Can you keep a secret? Can you? Are you sure? Okay. The biggest and highest profile artists have collaborators. I know. It’s a shocking revelation right? Beyoncé’s Lemonade had 16 credited producers and at least twice as many songwriters. T-Swizzle’s 1989 tops out at 10 producers. Kendrick Lamar, whose realness no one would question, had 20 producers shaping To Pimp a Butterfly into a nearly inscrutable masterpiece. Drake’s Views claims 30 production people. Ditto for Kanye West’s probably still changing The Life of Pablo. Scores of songwriters on pop albums aren’t the exception. They’re the rule. They are legion.
But Kid Cudi, who helped write two TLOP tracks (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Waves”), only appears to object to those last two dudes. Cudi, whose peak relevance was around Man on the Moon II or that long defunct HBO show whose name I don’t care to Google, took to Twitter this week to excoriate both Drake and Mr. West for their apparent fakeness. “I need yall to know I got so many haters within the industry and these clowns know Im bout to crush their entire existance,” Cudi began. “Everyone thinks they’re soooo great. Talkin top 5 and be having 30 people write songs for them.” Then he got specific, “My tweets apply to who they apply. Ye, Drake, whoever. These n***** dont give a fuck about me. And they ain’t fuckin with me.” He also shouted out A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott, just to prove that he’s a chill dude with a lot of love to give: “All my youngins out here reppin, Asap Rocky and the whole ASAP family, Travis Scott, SuperDuper Kyle, Audio Push, Hit Boy, etc, I see yall.”
Isn’t that nice? What a touching shoutout amidst a whole lot of venting. Except, A$AP’s 2015 record At. Long. Last. A$AP. had 27 producers on it, including Mr. West. So what exactly is burning Cudi’s biscuit then? Is it residual complaining from Mr. Rager’s G.O.O.D. Music split? That’s entirely possible because the dissolution wasn’t exactly low-key. As documented in this excellent Ringer piece and elsewhere, Kanye doesn’t have the best record with managing talent. So Cudi continuing to bitch about it would be understandable, but he worked on a Kanye record since then. What about Drake? Last I can recall, Drizzy was giddily popping bottles in the video for “Pursuit of Happiness.”
So what gives? Where’s the beef? The beef is effectively about using large-scale production/writing teams, and the beef is rancid, fetid beef. We’ve been doing this with Drake for more than a year now. “HOW DARE HE USE “GHOSTWRITERS!!!” was the common rallying cry, as though ghostwriting in rap was only a Canadian affectation. The Kanye part of the equation has dogged him for years (and is the subject of too many stupid memes to count). It’s an unoriginal bit of criticism and one that needs to be killed.
Brian Wilson had enough session musicians on Pet Sounds to fill a dive bar with and he took shit for that in segments of the contemporary press. “Brian Wilson with the Beach Boys” was how some critics decided to position the record. Pink Floyd have 25 additional musician credits on The Wall. What, they couldn’t have done all that on their own? Did they really need to bring in a conga player? Surely Nick Mason could’ve added that to his percussive repertoire. Hell, Elvis didn’t write all of his own songs and neither did Frank Sinatra. They had help too. And there’s nothing wrong with that. An artist can’t always achieve everything they envision on their own. Even the greatest among us have limitations, or recognize when assistance is needed.
I think it’s that last part that irks gatekeepers such as Cudi. It’s an extension of the “rugged individualism” notion posited by Herbert Hoover during his time in office. Each individual should be able help themselves out, no outside involvement is needed. Lot of good that did in mitigating the devastation of the Great Depression. Still plenty of people buy into the idea. They honestly believe asking for any help is an admission of weakness, or wackness in the case of this argument. I do believe Cudders views Drake and ‘Ye differently because they have entire teams. He believes they’re lesser based on the greater number of credits their albums contain.
He shouldn’t. If anything Cudi, and anyone of his ilk, should tip a cap to Drake and Mr. West and Swift and RiRi and Queen Bey. Gathering so many diverse talents under one umbrella and getting it to sound like you is no small accomplishment. When you hear Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, you know that Kanye didn’t do all of this himself. But you also acknowledge that “this sounds like no one but Kanye.” We praise coaches and CEOs and conductors for getting everyone on the same page. Why can’t we do the same for artists?
[Note: The order of tweets presented above is not in the exact order as Cudi tweeted. The tweet about A$AP and company came before he “ethered” Drake and Kanye. Still, Cudi’s overall points are in no way diluted.]