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The Depressed Bromance Between Kanye and Kid Cudi

As December rolls by at the accelerated pace so typical of the holiday season, music lovers — especially Kanye and Kid Cudi fanboys — are wondering about a certain date that was mentioned earlier this summer. In particular, while visiting the musicians at legendary visual artist Takashi Murakami’s studio in Japan last August, the director Coodie posted a photo with Kanye, Cudi and Murakami with the caption “Coming December 31!”

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The #EverybodyWins hashtag feels especially appropriate after Cudi and Kanye’s viral disagreement last year, when Cudi made statements on stage about Kanye “not giving a fuck about him,” to which Kanye responded, among other things, “Kid Cudi, don’t ever mention ‘Ye name. I birthed you.”

He’s not necessarily wrong. Cudi got a lot of attention for his contributions to Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak in 2008, the same year he put out his first solo project A Kid Named Cudi, and he was signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music label. Some of their most popular hits together are “All of the Lights” and “Gorgeous” off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and of course, their early song with Lady Gaga, “Make Her Say (I Poke Her Face).” In those early 808s days, Kanye also brought Cudi to sing hooks on his beats for Jay Z’s The Blueprint 3, a dream come true for a young Cudi, who had once checked Kanye out after a shopping trip at the BAPE store in New York.

It’s this history that made their public disagreements last year sad for their fans, which was only compounded by their increasingly visible struggles with mental health. Happily, things between them quickly cooled off and Kanye called Cudi “the most influential artist of the last 10 years,” a big statement from a guy pretty certain about his own cultural significance. Then, right after Cudi was released from rehab for his depression and suicidal urges last year, he joined Kanye on stage during a performance at ComplexCon and his Saint Pablo Tour. Later that month, though, Kanye had to cancel the remainder of the tour after ending a Sacramento concert abruptly and being hospitalized for his own mental health issues. Finally, after spending an entire year off stage, Kanye joined Cudi on stage during his Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin Tour last month to perform “Father Stretch My Hands,” making for a poignant reunion.

So there is no telling what exactly #EverybodyWins means: A fully collaborative album a la Watch the Throne? The Cudi solo album G.O.O.D music artist CyHi the Prynce confirmed Kanye is producing in its entirety? A new Kanye solo album?

Whatever it is, we might be just a few weeks away from l the “surprise” drop. Until then, we asked a few big fans and cultural critics to reflect on Kanye and Cudi’s iconic, depressed bromance and what they want from #EverybodyWins.

Ruth Gebreyesus, Writer for ‘The Fader’ and ‘East Bay Express’

Kanye’s been open about Cudi’s transformative influence on his work starting with 808s & Heartbreak. That album’s stark vocals and electric production paired with introspective lyrics were directly shaped by Cudi’s debut mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, which was released earlier that year. Cudi also was such a huge player in Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music label peak. That era gave us Cudi’s most memorable solo albums as well as G.O.O.D. Fridays, and in my opinion, their best collaborations — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “Gorgeous” and “All of the Lights.”

Part of the reason their fallout was tough to witness and their reconciliation so heartwarming is that their brotherhood was a more equal one than Kanye and Jay Z’s hierarchic one, which often dipped into full-on rivalry. Kanye and Cudi felt like true peers and sonic soulmates who supported each other’s musical risks and tangents.

You can point to any number of rappers today — from Drake to Chance the Rapper to Travis Scott — and find the duo’s influence. What would be most exciting is if their next era as collaborators could be shaped the commitment to the mental well-being they’ve both made. Both artists have used their music as catharsis so they might very well breach the topic of mental health. If so, it would be to a fan base that’s more well-versed in that issue than ever before.

Bryan Johnson, Film Student and Hardcore Kid Cudi Fan with A ‘Heart of A Lion’ Tattoo Across His Chest

Neither Kanye nor Kid Cudi is afraid to talk about their personal lives and struggles with depression, especially Kid Cudi. That’s the main reason he’s my favorite artist. He showed me that other black boys get depressed, too. That’s such a major issue, but it doesn’t always get talked about in our community. That’s why I know Kid Cudi has saved some people’s lives with his music.

Zaron Burnett, ‘Playboy,’ ‘Teen Vogue’ and ‘MEL’ Contributor

Here are two outsized black men, influential artists and legendary voices in hip-hop who have beefed hard but who have forgiven one another. Men who’ve both publicly suffered mental health breakdowns and have relied on each other for support and reintroduction to the world. We expect artists to be weather vanes — to show us which way the wind blows. The state of black men in America is the weather these two artists report. To be a black man in America is to live in a maelstrom. Their public battles with mental illness are equally important to their abilities to battle and dominate the rap game.

If Kanye and Cudi drop an album that documents their process of healing and recovery — if they can travel into the darkness of their traumatized souls and come back with music that guides and inspires others to take similar journeys — it’ll be one of the greatest musical gifts black men will have given other black men. This isn’t to place a premium on the suffering of black men or to center them before black women and femmes. But, without victim-blaming, the cycles of psychic and emotional violence that chew up American black men often result in black women and femmes being traumatized in that same cycle. To heal black men is to help heal and make safer the entire black community.

Presently, there are emcees, like Drake, Future and Jay Z, who have spoken up about their struggles with mental health and their experiences with therapy. I have a feeling, though, that Kanye and Cudi will take it further, deeper and higher than we’ve seen. Knowing them as artists, one presumes they will make it a spiritual journey of redemption and salvation. And as brothers, they can speak to the needs of black men to get past anger and ego — to the point that they grow strong enough to love and heal each other and themselves.

We need this blueprint.

In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the opening essay of his book The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. Du Bois speaks directly to this crisis of black men in America. He writes, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost.”

This could be a music writer’s introduction to a Kanye album. That same writer could go further and point out the parallels of Du Bois and Kanye’s bars from Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1, which featured Cudi. On that track, Ye rhymed:

Now if I fuck this model
And she just bleached her asshole
And I get bleach on my t-shirt
Imma feel like an asshole.

And as Du Bois said of black men:

“He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

Sounds like Du Bois is talking about Kanye, doesn’t it?

He also could be speaking about Cudi.

In this charged moment in the culture, these two men could push forward an understanding of the suffering of black men, one as profound as Du Bois’, and turn it into not only a transformative conversation about the importance of black mental health, but also create one of the best albums of 2017.

You could say I’m eager, but that would be an understatement.

Jamaal Abel Harrison, Host of the Music Podcast Kenforce

After Kanye’s work with Cudi, he started expressing his pain in a more vivid way. He went from expressing those feelings with wit and wordplay to creating entirely engulfing, emotional moods in his music. This is when he really started using autotune to croon his emotions out. Kid Cudi was doing this before Kanye, but once he did it, most of hip-hop followed along. Every artist from Lil Wayne to Future to Travis Scott has been influenced by this style.

All together, they’re responsible for so much of modern hip-hop. Kanye was the first to make a non-gangster rapper successful in the mainstream. Cudi made depression mainstream with “Day ’n’ Night,” and with 808s & Heartbreak, it was all harmony hip-hop. I don’t think these guys can ever leave any more of an impact on music as they already have, but I still pay attention to everything they do out of sheer respect.

Tarik Jackson, Producer of and Bartender on ‘MEL’s Facebook Live Series

I think when Cudi came into the fold, he had the skill to do things that Kanye was dreaming about. Kanye had the platform and the experience to compose the right sound for that style of music, but Cudi’s voice and creativity was so raw and precise. Kanye had never achieved that level of performance. Most melodic rap today bites what Cudi’s already done. He’s the best at it. Most rappers can’t sing, but Cudi has an old man’s soul voice. If this were the 1950s, Cudi would be a blues artist.

But Cudi’s also struggled. He’s kinda one foot in music, one foot into retirement always. I don’t think he likes the business part of making music. And, of course, there’s his depression. Sometimes I feel like Cudi is one breakdown away from singing outside the Hollywood and Highland train station.

I’d love some depression and anxiety talk from Ye and Cudi because that’s exactly what Ye needs to talk about. He’s never really talked about it, but I bet when he does, he will create his next classic. Similar to Jay Z’s vulnerability on 4:44, where we heard him get personal about his life and marriage. That was a fresh addition to a career mostly full of braggadocio and gangster stories. Although I loved Life of Pablo, there was no real message and the album lacked content. They are great tracks, but they didn’t feel emotional or important.