Kid Cudi burst onto the scene when he helped craft Kanye West‘s genre-shifting 808s & Heartbreak album back in 2008. Since then, their special (and sometimes fraught) creative relationship has survived a number of highs and lows. On Friday (June 8), the duo added a new chapter to that legacy with their highly anticipated Kids See Ghosts joint album, the third installment of G.O.O.D. Music’s summer domination that has already seen solo releases from Pusha-T and West.
Cleveland native Cudi has long been considered one of of the most influential artists of the past decade — West even said it himself while during a stop on his 2016 Saint Pablo Tour. Shortly after the release of 808s, Yeezy told Complex, “Me and Cudi are the originators of the style, kinda like what Alexander McQueen is to fashion, everything else is just Zara and H&M.”
Across six solo albums, Cudder provided a therapeutic soundtrack to the lives of kids who grew up internalizing and suppressing their emotions. Fans saw him as a hero who was open about his own struggles with mental health and encouraged others to ask for help and seek treatment. Prior to the turn of the decade, it wasn’t common for rappers to get real about depression and drug abuse in their rhymes.
As the Kids See Ghosts project brings Cudi back to the forefront of hip-hop, Billboard ranked the 10 best Kid Cudi songs of all-time.
10. “By Design” Feat. Andre 3000
The Pharrell-produced track was the first of two epic collaborations between Cudi and 3 Stacks on Cudi’s 2016 album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. (Andre 3000 later appeared on deep album cut “The Guide.”) In the past, the ATLien had been highly complimentary of Cudi’s artistry, and the song was a clear favorite of Cudi’s as well: Hours after Passion‘s release, Mr. Solo Dolo posted an Instagram video of himself proudly jamming to the track.
Short for “Revolution of Evolution,” “REVOFEV” was the second single off of Cudi’s sophomore album, 2010’s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, and was co-produced by Kanye West associates Mike Dean and former manager Plain Pat. The song finds Cudder serving as a big brother figure to listeners, warning them about the struggles that are to come in life.
Cudi remixed Vampire Weekend‘s “Ottoman” for the opening track on his 2010 Cudder Is Back mixtape. Following his mainstream success, the 34-year-old made an effort to cater to his core fanbase — which meant talking about some of his favorite loves: Bape t-shirts, Converse, and marijuana. He also promises to never turn on his fans, no matter how many targets are on his back due to his fame.
7. “Up Up & Away”
“When I heard the beat, I was like ‘This is my credit roller,'” Cudi told Generations about the inspirational track, produced by Free SChool. “Like ‘This has to be, like, the last scene on the album.’ You know what I mean? It’s just like, concludes everything, it’s happy, it’s uplifting, and it just brings such a great energy out. It’s the ‘Wake and Bake’ song.”
There’s beauty in the pain of “Ghost!,” which begins the concluding act of Man on the Moon II, samples The Freak Scene’s “My Rainbow Life,” and features co-production from the legendary No I.D. Kid Cudi makes use of his usual tuneful humming as he describes going through life’s trials and tribulations and becoming desensitized to the harrowing journey. “One thing that still gets me, when did I become a ghost?,” he asks on the track’s hook.
5. “Man On the Moon”
Cudi originally recorded “Man On the Moon” back in 2008 and planted the soothing song on his mixtape A Kid Named Cudi. After picking up serious steam, Scott included the fan-favorite as a bonus track on his debut album the following year. Here, he talks about feeling misunderstood in life over acoustic guitars. “I guess if I was boring they would love me more/ Guess if I was simple in the mind/ Everything would be fine,” he rhymes.
4. “Soundtrack 2 My Life”
A staple in the Kid Cudi discography, “Soundtrack 2 My Life” was at the heart of his debut album, which he crafted to help deal with his inner-demons and heartache following the death of his father when he was just 11-years-old. Cudder touched on the now-platinum song’s inspiration to DJBooth back in 2009: “I wrote that song from an ignorant standpoint. I wanted to have ignorance be the undertone of the whole song. And it is really to show what one thinks when his back is up against the wall.”
3. “Cudi Zone”
The futuristic “Cudi Zone” oozes with outer-space vibes. In the past, Cudi admitted that the song almost never came to fruition because he couldn’t come up with a second verse, leaving the track unfinished for nearly a year. “I just had the first verse for a long time,” he said in an interview with Generations. “And, I was so intimidated by it, cause you know it’s kinda long. I was like, ‘Man, this verse is so dope. If I write another verse it has to be the same length, and, I don’t know if I can top that verse ‘cause it was so good.’ Definitely one of the best raps, like, verses I’ve ever written.”
2. “Pursuit of Happiness”
The third single from Cudi’s debut album peaked at No. 59 back in on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of 2009 and served as an anthem for young partygoers across the nation at the turn of the decade. Famed house DJ Steve Aoki unleashed a remix in 2009 that later appeared in the 2012 movie Project X.
1. “Day ‘N’ Nite”
Kid Cudi’s debut single is still his most commercially successful work to date. “Day ‘N’ Nite” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 during May of 2009. In the song, which Cudder produced alongside his WZRD compatriot Dot Da Genius, explains the regret he felt about his fractured relationship with his late uncle, whom he used to live with in Brooklyn and who passed away in 2006.
“My uncle that I lived with passed in 2006. We were actually beefing because he forced me out the house when I didn’t have another situation set up, so I was bitter,” Cudi told Complex. “I never apologized for it, and that kills me. That’s why I wrote ‘Day ’N’ Nite.’”