Over Kid Cudi
In 2008, hip-hop was experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. The hyper-masculine bravado of the G-Unit era had run its course, and the genre's two top sellers, Lil' Wayne and Kanye West, decided that they didn't want to make hip-hop any longer. Wayne indulged his inner rawk star, channeling every half-baked rap-rock group you'd hoped the '90s swallowed hole, while West looked to Cleveland, where he found Kid Cudi, a producer/emcee who wore his hipster hip-hop pedigree on his sleeve. Cudi's breakthrough single, "Day 'n' Nite," tracks the travels of a "lonely stoner" over production that mixes 808 thump with whirring ambient atmospherics. His acclaimed 2008 mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, meanwhile, samples Band of Horses, Ratatat and Nosaj Thing, among others. Throughout the mixtape, Cudi deals with themes of cultural disassociation and isolation, as well as heartbreak and emotional vulnerability. And while that may sound drab and serious, Cudi adds enough levity via his quirky gadget and gear obsession that the mix never feels emotionally indulgent. For many fans, Cudi is simply making honest music that resonates with his largely middle-class fan base. In 2009, Kid Cudi delivered on that early promise with his hit debut, Man on the Moon: End of Day, which yielded another hit in "Pursuit of Happiness." The next year, he issued Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager.