Kid Cudi is trying to start a culture war. But does the lonely stoner have enough ammo to dethrone the two most famous rappers in the world?
Cudder let off a string of tweets Wednesday calling out his former mentor and collaborator Kanye West, as well as his longtime peer and former pal Drake, for betraying Hip Hop’s most sacred tenant: Keep it real.
According to Cudi’s standard of authenticity, Yeezy and Drizzy have violated a number of creative codes, the biggest being taking credit for other artists’ work. In the eyes of Cudi and many other Hip Hop purists, last summer’s revelation that Drake enlists unknown writers to help pen his bars disqualifies him from any discussions among the all-time great MCs. Kanye has also been taken to task at many points in his career for tapping skilled lyricists like Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco, Cyhi The Prince and Consequence to help write some of his biggest tracks.
The practice of performing someone else’s lyrics is common in most other genres of music. Throughout Hip Hop’s nearly 40-year history, ghostwriting and co-writing have produced seminal records including “Rapper’s Delight,” “The Chronic” and West’s 2010 masterpiece “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” But even though Drake and Kanye usually credit their collaborators in their liner notes (making the term “ghostwriter” inaccurate), it still rubs many fans and artists — including Cudi — the wrong way to hear Kanye or Drake boast about being the best when we don’t even know if they authored their bars themselves.
But Cudi’s beef is deeper than ghostwriting.
When Meek Mills’ Twitter fingers exposed Drake last summer, most fans agreed that Drake and Kanye were more pop stars than MCs anyway. They are competing with Beyoncé, Rihanna and Taylor Swift more than Jay Z and Nas, so to hold them to the standard of the last generations’ greats was pointless. Plus, it’s not like they couldn’t write on their own. They were just pooling their resources to write the best songs possible; It’s the same creative process that made Motown and Bad Boy bonafide hit factories in their heydays.
But Cudi’s tweetstorm isn’t just about music. It’s about every dimension of the culture, which he believes he represents truer than anyone else, and which he feels Kanye and Drake have slyly co-opted to remain relevant.
What Cudi really wants is his just due for pioneering the skinny-jeans-clad emo-rap that was once considered “weird,” but is now the flavor-of-the-day. But history rarely remembers the truest trailblazers, and as his relevance wanes, Cudi seems to be plotting a coup that will reclaim the credit he feels he’s owed for his years of influence.
Four days before he tweeted that “the days of the fuckery are over,” Cudi posted a screenshot of a book he was reading. The page he shared was titled “When Collaboration Kills Creativity,” and in retrospect appears to be a subliminal shot at the collaborative approach to production that Kanye and Drake have ridden to the top of the charts.
But if Wednesday’s ambush wasn’t spur of the moment, it means Cudi has been harboring these feelings for some time now. They may even date back to February when he and Kanye celebrated the release of “The Life Of Pablo” together at Madison Square Garden.
So is Cudi really at war with the “groupthink’ model of production that thrives in most creative fields? Or is he just bitter that he’s no longer as relevant or influential as the two artists he so obviously impacted? Many consider “808’s & Heartbreak” to be the project that created a lane for Drake’s Hip-Pop hybrid sound. And it’s no coincidence that Cudi was Kanye’s primary collaborator and muse during the making of 808’s. So what is Cudi really made about? Kanye says it’s Drake. Drake says it’s the weed.
Drake clearly didn’t care enough about Cudi’s shot to pay a writer to pen a better response than “you need to Cudi-it,” but Kanye was clearly hurt by Cudi’s words and struck back while performing in Tampa, Florida.
“Kid Cudi, don’t ever mention ‘Ye name… I birthed you.” – Kanye West
Ye’s rebuttal continued, “We all dealing with that emo shit all the time. Don’t ever mention ‘Ye name. Don’t try to say who I can do songs with… You mad ’cause I’m doing songs with Drake. Ain’t nobody telling ‘Ye who to do songs with. Respect the God!”
Just as Cudi is justified in feeling bitter, Kanye has every right to feel disrespected. Long before Cudi squeezed into his first pair of skinny jeans, Kanye was challenging the boundaries of Hip Hop and Pop’s old guard with his musical, political and fashion choices.
Ye’s also never hidden the fact that he leans heavily on both his mentors and his signees in the studio. His groupthink approach has brought fans over ten years of classic material and helped launch the careers of countless artists, from Big Sean, to Travis Scott, to Desiigner. And you can’t say Kanye didn’t earn the right, either. He spent years ghost-producing and lacing established artists with his best ideas in hopes of getting his own shot on the mic.
So when an ex-G.O.O.D. Music soldier fires back at his captain, is it really about protecting the culture? Or is he simply tired of not getting enough credit for himself?
As Hip Hop matures, some of its most sacred rules have become antiquated. Selling out was once a no-no, but Jay Z has re-written the rules to make leveraging corporate partnerships en vogue. And between Young Thug’s dresses and Drake’s suburban upbringing, this looks nothing like the culture that sprung from park jams in the South Bronx. But that’s because cultures, like the people who compose them, evolve. While Cudi appears justified in defending such a cardinal law of Hip Hop, he’s breaking a golden rule to do so: Respect the architects.
Cudi, Kanye is your OG. You must respect him as such. You participated in his writing camps and benefited from his co-sign for all these years, so it’s a little late to get creatively righteousness. Hip Hop needs anarchists and originators, but not everyone can be “The Chosen One.” It’s not about the credit, it’s about the culture. And no one man can claim to embody the many dimensions of Hip Hop by himself. Even if we expect him to write his rhymes on his own.