Tale of Two Demon Slayers: How Me & Cudi Killed Our Addictions.
*I wrote this piece in 2018.*
“And I tried to piece the puzzle of the universe
Split an eighth of ‘shrooms just so I could see the universe.”
“Ah shoot! It’s my jam!” I shouted behind my shoulder to my friends in the back seat. My best friend muttered, “Ah, shit!” between her lips as they held her cigarette. I rapped every word while my friends waved their hands in-and-out of the car windows to the beat. I paused mid-sentence between the verses, “I effin love him, man!”
There was another friend in the car with us — inside the stereo — Kid Cudi. We were listening to his single “Soundtrack 2 My Life” found on his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day. This psychedelic rap album catapulted after his first single “Day N’ Nite” was released, becoming one of the “Best 25 Songs of 2009,” according to Rolling Stone.
At this time, my friends and I were young adolescents who loved to get drunk, and not think about responsibilities.
I was a troubled 20-year-old who barely graduated from high school. I got into zero universities because I applied to none. I went to a community college for free because my mom worked there. I didn’t care much about anything besides being “cool.” My proudest accomplishment was voting for Obama.
Another thing I was proud of was being a Cudi fan. To me, he was much more than an ordinary rapper using his talents to pimp out the cliché mantra: money, cash, hoes. He was an innovator of the art. He created beats to carry heavy lyrics of depression, loneliness, and mental health — taking these burdens off his fans.
A musical mission he shared on the Arsenio Hall Show, “All I want is to help kids not feel alone and stop kids from committing suicide.”
That’s the cool thing about Cudi — his lyrics are his confessions and also his fans. We rap along at the party, in the car with our homies, or alone on our beds — under the guise that we’re reciting the raps, but we’re actually professing our deepest secrets disguised as simply singing along.
“But they all didn’t see,
The little bit of sadness in me, Scotty
I’ve got some issues that nobody can see
And all of these emotions are pouring out of me
I bring them to the light for you
It’s only right
This is the soundtrack to my life (yeah, yeah)
The soundtrack to my life.”
I sang the chorus as we drove up to another party, on another Saturday night, somewhere in our hometown. I tucked my Man on the Moon CD in my purse. I had to walk into the party with him. I couldn’t leave Kid Cudi alone.
“I’m the Cleveland nigga rollin’ with them Brooklyn boys.”
In Cleveland, Ohio, on January 30th, 1984, Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi was born. He is the youngest of his three brothers and sisters: Domingo, Dean, and Maisha. His father, Lindberg, an African-American and Mexican American military veteran, died from cancer when Scott was eleven years old. His mother, Elise, became a single-parent, working as a choir teacher at Roxboro Middle School.
Scott never finished high school — but even though he did not excel academically, he was gifted in other ways.
At 20 years old, he moved to New York City, “We can always turn back,” his mother said, hugging him at the Cleveland CLE airport. But her son did not turn back. He pursued music — producing his first mixtape, ‘A Kid Called Cudi’ that year; all while sleeping on the couch in his uncles’ home. To support his pursuit, he worked at BAPE — “It was a dream come true to work at the store I dreamed of shopping in one day.”
During one of Cudi’s days off, he visited the Version Music Store on the Lower East Side.
As he searched the aisles for CDs, he saw a necklace with a blinging Jesus medallion swinging on a man’s white tee. It was Cudi’s idol. It was Kanye West.
Cudi reached his hand over to him, and went for his shot. “How you doin’? My name is Scott. I wanna be signed.”
Kanye sighed, “I have so many artists right now already.” But Cudi stayed hopeful, “You’re definitely going to see me again, so be checkin’ for me.”And Kanye did see Cudi again, at the BAPE store. After purchasing an expensive jacket in the store, the store manager formally introduced the rapper to his employee Cudi.
Four years later, in 2008, ‘A Kid Called Cudi” was released. To celebrate, Cudi hosted a party for his mix-tape; where close friends and family attended. But another unexpected guest was also there — Kanye. As stunned as Cudi was to see West at the party, he was more surprised that Kanye made it clear he was there as Cudi’s fan.
Shortly following this night, Kanye signed Cudi to his music label G.O.O.D (Getting Out Our Dreams). Then Man on The Moon was released, and it quite literally soared Cudi into the stratosphere. He began as Kanye’s protege — but his lyrics, musical style, and humming, made him a unique rap persona.
By 2016, he’d release six studio albums, which sold over 16 million copies. He seemed to be inside the pursuit of happiness — constantly photographed with his giant smile. But, the Kid was fighting some issues that nobody could see.
In 2012, two years after Cudi’s sophomore album Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager was released, I had issues that everybody could see.
I was unmotivated, self-centered, and addicted to alcohol. Inside my purse I consistently carried my vices: Kid Cudi CDs and a pint of Bacardi 151.
During the same year, Cudi was 28 years old, still turning out hit after hit. Releasing two new studio albums, Indicud, and WZRD, which he co-wrote and produced with “Hit-Boy” (Chauncey Hollis, Jr), “Chip tha Ripper” and “Dot da Genius” (Oladipo Omishore) — both albums with an indie rock sound that polarized his critics and fans.
He was engulfed in the fame with touring, TV appearances, movie cameos, songwriting, producing, and being a rap-star. And within the chaos, he coped on cocaine, “I started doing [it]to get through interviews. People wanted to know about my personal life, and I wasn’t prepared.”
At the same time, I was 22 years old. I could rap ninety-percent of Cudi’s songs, and was one hundred percent dedicated to anything but reality. I managed to graduate from a community college, but did not attend my graduation ceremony — because I partied the night before, and had passed out next to another white boy, at another random house.
I rolled over, gathered my clothes, kissed the white boy, and descended down the stairs. As I walked half-asleep, I heard loud knocks at the front door. To my surprise, it was my best friend, who wasn’t an alcoholic. “Dude, everyone is looking for you,” she said with her hand on her skinny hip.
Instead of being concerned, I said. “I see everyone thinks I’m dead,” as I shaked my phone in the air — filled with missed calls and unread texts. Before she unleashed her concerns on me, I rebuttal with left-over drunkenness, “But, you drink, too.”
“But, not every day like you,” She replied, like my mother would have. “Wylin’ Cause I’m Young,” I thought to myself, one of my favorite Kid Cudi songs from Man on the Moon II.
“To be living ’til their grave
You live, and you learn
Doing bumps in the day
Keep blunts to burn.”
A song that sadly coddled my irresponsibility, and hyped my adolescent delusion.
It was a left turn from “Heart of A Lion” or “Pursuit of Happyness,” songs of authenticity balanced with undesirable feelings, but gull to conquer them.
“Wylin’ Cause I’m Young” was the crack in the cd. The song singing excuses, “Liquor all night love it! Untamed youth and coupes move like bullets. I be wylin’ ’cause I’m young.” I tried to believe the lyrics as I drank, but deep-down, I didn’t, and Cudi didn’t either.
Two years later, our addictions came to slay us.
On February 16, 2014, I decided to get sober, and I stopped listening to Kid Cudi. I went back to church. Not back into religion but within a relationship with Jesus Christ. Of course, Cudi was not to blame for my addiction, but his latest albums, such as Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, had seducing melodies intertwined with lunacy and madness. His single CONFUSED! repeatedly asked, “Who am I? Who are we?” where he lyrically contemplated suicide. Complex.com described the album as “Yikes,” critiquing these 91 minutes, “increasingly difficult to defend” against critics who believe Cudi had fallen off.
During this period, around 2016, he battled with depression, mental issues, and addiction harder than before; all three were winning the war.
Two years later, I was two years sober. I had graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelors’s in Creative-Writing. I had landed a freelance writing job. I was working as a Technical Writer. I finally had a direction. I even applied to New York University to pursue a Master’s in Journalism. The same year, Kid Cudi released his sixth studio album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’.
Contrary to their last review, Complex.com sang a positive tune on Cudi’s new release, “In a year that saw him deal very publicly with personal demons, delivering an album that finally recaptures some of the excitement and magic of his music feels like a fitting, victorious end.”
One day at my job, a Facebook notification popped up on my computer.
I clicked the icon which read “new post from Kid Cudi.” Located on his profile was a long post with hundreds of thousands of likes, sad faces, and heart reactions. The opening of the status read:
“It’s been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed. Ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie. It took me a while to get to this place of commitment, but it is something I have to do for myself, my family, my best friend/daughter, and all of you, my fans.”
He closed the 500+ word post with:
“Love and light to everyone who has love for me, and I am sorry if I let anyone down. I really am sorry. I’ll be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel like shit; I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry.
I love you,
Though, I was relieved that Cudi finally broke his new grandiose façade, admitting to his fans that he was in trouble — I selfishly felt validated with cutting him off. I just couldn’t listen to someone I loved rap around their suffering.
The same day, CNN.com reported that “Kid Cudi checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges.” Where he admitted, “If I didn’t come here, I would’ve done something to myself. I simply am damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions every day of my life.” After this interview, he received an avalanche of support from famous friends and unknown fans:
“Speaking out and letting the world see your humanity is inspiring- always got your back, my dude.” — Pete Wentz, the drummer from Fall Out Boy
“Wishing Kid Cudi much peace, love, and meditation.” — Wiz Khalifa, rapper
“Too often Black communities think mental illness is taboo & fail to realize it’s like other diseases. We applaud @kidcudi for seeking help.” — REVOLT TV
“Kid Cudi saved my life.” — Pete Davidson, SNL comedian.
“Don’t give up. Your man on the moon album helps me daily… So much so that I got “terminate the hate, spread the positive” tattooed on my forearm.”
“Don’t feel ashamed! Your family and fans love you! Your pain is felt through your music, and it’s helped me during my own suicidal times!”
“You haven’t let us down, and I think you’ve made a lot of people feel a lot better about their own mental health issues through your music. You’ve given us a million gifts, you gotta focus on you now, and that’s not selfish at all.”
“God, please help Cudi.”
In 2017, a few months after the FaceBook post, I finally listened to Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’.
I typed the album into the YouTube search box. I randomly chose the first song, Rose Golden. It opened with a light harp melody, a spacey cadence, and Cudi’s signature humming. A drum bass dropped after twenty seconds where he and Willow Smith harmonized,
“Oh, since I was young, been groovin’ to my own drum
Ain’t that many teachers, show me my potential
Felt like a failure, momma said you know better
Future in my hands
God, she had a plan
Stronger than I know, soon I’d understand
The power I possess, the story of the Chosen.”
I began to nod my head with each drum beat. “Future in my hands, God she had a plan,” I mumbled under my breath. Weirdly holding myself back from freely belting out. I thought, “Okay, what’s next.” Preparing to be disappointed by a 2014-esque track, but as I clicked to the next song and the next song, I found no cracks, no traces of that rapper.
I made it to the last song, Surfin’. I was on my bed for the first 18 songs, but as soon as I heard the drum-line beat, funky guitar strums, and victorious trumpet sounds; along with Cudi’s beautiful voice singing “Ay, ay, ay, ayyyyyyy, ay, ay, ay, ayyyyyyy.” I started to dance. I moved my hips from side to side. I waved my hands above my head. I could hear a happier Cudi. “Surfin’ on my own wave, baby. Surfin’ on my own wave, baby.” I could feel his 2009 hope again. The chorus is a simple sing-along, but his verses took no prisoners,
“The industry is so full of shit
Welcome y’all to the enema
Nah man, no subliminal
’Cause they insecure, they know who they are!”
In November of 2017, I bought a ticket to his concert in Denver, Colorado.
My best friend Sarah and I arrived hours early to stand center-stage. The doors opened, we ran inside and stood together in the middle.
Then he walked out.
His large smile, his signature Chuck Taylors, and ripped blue jeans. I put my hand over my heart. I looked at Sarah, “It’s him!”
The concert was stellar. He opened with Man on the Moon, bounced to Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon, back to Indicud, skipped Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven and landed on Man on the Moon II.
The concert closed on Surfin’. Confetti burst from the sky, falling down on our hair — our clothes — our highs. “Thank you, Denver! You’ve been fucking amazing! — “Oh yeah, I’m still clean!”
We all cheered. We all roared. “I’m proud of you!” “Fuck yeah, Cudi!” “I love you. I love you!”
He stood there and stared. “I love y’all, too.” There we were, finally face-to-face. Both sober, both happy, both slayers of our demons. After the concert, I picked a piece of confetti from the floor, found a black sharpie and wrote “Kid Cudi,” then tucked it inside my purse.
I can’t say Kid Cudi saved my life. Jesus did that.
But, he was the first person that understood me — and lyrical let me know I was not alone. His album KIDS SEE GHOSTS, co-produced with Kanye West, is simply a masterpiece. It’s only 23 minutes long, but has been critically acclaimed. Vulture.com praised it stating, “Kids See Ghosts is the sound of old friends pooling their strengths to overcome tragedy.”
Reborn is the album’s amen and amen. Cudi repeats,
“I’m so, I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward
Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward
Ain’t no stress on me Lord, I’m movin’ forward
Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward.”
The first time I heard this track — I cried. It was a sweet reminder of how far we have come. Reborn into people we hoped was always within us.
During my commute from Brooklyn to New York University, I hum along, “I’m so, I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward. Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward,” often reminiscing on the past — a montage of the good, the bad, the lonely. But today, I am grateful.
The Kid and I are back —