Bolton—even his guests adopt his darkness. “Turn quick, I don't wanna play this for my daughter,” Kendrick raps on “Solo Dolo Pt. II,” “If my son heard it, probably look at you as his father.”

He was on the cusp of his 30s at the time, and it’s clear he was searching for a transition point. Indicud was a reintroduction to the Kid Named Cudi, an attempt to recalibrate himself as an artist, to flex his production skills, and allow breathing room for his beats. Unsupervised, it was his opportunity to color outside the lines. “Don’t box me in, claustrophobe,” Cudi demands of his listeners on “Afterwards (Bring Yo Friends).”

Cudi aspires to an optimism he never genuinely believes himself—and maybe he was right, look where we ended up—and by the end of the album, he returns to moody resignation. On his 15th track, Cudi declares himself, “Lord of the Sad and Lonely,” juxtaposing images of grandiose affluence with his own experiences with depression. He grapples frankly with his responsibility as a role model, and seems to find solace in it. “So many kids live their life through my rhymes / See I'm in love with you all 'til the end,” he sings. “When shit was dark for me you were my only friends.” He advises them to “smoke a tree” on his behalf.

It’s been five years since it was first released, but it feels longer. Time stretches more slowly under the clouds of marijuana smoke. I spent the spring of 2013—or possibly 2014, I can’t say—crying, embittered by the unrealized promise of hope, disillusioned by the disappointing post-recession rebound, recovering poorly in the wake of my first romantic breakup. There was a professor who used to pull out a box of tissues out his cabinet every time I visited his office. By the time I found myself in my friend’s apartment, having my first experience with weed, I was undergoing a crisis of self, unconvinced things would get better, on neither a micro- nor a macro- level. Indicud provided the soundtrack to this interior panic, music that was as subdued as the substance it was named after.

The first puff didn’t work. But the second one did, giving a frantically intense world a dull filter—and that’s what I needed at the time.

You can stream Kid Cudi's Indicud here.