His half-sung vocals, alternately surly and vulnerable, weave in and out of the mix along with distorted guitars, sweeping strings, twinkling harpsichords, ghostly samples, and who knows what else. No other major-label rapper in 2010 is pushing boundaries in quite the same way.
On the surface Kid Cudi‘s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is an ambitious 17-track drug-fueled diary detailing dark times and the forces behind them. Beneath the surface however, Rager is a cautionary tale which captures Cudi’s shift away from one stage of his life to the next. As he explained to Spin‘s Sean Fennessey recently, “It’s a chapter of my life I’m closing.” He continued by describing the album as being “for those whom cocaine does not work.” Following a year which included a high-profile arrest and a trail of drug use which seemingly followed Cudi everywhere he went, the MC now claims a clean(er) lifestyle, relating his new perspective during the cover story for Complex magazine’s fall issue. “Yup. No more blow. People do drugs to camouflage emotions and run away from their problems. Now I’m going to deal with certain things as they come, prioritize shit—man up, so to speak.” So where does that leave Cudi now, and how does all of this personal growth translate through his new album? In short: a clear mind is apparently of little detriment to the 26 year old superstar.
The dark themes that run throughout Rager can be largely summed up by a lyrical blast in the second of the album’s five acts. With “Mojo So Dope” Cudi lays out the blueprint for the hour-long journey, “Damn, you must understand, when I speak about a song this is really how I am/Yeah, this is how I really think, you could see what I see, yes I really think/Yes I really drink, I really do rage.” And as referenced in the vocalist’s statement which lumped drug use and emotional instability together, there are indeed many issues which need to be uncovered here, and Rager simply appears to be the first step in Cudi’s emotional rehabilitation.
Enhanced by Cee Lo‘s stunning chorus, the album opens with “Scott Mescudi vs. the World,” a track which sets the stage for conflict immediately with the opening bar, “What up?/How’s everyone doing?/You’re now in a world I’m ruining.” The track’s thumping beat sets a musical tone which is felt throughout, but it’s the young MC’s confusion and struggles which push the album to its full potential. The hollow beat in “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” only goes to reflect the emptiness portrayed through the lyrics, Cudi speaking of his late father’s habits being passed down to him. Sampling St. Vincent‘s ominous “The Strangers,” “Maniac” finds Cudi appropriately joined by underground MC Cage/ whose 2009 release wholly focused on “exorcising demons.” Late in the album “All Along” again points out the insecurity which has hidden at the core of Cudi’s life, “All along, I guess I’m meant to be alone, out there on my own.” Self-admittedly however, Cudi’s emotions took a back seat to the drug use in his real life, and the same can be said for much of the stories in Rager.
Early on in the album Mary J. Blige steps in with “Don’t Play This Song,” working behind Cudi as he rumbles over a low-key beat, “HBO, that Vitamin Water: that’s money to blow.” And as history has proven time and time again, an excessive amount of expendable income mixed with mental instability and a taste for candy rarely ends well. “Marijuana” find a repeating chorus take precedent over any real substance, “Pretty green bud, all in my blood” (the song closes at four minutes and twenty seconds with Cudi cheekily adding, “aaaaaaand 4:20”). Blige returns for “These Worries” as Cudi parallels his substance intake and subsequent abuse with his teetering sanity, “It’s a full-time job not to lose my faith”; adding an aural coke snort and morning-after inventory (“So much whiskey all in my liver”) for good measure.
The main focus of the album is Cudi’s alluded-to twist in perspective though, and the greater part of Rager reflects that shift. Coasting through the album’s infectious production—supplied by any number of talents ranging from Bruno Mars‘ Smeezingtons crew to Jim Jonsin to Cudi, himself—is a series of key tracks which help direct the artist toward his conclusion found in album-closer “Trapped in My Mind.” “REVOFEV” finds Cudi checking himself, “Wake up, things might get rough/No need to stress, keeps you down too much,” while “We Aite (Wake Up Your Mind)” thematically follows Cudi as he opens his eyes to the world, and “GHOST!” finds Cudi dumbfounded in his density, “Got to get it through my thick head that I was so close to being dead.” Most interesting is the epiphany found in “Ashin’ Kusher” however, where the vocalist takes a step back from the static and blasts those who have judged him for his past indiscretions, “If you know me man, I don’t really worry ’bout a nigga tryin’ to judge: Who are you, Judy?”
While those approaching Rager with any expectations are likely to be surprised, most are likely to be satisfied with the results. That being said, there are some tracks that stand out for their inconsistencies. “The Mood” is out of place, lyrically, as it follows a story of sexing it up with a French female, and its beat isn’t strong enough to demand that it make the final cut amongst the album’s already-lengthy track list. Just as those who went into Man on the Moon I with only “Day ‘n’ Nite” in mind to prepare them, those who are only familiar with “Erase Me” are in for a shock. The song is enjoyable, and Kanye West‘s cameo stands as one of the highlights of the record, but the song isn’t musically representative of Rager and is merely a palette cleanser that Cudi himself has brushed off for having been created on a whim.
As the story comes to a close with “Trapped in My Mind,” Cudi seems to have answered the question of whether or not he has made it out of the past year with a shred of sanity. Concluding that being trapped in his mind is no longer a curse, Cudi digresses by simply embracing his new found comfort, “Hey it’s not that bad at all.” Therein lies Cudi’s mission statement as he goes forward with his next projects: to hold true to himself his feelings, and continue to learn how to approach them in a healthy fashion rather than suppressing them as he’s done in the past. While he’s known for proudly wearing an ego so self-assured that it might only be on par with his good friend Kanye, what Kid Cudi has created with his sophomore album shows exponential growth, as an artist and as a person, from the tight-pants MC who made it big a few years back. Now all that remains is to go forward and keep progressing; as GLC rhymes in “The End,” “My brother told me a long time ago, don’t focus where you bein’ G, focus where you tryin’ to go.”