Once viewed as the prodigal son of hip-hop, Scott Mescudi – better known to the masses as Kid Cudi – has definitely seen his career become a roller coaster. Emerging onto the music scene in 2008 with his breakout single Day ‘n' Nite, and later signing to Kanye West's GOOD Music label, Cudi has definitely been one of the most influential artists in the past decade.
Some would even say that he is criminally underrated and that many people fail to give him the recognition that he deserves. Even though he might not get as much praise as the contemporaries that entered the game around the same time he did (e.g., Drake), Cudi has amassed a cult following that will continue to support his career no matter what.
But since the release of his last studio album, the indie-rock attempt and critically panned Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven, even his die-hard fans were questioning Cudi's ability to produce a project that's been as universally loved as the first two entries of the Man on the Moon series were. I can confidently say that his latest effort, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin', has steered the ship back in the right direction.
Let me give a little more back-story of the album and the promotion leading up to its release. Cudi began working on material shortly after Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven dropped and previewed a couple of tracks titled "The Frequency" and "All In" on his SoundCloud in the first quarter of 2016, giving fans a first glimpse of what the new album would sound like. He continued to provide snippets of tracks through his various social media accounts.
Based on those previews alone, the overall sound was more reminiscent of his previous hip-hop work compared to the punk-rock aesthetic he recently tried to emulate. That definitely piqued my interest – and that of many of Cudder's die-hard fans as well – and I was definitely curious to see where Cudi was going with this.
Slowly, more details emerged. We found out the title of the record; the variety of producers he was working with such as Mike Will Made-It, Pharrell Williams, Mike Dean, Plain Pat, and of course his long-time friend and WZRD bandmate, Dot Da Genius; and some features, such as Travi$ Scott and Willow Smith. Cudi would also reveal via Twitter that the album would be a double-disc album, and it would be released at the end of September.
That tentative release eventually got pushed back due to sample clearances, and Cudi would be a part of some controversy as he had a short public beef with Drake and Kanye West after he called both of the superstars out on Twitter. Not too long after the beef, Cudi would go on to post a letter to his fans on Facebook stating that he had checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges, leaving the release of the album in question.
Kanye later reconciled publicly with his former GOOD Music signee at one of the stops on his Saint Pablo tour shortly after Cudi went into rehab. After a little over a month in rehab, Cudi came back into society and once again began to promote the rollout for the album with a definite release date of December 16th and a final track list that included additional features from André 3000 and divided it into four acts, much like the Man on the Moon series. Fans were in for a pleasant surprise from Mr. Solo Dolo.
I loved this album. But it took me multiple listens and a couple of months after the release to fully appreciate it as whole. The production and instrumentation is hands-down the best it has been since Man on the Moon II, and that is primarily due to Cudi enlisting others for help, unlike with his previous three studio albums.
The intro track, "Frequency", sets the mood perfectly for the sonic journey the listener takes over the course of the album. The overall sound is the typical atmospheric aesthetic that has been present on most of Cudi's albums, and it complements his vocals well. He also implemented some beautiful string arrangements on certain songs that I absolutely loved.
Lyrically, Cudi does not over-complicate what he is trying to say; he's being as honest as he has ever been when he raps/sings about his inner demons, how fame is affecting his life, and how he continues to push through and produce his art. That honesty is what I have always appreciated about him as an artist. Also, some of the standout songs are structurally some of the best songs he has crafted in years – from the melodies to the grooves to the songwriting. The guest features also complement Cudi's style and do not overshadow his prowess for the most part. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the album, there were still some elements that I did not like and felt were a little unnecessary.
One of the main issues that has been the consensus amongst critics and fans alike is the length of the album. With 19 total tracks, the album is an hour and a half long. If every song on the album was a perfect gem, then length would not be an issue; unfortunately, that is not the case. I feel that Cudi stretched the ideas on certain songs – whether it's having the instrumental go on for a certain amount of minutes or where Cudi just vocalizes some of the lyrics repetitively – to have the songs last two to three minutes longer than they should. If he had trimmed some of the fat and cut it to about 12-14 songs, I think that this project would have been up there along with his first two albums in terms of quality.
Despite its length, this album was an overall enjoyable listen. Kid Cudi delivered something that his fans will enjoy as it is truly an amalgamation of all of his previous works, and it is the most focused he's been musically in years. He brings honesty through his lyrics and songwriting, the instrumentation is varied and very infectious to the ear, and the album is consistent throughout. It might not be for everyone as Cudi does appeal to a certain niche of people, but I can confidently say that there are songs here for everyone.
The perfection summation of Cudi's career can be heard on the album closer "Surfin'" as he proclaims on the chorus that he isn't riding the trends or "waves" and he is actually creating his own sound by "making his own waves." Simple, but effective. Whether fans gravitate to Cudi's experimentation in genre-blending or not, he is not riding what's trending in the current music scene; he's simply doing him. I am very excited to see where Cudi goes on his next project. Maybe we finally get the concluding chapter in the Man on the Moon series? Who knows, but Kid Cudi definitely displayed all of his passion, voiced his pain and slayed his demons on his latest effort.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Favorite Tracks: By Design, All In, Rose Golden, Baptized in Fire, Kitchen, Surfin'
Least Favorite Tracks: Releaser, Wounds