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

He’s seven foot tall, Mr Rager, or that’s how you picture him: an imposing figure in jungle explorer’s suit and backpack. “Mr Rager, tell me some of your stories,” Kid Cudi asks this mysterious anti-hero on the track that bears his name; “I’m off on an adventure,” comes the warped, enigmatic reply. “Can we tag along?” 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 Cudi, his ever-faithful cartographer, follows on devotedly. Ah, how easy it would’ve been to dismiss ‘Man On The Moon II’ 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 ‘Man On The Moon: The End Of Day’ last year.

He featured on ‘The Blueprint 3’ 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 Cudi 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, Cudi 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 ‘The Legend Of Mr Rager’ 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 Kanye, but it’s on ‘Erase Me’, 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 Mary J Blige’, but it is on ‘These Worries’, 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 ‘Scott Mescudi Vs The World’ mixes junkyard beats with ghost-train wails and Philly strings; ‘REVOFEV’ is ’60s Stones playing Northern soul classics in Wookey Hole; and ‘Wild’n Cuz Im Young’ combines krautrock throbs and Tetris blips to create something insanely catchy yet as radio-friendly as root canal surgery. Mr Rager’s journey takes us far off US hip-hop’s interstates of gloss and sheen down dirt tracks: the (no shitting) psychedelic gothtronica of ‘The Mood’ resembles [a]Depeche Mode[/a] if they’d ever been on an ayahuasca bender in the rainforest, while ‘Marijuana’, 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 ‘The End’, Mr Rager 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 Mr Rager sets off on his next adventure we’re ready, musical machetes in hand, to follow him into the undergrowth…

Mark Beaumont

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