How Kid Cudi Lost and Found Himself in 2016

Kid Cudi had a rough year, but also put out his best music in recent memory.

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Image via Complex Original
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Kid Cudi didn’t get a different 2016 than the rest of us. For him, just like everyone else, it was an exceedingly rough year. He limped in, still hurting from the toxic reception to his fifth album, the rock experiment Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. The album managed only a 44% on Metacritic, and even Complex’s kinder review—written by me—could only go so far as to bill it as “Not As Terrible As Everyone Thinks.” It also stalled out in sales. Moving less than 20,000 units in its first week, it was the first true flop of his career.

Although the grunge rap sound alienated even die-hard fans, it was a necessary project for Cudi. “Speedin’ Bullet was my last outing as the dark, depressing character that people place me as,” he said in an April interview with Billboard. “I needed to get that out of me and that was the only way I could do it.”

Even in the face of commercial failure, he called Speedin’ Bullet "the most important album right now in existence," on Twitter and predicted listeners would see its brilliance in five years. Still, the rejection clearly got to him. “The Speedin’ Bullet response tore me up,” he told Billboard, noting that its poor sales caused him to doubt his fans. “It makes you question yourself. As an artist, I’m always questioning myself. But this was the first time that I questioned my fan base and if I even have one at all. Who are these people?” he wondered.

Luckily for Cudi, a reconciliation with his semi-estranged mentor Kanye West helped him gain back some fan appreciation. His February appearance on The Life of Pablo song “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” was lauded as one of the album’s best moments. It peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting the third highest chart position of Cudi’s career behind “Day N Night” and “Erase Me.”

His energy and output remained positive going through the summer, with the quietly released singles “All In” and “The Frequency,” and the announcement of the impending release of his new album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. Cudi even managed to get some credibility behind Speedin’ Bullet with a strong cosign from André 3000. “[It’s] the best thing to come out in a long time,” 3000 said in a February interview with the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show. He’s featured twice on Cudi’s new album.

Then, right when things seemed to be going great for Cudi, more trouble appeared. On September 14, the rapper went on a very unexpected Twitter rant, in which he railed against the fakeness of the music industry. He took aim at Kanye West and Drake for not supporting him and “having 30 people write songs for them.” Kanye addressed the matter onstage during his Saint Pablo tour, telling Cudi “I birthed you.” It wasn’t career-ending, but it seemed odd after he had just publicly reconciled with Kanye and seemed to be in a better place.

As we would soon find out, there was a lot more going on. In October, after delaying the release of his album due to “sample clearance issues,” Cudi posted a lengthy, emotional note on Facebook revealing that he would be checking into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. “I am not at peace. I haven’t been since you’ve known me,” he wrote before apologizing to fans for feeling like he let them down. His bravery and vulnerability prompted widespread coverage, and an outpouring of love from the music community.

At the next stop of the Saint Pablo tour, Kanye called for Kid Cudi to get better, and instructed the audience to sing along with Cudi’s “Father Stretch My Hands” hook. Drake, in a poorly-timed response to the controversy, hit him with the cringe-worthy line “You need to Cud it.”

While the breakdown and time in rehab were a clear reflection of a troubled emotional state, Cudi’s musical output remained unaffected. Travis Scott dropped their long-awaited collaboration “Through the Late Night” in early September, on his album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, and another Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’ single, the Pharrell-assisted “Surfin’,” came out at the end of the same month. “Father Stretch My Hands” aside, they were his two strongest tracks of the year—and in recent memory. He came out of rehab for a moving performance at ComplexCon in November, and fed fans again with his second Travis collaboration “Baptized in Fire.” The rapper had found his footing again.

All of this brings us to today, just hours shy of his album release. It hasn’t been the easiest year for Cudi, but even as he struggled personally, his musical output has grown stronger. He’s currently looking at his strongest buzz since at least Indicud. Kid Cudi managed to overcome a toxic album reception and began to address long-simmering mental health issues to find himself at perhaps the most pivotal moment of his career. What happens next is up to him.

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