Forget for a moment the self-aggrandizement of rappers that have permeated the airwaves since the dawn of hip-hop. Recently, rap has been flooded with melancholic MCs who offer an antithesis to the swaggering braggadocio attitude that has dominated the genre, and Kid Cudi is at the helm of it.
Presently, Kid Cudi can easily be classified as the modern poster child for emo-rap, and—as evidenced by the commercial success of his debut Man On The Moon I—doesn’t appear to have many competitors. There are few rappers who can play this sad-sack shtick and sell it quite like Cudi.
So then, based on Cudi’s hype and financial success, it seems only logical that Cudi has the ability to compose an album chock-full of unforgettable downer anthems.
After all, some of hip-hop’s best songs have come from a place of dejection, despair and confusion. Take the Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” for example, or Lupe Fiasco’s “Hurt Me Soul.” The former touches the topic of unrequited love, as the Pharcyde sound earnest and evocative rather than whiny and lugubrious. In the latter, Lupe addresses his conflicting beliefs on rap itself, resulting in a hypocritical masterpiece: Fiasco addresses his grievances with hip-hop’s influence while paying a personal homage to it.
But contrary to what his millions of record sales would indicate, Cudi doesn’t deliver anything on par with the classics above. Akin to Cudi’s debut Man On The Moon I, Man On The Moon II is marred by Cudi’s inability to channel his emotions toward something memorable.
The first problem of Man On The Moon II is its lyrics. While it’s good for most rappers to have some sort of mystique about their words, Cudi is far too vague for listeners to truly get a grasp of what he’s trying to communicate. On “Please Don’t Play This Song,” it’s easy to diagnose Cudi as depressive and a substance abuser when he says, “My mom’s calling, thank God she hit decline I’m numb faced while I’m thinking about suicide,” but we can’t figure out what led him down that path.
The spacey, atmospheric production that pervades Man On the Moon II is the album’s most notable asset. “Mojo So Dope”, one of the album’s highlights, with its alluring 808-drum beat, woozy weaving synthesizer and hypnotic refrain of “oh, oh, oh” makes the track one of Man On The Moon II’s most notable psychedelic moments.
But production is meaningless without a powerful performer, and Cudi doesn’t have much of a presence. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have musical talent; Kid Cudi seems to have a knack for writing hooks that stick to your brain like bubble gum to a high school desk. The problem is, the impact of these hooks are ebbed by Cudi’s sing-speak delivery which comes as soporific, rendering his flow bland and uninspired. For the majority of the album, Cudi sounds like a man on the moon without enough oxygen—fatigued and out of breath.
The most glaring example of Cudi’s flaws can ironically be found in the album’s first single, “Erase Me.” “I think she hates me deep down I know she does,” Cudi lethargically laments over a banal alt-rock arrangement. By the time the first chorus is over, Cudi sounds just about ready to lie down in a hammock. Sure, the song is catchy, but only in the way Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” is catchy. Even Kanye West’s whip-smart verse can’t save this song from being another hackneyed radio hit.
There are brief moments of brilliance on the album, when Kid Cudi’s rhymes offer a unique glimpse into his psyche set to the trippy backbeat of Pink-Floydian harmonics. But for the majority of Man On The Moon II, Cudi’s musicianship is outweighed by his ennui.
As it stands, for fans of emo-rap, Cudi is probably the most mainstream accessible—but that doesn’t by default enter him into hip-hop’s elite class of MCs. If one thing is clear, emo-rap is here to stay, so unless Kid Cudi finds a way to become truly outstanding at a genre he’s had a heavy hand in leading, he is certain to be bested.