The Unlikely Gothic: Kid Cudi’s “Ghost!”

by Olivia Howe

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a party or social gathering without hearing a song by Kid Cudi. Whether it’s his 2009 song “Pursuit of Happiness” or his 2010 “Mr. Rager,” I’ve been hearing his music since early high school. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I decided to venture beyond his mainstream collection and take a listen to the rest of his discography.

Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi, more commonly known by his stage name Kid Cudi, popularly releases music in what google describes as an “alternative hip-hop rock neo-psychedelia trip hop category”… A much simpler way to put it might be hip-hop/rap, but I suppose music is dynamic and cannot (or rather should not) be limited to specific genre conventions.

With that being said, after listening to nearly all of his songs, I believe Cudi truly does deserve a greater degree of recognition for his ability to transform a plethora of complex emotions and topics into enjoyable music.

In his 2010 album Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, Cudi chose to transcend his previous album’s club-like quality by exploring a more eerie (and almost supernatural) type of feeling in each song. It relies on dark and emotional lyrics that touch on themes of depression, isolation, and detachment – a rather gothic aesthetic. It is said to be the vehicle through which he chose to explore his past with addiction and alcoholism that led to conflicts within his familial and personal relationships.

While the whole album could be dissected as an example of a modern Gothic text, one song stood out to me in particular. Sitting at number sixteen out of eighteen, Cudi’s “Ghost!” reads much like a confession performed by a lonely individual.

The song begins with him stating his legal name, giving the impression that what follows will be about his genuine self and not his alter egos like Kid Cudi or Mr. Rager. The first verse then begins with an act of realization. He seems to be evaluating his life as an addict and where that led him:

Gotta get it through my thick head

I was so close to being dead, yeah

Life, live it, with nobody’s help tips

Man, I’m just walking without being led

At the end of the same verse, he similarly reaches an ultimatum – life has an end, and he seems to be transitioning into a liminal space:

The beginning is always followed by an end

In the in-between time I/m not runnin’ or hidin’

In the pre-chorus, Cudi is in a state of reflection. He understands that even after recognizing our past mistakes and coming to terms with the idea that everything will work out in the end, some of those experiences still come back to haunt us, like a ghost:

See things do come around

And make sense eventually

Things do come around

But some things still trouble me

Perhaps the most obvious Gothic connection can be found in the chorus when he finally identifies and questions his existence as a ghost. With the folklore notion of ghost being understood as someone who is unseen or unknown, Cudi is expressing his isolation. His mind, much like a ghost, is scary, sad, and unseen:

But I wanna know one thing

When did I become a ghost?

Im so confused about the world I live in

You think that I’m lonely, well I probably am

Throughout the entire song, Cudi seems to be becoming more and more aware of his inability to remedy the past. As a result, he feels misguided and misunderstood – something he has had to come to terms with:

Tried to fight it, but soon that gave in

Went down a road with no lights on

Cant describe it, and you don’t move like them

You become their worst nightmare

Despite drawing an unlikely comparison to the Gothic, Cudi’s song contains many of the elements necessary to be categorized as such. With themes of depression, loneliness, detachment, and isolation, “Ghost!” can effectively be read as a Gothic text. It reminds me much of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Spirits of the Dead” in which Poe illustrates a transitional space between life and death. It is here that individuals investigate the mystery of death and reflect on their memories before departing from one realm to the next. Much like the soul described in Poe’s text, Cudi seems to be occupying (or perhaps is trapped within) this liminal zone.

Morbidity aside, I truly enjoy Cudi’s song. It may not be played at any party I go to, but it deserves no less appreciation. The students in this American Gothic course would hopefully agree due to our advantage of recognizing such beautifully unsettling texts and themes.

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One Response to The Unlikely Gothic: Kid Cudi’s “Ghost!”

  1. Brandon Eichelberg says:

    Hey Oliva,
    Great post! I really like your in-depth analysis of the lyrics. After reading your piece, I decided to look up the song on Spotify to reacquaint myself with it. I also went ahead and read the lyrics at the same time to see what other Gothic elements I might be able to point out. First, what really struck me was the tempo. It’s at once upbeat yet also seemingly regressing, making the song even more uneasy and therefore more Gothic. I think this auditorial element ties into your discussion on the song’s genre. The fact that the genre isn’t clear contributes further to its Gothicism – because what’s creepier than something you lack terms to explain?
    The sound and flow of the song further intrigued me because of the stark change near the end. While most of the song plays on a sort of eerie-hip-hop loop, near the end, as the song reaches a climax, it swiftly and starkly changes to a piano-led outro of sorts. This change not only takes the audience away from comfortability they’ve developed throughout their listening but also offers something calming and even sad.
    Furthermore, if we rewind a bit, to about 1:25, we will hear Cudi singing the chorus, though there’s an echo of his voice behind his own. This eerie sound fits the vibe of the song and connects to your discussion on his alter egos. It makes one wonder, who is the lead voice – Kid Cudi, Mr. Rager, or Scott Mescudi? And who’s the echo? Who’s left out? I think this would be an interesting study or perhaps even something further to look into to expand your post… if you desire to.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your post, you gave a great analysis of the lyrics and tied them well to our course.

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