Make no mistakes, punk is not a type of music. It is a lifestyle choice. You can bring up the Sex Pistols and Ramones and yes, I will agree they are punk bands, but it is their attitude and approach to pop music that makes it punk, not the music itself. While it could be said punk music is four chords of chaos and repeated hooks, punk is not punk if someone who does not carry that mentality with them is playing it. Dylan playing electric at the Newport Folk Festival is a perfect example. Yes, he played his same folky songs he always played back then, but that day, plugging in electric for an audience that viewed electric rock as the death of music was about as punk as you can get. So you see, punk is a lifestyle choice that, IF YOU ARE LUCKY, will bleed into your musical sound as well. It is with that exact thinking in mind that I present to you the simple fact that rapper, musician, and artist Kid Cudi (who is mislabeled as hip hop by all, when he in fact plays every genre) is the last of the Mohicans when it comes to punk. You may disagree now but you will find that harder and harder to do the more you read, so get reading. My point is valid if you are brave enough to give it a chance.
ALWAYS Unable to Labeled
Here is the first thing that separates Kid Cudi from most hip hop artists (and most of music, to be honest). From his very first mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, he had hinted to us he was not just a rap artist. There was a sort of manic energy to his music that danced between morose and inspiring, hitting every emotion in between on the way.
Maybe the full-on punk hadn’t emerged yet, but there were hints of rebellion masked as a depth most rappers don’t choose to share. Cudi shared it from the start, making him braver, more honest, and hinting at the punk he’d become. Don’t let the softness of the song below throw you off. It cuts deep, a song about being different and feeling like you don’t belong and no one understands you. A song, in essence, about the very things that make someone a “punk”, already cementing my point.
Not a punk ‘song’ by any means, but written from the viewpoint of someone who very much feels isolated and misunderstood. The seeds had been sewed from day one by and for Kid Cudi.
Under the Thumb of Music Execs
This was the point he moved to a major label and the label guys started doing that thing they do when they fuck with your music because they want it to sound a certain way. They were trying all they could to make him a pop artist and hip hop artist, as displayed by his first single, which, while great, did not sum up the man’s sound at all.
But we can look at it as the moment Kid Cudi was officially put on the map, so it is a moment I am still grateful for. I just know now how much he was holding back. They made him act and perform a certain way but he hungered to let his roots be known. Scott Mescudi was not a man raised on just rap or hip hop or anything that made him feel separate or different. He listened to it all and loved it all. He loved science fiction growing up (kind of obsessed, which explains his Man on the Moon persona) and always loved all kinds of music, from alternative to punk to classic rap to modern Kanye (who he has recorded with, written for, and produced. Don’t judge, Kanye is his own article). But the major labels wanted a very specific sound, so he gave it to them, branching whenever he got the chance. His song for the Fright Night remake began to truly show his darker, punk rock roots a little more:
From the hard, crunching guitars that fill it to the yells and yelps he makes throughout the song, that was when the REAL Cudi was beginning to bleed through. This man had a darker spirit than he was being allowed to show us, and it grew more and more hungry the more it was stifled. By the second album, it was all laid out. Hell, with Mr. Rager he straight up made a rock song and the video features his “punk, dark side” killing his pure self. That, my friends, says it all. He was sick of being the peon and wanted to let his dark side out and let his real emotions win for awhile.
This was it for him. A time to break free.. And he did.
He Went Rogue
It finally hit him that he had the album he wanted to make with producer and good friend Dot Da Genius (Hey, I never said he was humble, but his name fits) but the kicker was, it was going to be an album inspired by white music. I know that sounds very gentrified, but understand, Cudi liked Nirvana and the Pixies and old Blues artists Lead Belly, and he wanted to make an album that reflected that. So instead of making another Cudi record that sounded too different, he took a chance and formed WZRD with Dot and they made an entire album together that is filled with guitar and crunchy Nirvana-esque riffs and screams and pure power.
And wouldn’t you know it, the album places number one on the college and alternative charts when it drops. Number one, dammit!
BUT (and there is always a but to ruin everything) fans were not as kind. Seems they wanted old Cudi even though anyone with ears and commons sense could tell how happy the WZRD record made him. Hell, at one point I was so confused as to why he didn’t tour the support the WZRD album that I tweeted at Dot and asked him why and I saw he sent it to Cudi with no response. Seemed there may have been label dogs keeping Cudi acting a certain way, which is not uncommon in that nasty business. So what does Cudi drop next? Well honestly, he drops….
One of the Greatest Hip Hop Records of all Time
So next, to really mess with those who think they know the direction he was going, he releases a double album (Indicud) that is pretty much the pinnacle of good hip hop post 2010. Every single sound was represented on that album, from West to East coast, from 90’s influenced (Wu-Tang, YO) to stuff that sounds like nothing else out there. It really is a remarkable hip hop record.
But even then, the Indicud record hints at who Cudi wanted to be still:
Yes, featuring Father John Misty well before every neckbeard in America was bragging about this guy’s music like they discovered it. But what was to happen next? How was hip hop Cudi going to bridge WZRD Cudi so they could co-exist?
He had a plan, of course.
Satellite Flight Was the Transition
It was the record Satellite Flight that Kid Cudi best tried to gel both of the musical worlds he had created together into one thing. Being a huge fan who saw and heard the progression the whole time, I adore the album and its wide variety of moods and songs. But again, fans started to rise up say shit like they wanted “The OLD Cudi” back, and to me, people who said that were always insulting the artist in mention. Saying you want the old version of an artist is saying you want an artist who didn’t evolve or hasn’t grown in any way over a decade. Don’t you understand that would be hell to an artist? Is there a bigger insult than that? That would be stagnation, and no artist in their right mind would allow or perpetuate that.
So what happened after Satellite Flight (subtitled Journey to Mother Moon)? Easy. Kid Cudi finally said FUCK IT and made the (double) album Cudi wanted. And this is the key moment he became the last true figure representing punk rock in modern music. Because he straight went punk on every level.
He left his label and stopped caring what others thought. Suddenly, out of nowhere, along comes..
Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven (And it Changes Everything)
Can you imagine the size of balls it takes to drop a double album out of the blue that is pretty much, at times acoustic, and at times punk? Well, that is what Cudi did. He switched over to Kanye West’ label (say what you want about the guy, but he let Kid Cudi make the record CUDI wanted, and that also takes balls) and the end result is easily one of the most raw, real, honest, at times heart breaking and at times inspiring records I have ever heard. Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven.
Would YOU have the balls to release a song this raw and honest:
And on the other extreme, how about releasing a song like THIS:
That song is pure punk and the closest we have come to music like that since Kurt blew his brains out (because of or as a result of his whorish wife). Yet, you know how people reacted to this record, right?
“WAAAAHHHH, Outrage, We Want Cudi To RHYME At Us” Scream the Masses, Cudi Screams Back...F*ck You
To me, those are not fans. A fan would be selfless enough that would want an artist to evolve and explore what feeds the artist creatively. People who whine at bands or artists for changing are not really fans of that artist in the truest sense, to me at least. They are fair weather sheep who want to approach the troth hoping it is full of the same filth they love to gorge themselves on everyday. Kid Cudi got to a point in his life when he no longer wanted to help fill that troth. That, motherfuckers, is pure punk, right down to the soul.
Cudi Is the Last of His Kind
So Cudi did ONE DATE OF THE TOUR and people reacted too harshly he just pulled it and said fuck it. But all of it, everything I just mentioned above, what most people seem to be missing is, it was punk from the start. Everything this guy did, and it finally culminated in a person who still symbolizes what made a whole entire music (and lifestyle) scene be born from. From not giving fucks and doing what YOU want to do, spite what the masses may beg you for.
Keep doing you and the music that feeds your soul, Cudi. The best of us recognize it and see and hear it for what it is. All I need to say about your progression and all you've done is Amen. Ya feel me?
Real recognizes real. We see you, Cudder. We see you and thank you. For amid the music landscape we all have to choose from right now, there is still at least ONE artist staying true to himself, and if you think there is anything more punk than that, you don’t know what punk means.
Remy is the rarest Pokemon of all, and cannot be caught by anyone (even child services). He lives in a velvet cave in the Northeast, and if you say his name three times in a mirror, he appears dressed in assless chaps. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook if you hate yourself enough.