Kid Cudi Was 2009’s Elliott Smith

If you were a boy in high school around the time Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon: The End of Day” studio album was released, odds are you had at least heard of it. Through conversations with my friends and strangers, “Man On The Moon” can be considered one of the best and most revered albums of my generation, for the same reason so many people liked Elliott Smith.

For those of you who don’t know, Kid Cudi is a rapper from Cleveland, Ohio who specialized in the budding genre of alt-hip-hop and trip-hop, music characterized by minor-key melodies with a psychedelic lilt. In 2008 Kanye West signed Cudi onto the GOOD Music record label, through which Kid Cudi created the album “Man On The Moon.”

Man On The Moon: The End of Day album cover.

The album is thick with synth, guitar, and electronic sounds underneath Cudi’s deep and resonant singing voice. Unlike other rappers, Cudi opts to sing-rap many of his verses, similar to the style that artists like Future and Young Thug have adapted. One of the most prominent singles from the album, “Day & Night”, is sung and rapped over sci-fi-like beeps and boops, immediately announcing Cudi’s style and normalizing the genre.

“Day & Night” is a song about being a “lonely stoner”. The speaker is a loser. He stresses out about nothing, he isn’t very popular, and he opts to be “Mr. Solo Dolo,” a character who wanders through life a little bit stoned, in both daytime and nighttime. This somber tone permeates a lot of Cudi’s music. Some speculate that the sadness comes from the death of his father when Cudi was eleven years old, but it’s hard to say for sure. Through the rest of the album, we hear slow, introspective songs that explore the speaker’s pain and loneliness through the powerful and adrenaline-inducing lens of hip-hop.

The album received three Grammy-Award nominations, and was considered by critics to be the best and most innovative album of the year. When I bring up the album in conversation today, people (many of them men) around my age will have their eyes glaze over as they remember how great it was to listen to that album in their adolescence. There are many reasons why I love the album, but I think a huge part of why the album succeeded and still is remembered with almost religious reverence is because it made sadness an acceptable and low-key “cool” emotion for young men to feel.

While Elliott Smith had previously been the favorite “sad-boy” pied-piper*, Kid Cudi filled the spot for a new generation of kids raised on hip hop and rock. Not only did Kid Cudi merge the two genres, but he also catered to both audiences of boys and their cusping manhood who suddenly saw for the first time that rappers can wear sadness in an acceptable way. I clutched to Kid Cudi for this. “Man On The Moon” was the soundtrack to my own high-school loneliness. It made me feel like I was in cool company even if I felt like shit.


Unlike like “Creep” by Radiohead, which feels masturbatory in its self-pity, Kid Cudi made it feel possible to still have a good time while being a misfit. Songs like “Make Her Say” and “Pursuit Of Happiness” are cool to listen to. The music creates power in sadness rather than digging deeper into the hole of misery.

It is my opinion that “Man On The Moon” was the peak of Kid Cudi’s career. His albums afterward failed to produce anything innovative or listenable, and so I fell out of touch with the artist. But last night I was chatting with friends and I decided that if I could go back in time and see any musician perform any tour, I would see Kid Cudi’s “Man On The Moon” Tour, because of how much that album opened up my emotional life, and for how it influenced my hip hop taste from then onward.

* I only learned about Elliott Smith after encountering a reference in “Rick & Morty” SE2 EP7 “Big Trouble In Little Sanchez”, in which Tiny Rick is brought to his senses by an Elliott Smith song. My girlfriend laughed and told me “Yeah, I remember every high-school sad-boy loved Elliott Smith”, a statement which got me thinking about sad-boys in general.

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