Heroes don’t always wear capes; some of them just wear their hearts on their sleeves. This is precisely what makes Kid Cudi one of the most important artists of the past 15 years. A pioneer of openness and vulnerability, he blazed a trail so that the likes of Drake, Logic and Childish Gambino could prosper with their signature brands of emo-rap. And now the Ohio rapper is back with his first solo album in four years.
Much like its predecessors, the third and final (supposedly) instalment in the ‘MOTM’ series comes off as therapy of sorts, the 36-year-old’s multiple personalities facing off in a battle for spiritual supremacy. The record’s key takeaway: just because no one else can rid you of your inner demons, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
On the terse opener ‘Tequila Shots’, Cudi raps: “Nights my mind is speedin’ by, I’m holdin’ on/ Asking God to help ’em, are you hearin’ me?” He conveys his struggle to comprehend that he’s back fighting an internal war he thought he’d left behind on previous albums. Over the track’s warped synths and distorted organs, he finds some solace in the memories of better days.
A splatter-gun of sounds, the album is an art piece full of epic highs and honest lows. The rich colours in illustrator Sam Spratt’s cover art perfectly reflect the record, seeming to bleed into the music at every turn, providing a rich and sometimes twisted palette for Cudi to ride to during his quest for self-healing.
On ‘Dive’, the rapper explores his struggles with alcoholism and the unease that comes with partying too much. Here, Cudi’s sinister alter-ego Mr. Rager begins to rear his ugly head. He starts to spiral out of control on ‘Damaged’, his voice echoing through a chamber of salt water bubbles as his vices drown him in a sea of haunting ad-libs.
A surprising moment arrives when Cudi teams up with Skepta and, posthumously, New York’s Pop Smoke for the drill-infused ‘Show Out’. Venturing into new territory, Cudi’s drill excursion is more about letting off steam than it is about indulging toxic energy. He proclaims that he “ain’t no bitch”, his bravado running rampant over the whirring baseline and menacing hi-hats, standing triumphant with a crew whom Skepta claims carry “guns same size as Kevin Hart”.
The experimentation with genres continues on ‘Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)’, which sees Cudi reminisce about his childhood, paying tribute to his mother over an impassioned guitar riff that features a similar chord progression to that of The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. On the glistening self-love anthem ‘Lovin’ Me’, which features fellow emo dignitary Phoebe Bridgers, he channels his inner Owl City, delivering a shot of electro-indie goodness.
Cudi reunites with his key production team for much of the album: Dot Da Genius, Take A Day Trip, Plain Pat, Emile Hayne and the incomparable Mike Dean, the latter known largely for being Kanye West’s music director. The fabulous five’s fluorescent soundscapes, airy dimensions and emotive medleys couldn’t be more Cudi if they tried. Other producers who lend their services include E*vax (Evan Mast of Brooklyn electronic duo Ratatat) and WondaGurl, while Cudi even manages to pull Finneas away from work on the burgeoning uber-producer’s sister Billie Eilish’s new album for the dreamy love ballad ‘Sept. 16’.
The album’s crown jewel lays at the feet of ‘Mr. Solo Dolo III’. A continuation of previous instalments (parts one and two appeared respectively on 2009’s ‘MOTM: The End Of Day’ and 2013’s ‘Indicud’), the track sees Cudi delve into the darkness once again, swimming through waves of adversity, manoeuvring through mental health obstacles. His isolated state leaves you breathless. But the mettlesome drum kicks and courageous keys instil hope, keeping the sense of progression alive, even when he proclaims: “I don’t need nobody.”
Cudi’s fans have always played an integral role in helping to keep his head above water. With that in mind, ‘4 Da Kidz’ is probably one of the most important tracks yet in his discography. Offering payback in the form of a soaring, spiritual dedication, he communicates a simple message to his fans: “Feeling alone? Just know you are not /
We won’t leave you alone.”
‘Man On The Moon III: The Chosen’ is a cinematic masterstroke that electrifies the senses at every turn. Kid Cudi gives us every part of himself, laying out his insecurities and inner demons in the hope that it might help someone else, his words etched into a vivid backdrop of intoxicating melodies and palatial riffs. No one does mood music quite like Cudi.
Release date: December 11
Record label: Republic Records