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Album Review: Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager (Good Music/Island)

A hopping mad journey into the unknown, as hip-hop's young adventurer hacks his way to sonic pastures new

Album Review: Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager (Good Music/Island)

9 / 10 He’s seven foot tall, [b]Mr Rager[/b], or that’s how you picture him: an imposing figure in jungle explorer’s suit and backpack. “[i]Mr Rager, tell me some of your stories[/i],” Kid Cudi asks this mysterious anti-hero on the track that bears his name; “[i]I’m off on an adventure[/i],” comes the warped, enigmatic reply. “[i]Can we tag along?[/i]” Cudi pleads. Rager nods, gestures for us to follow him and hacks away into a thick undergrowth of MIA afrobeats and voodoo voices, off to map out hip-pop’s darkest and most perilous unexplored terrain.

And [b]Cudi[/b], his ever-faithful cartographer, follows on devotedly. Ah, how easy it would’ve been to dismiss ‘[b]Man On The Moon II[/b]’ as another cobbled-together plot-staller of a rap album ‘trilogy’ – the latest clichéd hip-hop formula for guaranteed repeat sales, next best to getting shot. Cudi fitted the profile perfectly: he’s a protégé of [a]Kanye West[/a] who racked up a US Top Five debut album with ‘[b]Man On The Moon: The End Of Day[/b]’ last year.

He featured on ‘[b]The Blueprint 3[/b]’ and perhaps learnt a trick or two about churning out ‘franchise albums’ from the master of the form: cut ’em quick, stack ’em high and slap on the guest stars like fake tan on a WAG.

But his collaborations with [a]MGMT[/a] and [a]Ratatat[/a] on his debut hinted that [b]Cudi[/b] might be the first big-selling rap act of the new millennium to adopt a truly alternative mindset. Where modern rap has effortlessly adopted cinematic, pop, soul and hard rock elements, [b]Cudi[/b] looked like he might be the first to successfully leap the indie/rap divide ([a]Lethal Bizzle[/a] showing up on a [a]Kaiser Chiefs[/a] song doesn’t count) and produce hip-hop with the adventurous, lo-fi attitude of an [a]Animal Collective[/a] or [a]Foals[/a]. And ‘[b]The Legend Of Mr Rager[/b]’ is where that promise is made good. This is a grungy, filthy record full of angels and demons, violently at odds with mainstream US R&B chart pap. And it might just be the next-generation rap record of the year.

Yes, there is an appearance from [b]Kanye[/b], but it’s on ‘[b]Erase Me[/b]’, a full-on geek rock smash with such a [a]Weezer[/a]ish chug that you imagine Yeezy invading the stage at the 2011 Oscars, grabbing the Scott Pilgrim Best Picture award from Edgar Wright and declaring, “Man, I invented this shit!” Yes, there’s a guest slot from a woman so ubiquitous in modern rap that even her closest relatives now call her ‘Featuring [b]Mary J Blige[/b]’, but it is on ‘[b]These Worries[/b]’, where tribal thumps and submarine pings descend upon vocals so haunting they sound like sinister rituals. If [a]Kid Cudi[/a] suddenly becomes a demonically brilliant guitar player with 12-inch fingers and a fretboard of flame, it’s probably from performing this tune at some sort of crossroads.

Elsewhere the [a]Cee Lo[/a]-featuring ‘[b]Scott Mescudi Vs The World[/b]’ mixes junkyard beats with ghost-train wails and Philly strings; ‘[b]REVOFEV[/b]’ is ’60s Stones playing Northern soul classics in Wookey Hole; and ‘[b]Wild’n Cuz Im Young[/b]’ combines krautrock throbs and Tetris blips to create something insanely catchy yet as radio-friendly as root canal surgery. [b]Mr Rager[/b]’s journey takes us far off US hip-hop’s interstates of gloss and sheen down dirt tracks: the (no shitting) psychedelic gothtronica of ‘[b]The Mood[/b]’ resembles [a]Depeche Mode[/a] if they’d ever been on an ayahuasca bender in the rainforest, while ‘[b]Marijuana[/b]’, rather than the snoozy spliff-hop you might expect from a Snoop track with that title, is full of the jittery paranoia of the worst acid-skunk nightmare. Such is the mainstream-bucking experimentation and innovation on display here.

In ‘[b]The End[/b]’, [b]Mr Rager[/b] brings us safely back to homely gin’n’juice lounge rap. But it’s been a wild trip. We’ve glimpsed ancient wonders and glistening possibilities and met, in [a]Kid Cudi[/a], the man to push mainstream hip-hop into a dazzling new realm of sonic exploration. Whenever [b]Mr Rager[/b] sets off on his next adventure we’re ready, musical machetes in hand, to follow him into the undergrowth…

[b]Mark Beaumont[/b]

Click here to get your copy of Kid Cudi's 'Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager' from Rough Trade Shops.

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