Scott Mescudi, better known to the world as “A kid named Cudi” or Kid Cudi became a voice that spoke for and to everyone battling depression. When Cudi broke onto the scene in the late-2000s, undue pressure following the U.S. recession and an uncertain economic future led many to an overwhelming, and collective feeling of anxiety among millennials. His music arrived at a time when studies indicated that young people were coping with higher levels of depression than generations past. Analyzing Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon series we have access to a telescopic view of the nature of depression itself. In a lot of ways, Cudi’s music, and open acknowledgement of an underrepresented subject provided a necessary means of the support for an emerging generation.
To better understand Kid Cudi, we have to better understand what he means in saying that he is the Man on the Moon. In a 2009 interview with BlackBook, Cudi explained, “I feel like I’m in a place all by myself. When I’m thinking a lot or even just moving around day to day, I feel a sense of isolation within myself.” Cudi goes on to further say even before fame he felt alone. Even surrounded by friends. Soon that very concept became his calling card.
“Man on the Moon” was one of the stand-out tracks from Cudi’s 2008 breakout mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi. In the song, he speaks more on this feeling of isolation. “They got me thinking I ain’t human, like I came from above/ feeling like an airplane in the sky, but then say I’m crazy,” croons Cudi. The song offers a clear definition for the series that could drive his two following releases: For being notably different, the man on the moon is outcast and alien.
This relatability was the spark but Cudi’s moment was more than just that of a rising star. He continued to build on a legacy of what has been christened as modern-day sorrow songs. Coined by W.E.B. Du Bois, sorrow songs were another name for the plantation spirituals that enslaved African people would sing. Du Bois describes them as, “a haunting echo of these weird old songs in which the soul of the black slave spoke to [men and women].” They are cries for a better tomorrow. By expressing what he feels, Cudi is asking the listener to walk the same empathetic line.
The Man on the Moon can be interpreted as an astronaut, exploring uncharted territory. For Cudi, that territory is the inner self through the obstacles he encounters in his life.
Throughout both Man on the Moon: The End of Day and Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, Kid Cudi takes up the role of mentor to his listeners. On Man on the Moon II, he goes as far as to call himself a “big brother.” This also rings true with the Man on the Moon metaphor itself. The Man on the Moon can be interpreted as an astronaut, exploring uncharted territory. For Cudi, that territory is the inner self through the obstacles he encounters in his life. Like a mentor or big brother, Cudi tries to impart wisdom from his experience.
In mythology, there is an archetypal hero. Thanks to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, who analyzed the stories of myth and their effect on the psyche — we can better understand the human experience. Kid Cudi as the man on the moon is this mythological hero, reporting back what he has seen in his travels. As Cudi explores himself, we understand a shared experience of the human condition a bit better.
It was around the time of the first album that Kid Cudi became cognizant of his influence, and began to grapple with the surreal nature of fame. “Pursuit of Happiness” off of Man on the Moon: The End of Day, describes a particularly vivid nightmare. Cudi is alone by himself drunk driving. He continues to spiral down using booze and drugs and repeating to himself — he will be fine once he’s finally found success. Ultimately, the chase for success itself becomes just another vice. The nightmare portions of Man on the Moon: The End of Day often delve into isolation. For Cudi, his nightmare is that his vices will catch-up with him, and due to being misunderstood, no one will be able to help him.
By contrast, the cheerful “Up Up and Away,” reminds the listener not to worry about being judged by others, and to live life up to their own standards. Common’s narration at the end of the song—which is also the album closer—states that the hero’s journey is never over, that there is, “a new hell he must conqueror and destroy, a new level of growth he must confront himself. The machine and the ghost within, this is the journey of the man on the moon.”
On “These Worries” from Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr.Rager, Cudi talks about his addictions. His inner demons chase him around, but he ends his first verse by talking to God. In the second verse, Cudi takes an aggressive tone with his demons. His faith keeps him strong. The parallels to sorrow songs —are that Cudi draws the listener into the same wavelength of empathy. “Motherless Child” for example is a classic soul song that has been covered and interpolated by numerous artists. It contextualizes how a song about being stripped away from your homeland can be adequately comparable to the hurt felt by those who are experiencing depression.
That’s why Kid Cudi is such an important artist: he fits within a greater context of American history and music than most will ever give him credit for. He fits with the tradition of sorrow songs, connecting him to soul and the blues. He understands the bleeding heart. And he builds on a legacy of musicians before him that turned their grief and sorrow into messages of hope, reminding their audience that it’s okay to express your vulnerability.
His detailed experiences with mental health not only helped those challenged by it, but assisted in moving the conversation around it forward.
His detailed experiences with mental health not only helped those challenged by it, but assisted in moving the conversation around it forward. Maybe the best description of depression I ever heard is illustrated in the song “Maniac,” where Cudi describes not wanting to leave his room. Instead, he embraces the darkness in his surroundings succumbing to his depression and being unmotivated to do anything but lay in bed where he feels safe. He raps, “it is my cloak, it is my shield, it is my cape!/ I love the dark, maybe we can make it darker/ Give me a marker”.
When I heard those lines, it resonated with me. In dealing with my own depression, I often feel unmotivated to get out of bed. I cherish sleep and the escape to the dreamworld. Sometimes the world feels like it’s too much. Sometimes just in order to get up in the morning, I dim the lights to suit the mood that I’m feeling at that moment. By making the room “darker”, it feels like I am taking back control and somehow committing an act of defiance. Cudi’s description felt true to my own life.
Now just imagine a world where we take depression head-on. We talk about it like a real social condition that needs to be addressed, as a society at large. Imagine if we treated those who experience mental illness just as people who were locked in a room. Imagine if we took care of those people and nursed them back to health and not cast them away in society. Maybe, it’s all just a dream.
Anyone in need of help can reach the Canadian Crisis Service at 1.833.456.4566 and find regional resources here.