When people ask me why I love Kid Cudi (probably because of the Man on the Moon II silhouette that’s tattooed on my left forearm. Yes, I’m one of those people with a Kid Cudi tattoo), my answer is easy: because Kid Cudi’s music makes me feel less alone.
I was 17 when Cudi released Man on the Moon: The End of Day, the album that pushed the boundaries of hip-hop beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, inspired a generation of budding rappers and Billboard-toppers, and introduced me to the guy I’d spend the next decade shamelessly stanning—and eternally rooting—for. A weed-smoking, fly-dressing, self-proclaimed outcast who chased his dreams from Cleveland to New York, ran with the coolest clique in school (Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music) and poured his insecurities into incredible music; when Scott Mescudi called himself our big brother, I believed it.
I’m now 25, the same age Kid Cudi was when he dropped Man on the Moon. While I don’t need much proof to know that our lives are very different in most other ways, I, too, have found myself struggling with some of the same issues that have plagued Cudi—specifically loneliness, depression, and anxiety. For this reason, his music resonates more deeply with me now than it ever has.
“All Along,” “Ghost!” and “Trapped In My Mind”—the final three songs on his sophomore album Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager—is a heart-wrenching sequence that captures the misery, hopelessness and mind-corrupting claustrophobia of loneliness. “Day N Nite” is way more pertinent in your 20s when the weed multiplies and the friendships wither. As liberating as it was to belt out lyrics like “IIII’ve got some issues that noooobody can see” as a teenager, it’s only in the last few years that these mental health issues have come into focus.
I’m incredibly fortunate to say that I can’t relate to his pain of losing a parent or falling deep into drug addiction, but ironically, loneliness is the bond that’s made me feel closer to Kid Cudi than I have to any other artist.
“My mission statement since day one — and I’m getting so worked up talking about this. All I wanted to do was to help kids not feel alone, and stop kids from committing suicide.
“I’ve dealt with suicide for the past five years; there wasn’t a week or day that didn’t go by where I wasn’t like, ‘You know, I wanna check out.’ I know what that feels like. And I know it comes from loneliness. I know it comes from not having self-worth, not loving yourself.
“Loneliness is a terrible, terrible thing, man. And if you don’t know how to conquer it, it can eat you alive.” — Kid Cudi, The Arsenio Hall Show (2014)
There’s one song in particular that, for me, epitomizes Kid Cudi’s mission. It’s far from one of his biggest hits, and if the critical reception to his 2014 EP Satellite Flight was more favorable, it might still be hiding away on his hard drive. I’m talking about “love.,” a Ratatat-sampling loosie that Cudi released in March 2015, recorded during the making of his aforementioned project. He left a note under the SoundCloud link that read:
“For you. Hope it brings you some peace if you have a lonely heart out there.”
As someone who’s spent many post-MOTM years struggling with loneliness—thanks primarily to Social Anxiety Disorder, which I’ve only recently found the courage to talk about and seek help for—I can assure you it's not as fun as that Selena Gomez song makes it sound.
Loneliness is feeling disconnected from everyone and everything around you while, at the same time, dreading spending time alone knowing you have only yourself—usually your worst self—as company. It’s witnessing moments of happiness and intimacy, and feeling like you don't deserve to have that in your own life. It's a jolt of pain that's either punching you deep in the gut or gnawing away at your soul and self-esteem. Over time, loneliness can be a toxic existence that eradicates your happiness, hopefulness and even physical health.
To outsiders, it may seem like escaping the misery of loneliness is as simple as opening your front door—or easier yet, Tinder. But when it’s entwined with more clinically-recognized conditions like depression and social anxiety, which are both a cause and consequence of being alone (what a wonderful conundrum!), conquering loneliness is much harder than just “manning up” and meeting someone.
Living with Social Anxiety Disorder doesn’t necessarily mean curling up in the fetal position at the thought of leaving the house. In my experience, it’s being overly nervous in even the most trivial of social settings. Being irrationally terrified of “performing” in front of other people, whether that’s public speaking, dating or simply ordering food ("Sorry, we're out of the meatball marinara" *forgets how to speak*). Being plagued by confidence-zapping physiological responses like blushing, trembling and sometimes full-blown panic attacks. Being liable for isolating yourself and “shutting down” for days, even weeks at a time because, well, that's your way of coping with it.
Loneliness is pretty much part and parcel of social anxiety if you allow it to dictate your life.
In his own battle with depression and anxiety, Kid Cudi’s only lifeline—aside from the bullet-to-the-head he fantasized about (and thankfully never followed through with) on “Confused!”—was the most hands-on professional help. In 2016, he wrote a heartbreaking note on Facebook announcing that he was checking himself into rehab for suicidal urges. “My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I cant [sic] make new friends because of it. I dont [sic] trust anyone because of it and Im [sic] tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me?” he wrote.
Though the song was recorded a few years before Cudi reached this worryingly low point, “love.”’s opening verse—simple yet soul-stirring, like most of his best work—is an all-too-familiar reflection of the “pool of emotions” that threatens to drown a lonely, depressed heart. Unlike most lonely songs that nurse a newly-broken heart or alleviate the anguish of unrequited love, “love.” speaks specifically to an empty heart, the kind hollowed out by self-loathing, social anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
The prevailing message of “love.” isn’t to wallow in self-pity, though. Like the soothing reminder on “Ghost!” that “things do come around and make sense eventually,” “love.”’s bottom line is confronting that sadness with strength, slaying those demons and willing your way back to the pursuit of happiness. As his gentle wail grows into an impassioned roar, Cudi’s hook is a necessary reminder that this pain isn’t permanent, that rebirth is possible. Coming from a familiar—better yet, familial—voice like Cudi's, his message carries all the more hope.
I promised myself this wouldn’t be one of those This Song Single-Handedly Changed My Life and Cured My Woes-type pieces—not least a song that has the word “hero” in the hook (sorry, Cudi). But fuck it, because “love.” has helped me when I’ve needed it most. When loneliness—and all the agonizing thoughts that thrive in that tundra—has threatened to eat me alive, “love.” has scooped my sorry behind off rock bottom and given me the strength to fight another day and find another way.
Loneliness is still a daily battle, especially while wrestling with social anxiety. But when I listen to "love." in those lowest moments, it suddenly feels like a fight I can win. Thank you, big bro.