We often decry rappers for their sordid street tales, their lack of introspection and their glamorization of drugs and violence. Kid Cudi operates on the far end of the spectrum, delivering a too real picture that puts the dark recesses of his mind on Front Street with a chilling openness that would make Eminem blush. His follow-up album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager pushes beyond the limits of introspection into a riveting, yet disturbing portrait of a man whose demons stand ready to consume him.
The album features rich production and live instrumentation, primarily the work of producer Emile. The rock/rap/rave blend of sounds gives a distinct aural personality to Scott Mescudi’s mania, serving as costar to his tour de force. The album’s feel vacillates among feelings of drunken invincibility, sober self-disgust, rage, depression and malaise. Cudi loves the fame that has lifted him from nobodyhood, but loathes the idea that people can love who they think he is and have no idea who he really is.
Mary J Blige shows up twice (“Don’t Play This Song” “These Worries”) on the album and what looks like an odd pairing makes total sense when you consider the dark places that Mary has been in her early career and problems with drugs and violence were demons she overcame over the years. That she would hear Cudi’s cry for help is fitting. While Mary is muted on the former, the latter song features a rich natural harmony between the two that is clear evidence of their kindred spirits. Morose strings and ambient noise bring the track to a close over trance-inducing drums.
Previously-released single “Mojo So Dope” with its somber production, features an agile Cudi with a smooth, melodic delivery that alternates between moody mutterings and crisp crooning. 80’s pop and an obvious radio grab come with the Kanye feature “Erase Me” with Cudi shaking off his girlfriend’s bitching. “Maniac” features similarly mental rapper Cage whose smooth thump hugging flow serves as perfect contrast to Cudi’s relishing the ability to be himself in the darkness that shield’s him from the flashing lights and the fame.
“Rev of Ev” is powered by an electric guitar, the dithering knock of a drum and hard piano keys. Cudi employs a flattened, rear-throat delivery as he asks, “Where will you be for the revolution?” Crowd noise and electric guitars buzz through ambient haze on “We Aite,” whose repeated refrain of “we aite” gives a rubber room, straight-jacketed knocking as if Cudi’s trying to escape his own mental prison.
“Marijuana” and “Ashin Kusher” speak to weed as medication. On “Kusher,” “Funky Drummer” is smoked out with stabbing guitars; double Dutch-jumping in to the main line. Cudi’s flow is in rare form here, smoothly segueing from slurred to speedy. “I don’t really worry ‘bout a nigga tryna judge, who are you, Judy?” Cudi’s broken bars are perfect for the off-kilter moodiness of the track.
“Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” is colored by psychedelic, 60s organs and the helter skelter, subtle rumble of guitars. Cudi’s happy he’s famous ‘cause the hoes don’t front, but mad at the fame cause fame is all that they want. “The Mood” thankfully brings a break in the established rhythm of the album. “Mr. Rager” finds our anti-hero pondering when the fantasy will end. “The End” features GLC, Chip Tha Ripper and Nicole Wray. The external conflict, particularly Chip’s tale feels out of place on the album, although Cudi still considers his possible impending end as “intriguing.”
The final leg of the album, comprised of “All Along,” “Ghost” and “Trapped In My Mind” all feature lighter production and a change in mood. “Ghost is Cudi’s moment of clarity over synth strings. Things do come around and make sense eventually. The album concludes with “Trapped In My Mind” as the walls that Cudi has built have not only kept people out, but have imprisoned him. But while he’s alone he realizes that, when compared to the craziness of the world at large, maybe he’s NOT that crazy.
Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is a gripping journey through the mind of someone who isn’t all there. The album is at once a cry for help, a lesson in defiance, and an attempt to catch himself before he kills himself. No matter how the story ends, you can’t take your ears off him. The album is not without flaws and is too long for its prevailing moods but NOONE does tumult like Cudi. Almost too good.
Out of 5
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