Fame’s adverse affects on rising celebs is well-documented, but on his new album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, Kid Cudi’s the one doing the reporting.
Over 17 tracks, the Cleveland-born emcee spits about his ascension, addiction and trials in a raw, sometimes awkwardly personal, way. Since his debut, he’s gone from behind-the-scenes influence, most notably on Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak, to successful solo machine, riding the rollercoaster of stardom.
There was his run-in’s with fans and law enforcement. His interview beef and shots at rapper Wale, and of course the proverbial, early retirement talk. In that same breath, his becoming a father and admitting that’s his motivation to address his struggles with addiction.
Drugs and addiction are always an interesting backdrop to music. It’s role as a muse in music is surely as old as music itself but it’s striking how differently some handle it.
Even in the case of something like marijuana, that’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek, de facto part of hip hop. Some make odes to it’s playful potency, while Cudi chose to explore it’s dark paths in a way that don’t make Snoop records seem so fun.
The fascinating thing about Cudi’s music is it’s emotional honesty.
You have a front row seat to see his wheels spinning, often times coming up with answers that reflect either his frustration and immaturity or between it all, the silver lining that keeps him driven.
Man on the Moon II largely picks up where the first album left off. Dropping the concept of his life being a dream in favor of a dark look into his twisted reality.
“Act I: The World I Am Ruling” begins with “Scott Mescudi vs. the World” and sets the tone for the entire record. Lyrics about ending it all are only enhanced by Cee-Lo’s dope but eerie crooning about meeting you on the other side in the hook. Within the despair, there’s flashes of a guy who still wants to rap about Dior denim and fresh haircuts.
“REVOFEV” is somber but upbeat, with Cudi doing his best Bob Marley routine over a No I.D. and Plain Pat beat, before going right back into Act II and his original malaise in “Don’t Play This Song.”
Mary J. Blige takes a backseat to his explanation of his intentions to just show the World “new colors and scenes” but being unexpectedly hit with backlash of bloggers calling him lame, or gay or an addict.
Among bars that touch on fame and suicide, a chill up runs up your spine when he repeats, “people think they’re being helpful when they tell me to be careful,” hoping that it’s frustration and not him foretelling his future.“We Aite (Wake Your Mind Up)” is a psychedelic, 87 second, trip before “Marijuana” where he makes an admission to his addiction keeping him level. His frankness on dependence is a strange ode to weed “always having his back” but forces listeners to realize he’s for real.
“Mojo So Dope” digs into some of the pain that fueled his debut album, the death of his father and family members succumbing to their vices amidst thoughtful verses about him being thankful for his own life.
Act III is subtitled “Party On” but could’ve been titled “The Pop Records” and no one would complain.
The Chuck Inglish (of the Cool Kids) produced, “Ashin’ Kusher” has stand out production and features Cudi getting back to simpler, playful rhymes. Proving that sometimes just skillfully riding a dope beat can be just as good as bearing your soul to the listener.
The radio smash “Erase Me” has radio friendly themes and subject matter. Add to that, Kanye West running around over a Weezer-esque aesthetic and it’s pop, gold.
The barebones and spacey, “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” doesn’t do much else but get stuck in your head, while “The Mood” co-produced by No I.D. and Emile, stands out for it’s plainness. I have a sneaking suspicion this one will be remixed by young, bass DJ’s everywhere.
Act IV’s where this album takes hits it’s comfort zone. “MANIAC” leaves no thoughts while “Mr. Rager” felt like a go-to song from the Kid Cudi playbook, featuring him doing what he’s best at.
“These Worries” starts with a long snort to begin a spacey journey where he talks to God about drugs being his only friend, faith and haters. Mary J. gets to be a little more Mary J. on this record but he never unleashes the power she could have on this record.
GLC, Chip The Ripper and Nicole Wray come together with Cudi on “The End” which may be the best song on the entire album. Spot on production from Blended Babies and verses that couldn’t have been more fitting make this one a repeat.
Act IV: You Live & You Learn is the bright spot you needed on this album. “All Along” is honest and uplifting with Cudi spitting about being addicted to highs but coming to the realization over an airy record that he’ll be ok.
Emile and No I.D. team up again to co-produce, “GHOST,” where Cudi admits that he’s “got to get it through his big head that he might have ended up dead” and seems to come to terms with the fact that’s it’s alright to be troubled. No other line sums up the journey of this album like, “things do come around and make sense eventually.”
“Trapped In My Mind” is the bow that wraps this album’s striking theme and compelling subject matter up nicely. Like a chocolate on the pillow, it’s the come down you need from this album’s intensity at times.
This album is heavy. There’s no other way around it but it reveals new messages with every, closer listen. Emile walks away with his signature all over the album as a producer, and rightfully so.
Cudi’s understated use of Mary J. Blige may have been a mistake. Both songs were cool but weren’t instead of going the obvious, anthemic route with the legendary songstress, he sort of let her play the background. Maybe he couldn’t have gotten a modern — “Can’t Knock The Hustle” out of her but with two guest appearances, I would’ve tried to at least get some of her emotional power and past with addiction to translate.
There’s also a glaring lack of lyricism at times. Some songs don’t feel like they have verses at all, they’re just emotional. While earnest, hot bars never hurt anything.
Sales will tell if he avoids the sophomore slump in his label’s eyes but, to me, Man on the Moon II, is a solid follow up and thoroughly executed concept album, once again.
We’ll see if it was a stepping-stone to better days for Cudi. Hopefully it’s not the beginning of the end.