This week Kid Cudi hosted a listening event at Don Hill’s in lower Manhattan in celebration of the upcoming release of his sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager. The album comes after what has been a rough year for Cudi. Last December he was jettisoned from Lady Gaga’s lucrative Monster Ball tour after an onstage dust up with a fan during his set. In June, he was nabbed for possession of cocaine. Last month he vented his frustrations with fellow 2009 XXL Freshman 10 alumnus Wale in a very public, awesomely quotable tantrum of an interview. He’s stumbling into grace one flub at a time, getting a little better with every misstep. Like Kanye before him, he’s struggling to deal with the pleasures and limitations of his sudden fame, and people love to hate him for it.
Cudi has always been the underdog, though. He’s hated by rap purists, who are put off by his singsong delivery and pronounced fashion sensibilities. He’s the weirdest thing on Kanye’s besuited G.O.O.D. Music imprint by a country mile. He’s in a tough position, but he’s gotten where he is today on the strength of his transparency, as evidenced in his disarmingly honest, relatable lyrics and downtrodden hangdog charm. Cudi’s double platinum selling smash “Day N Nite” and the rest of his debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day oozed sadness. Even in the record’s most triumphant moments there was a palpable sense that total collapse was just a hair’s breadth away. He wears the darkness well.
There was a cloak of literal darkness about the bar hosting the secret listening party for Cudi’s upcoming sophomore album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. The venue looked like another world, dimly lit, cloudy, and blanketed by a network of green laser lights. The man himself entered the building with sunglasses on, sporting a Freddy Krueger glove. He introduced himself and requested silence while the album played. Cudi sang and danced like a man possessed as the album blasted out of the venue’s speakers. He is clearly proud of what he has done.To a certain extent, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is cut from the same cloth as its predecessor. It reprises the production team from the last record while adding a few new faces. Emile, Dot Da Genius, and Plain Pat again provide the bulk of the beats, bolstered by tracks from Jim Jonsin, Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids, and Polow da Don. Kanye again has minimal involvement, co-producing the title track and contributing a guest verse to the bratty pop punk “Erase Me”. Mr. Rager is broken up into acts much like its sorta-but-not-really conceptual predecessor, but Cudi has ditched the ham-fisted narration that tripped up End of the Day.
Mr. Rager is full of stomping, cavernous beats. It’s got spacey stoner anthems like the piano based “Marijuana” and the sprightly “Ashin Kusher”. There are moody ballads like “Don’t Play This Song” and “These Worries”, both featuring Mary J. Blige on soulful assist. “MANIAC” nicks the darkly brilliant intonation of “Paint the black hole blacker” from indie songstress St. Vincent’s “The Strangers” and features typically bleak verse from Cage. “REVOFEV” and “GHOST!” both employ off kilter time signatures and inventive instrumentation in their attack. “Scott Mescudi vs. the World” features a house infused beat and Cee-Lo on the chorus. “We Aite (Wake Your Mind Up)” and closer “Trapped in My Mind” are both reggae-tinged numbers. Mr. Rager crystallizes the best aspects of Cudi’s sound while expanding it into bold new territories.
Cudi’s future beyond the new album is unclear. He has recently confessed to being disinterested in continuing a rap career and has admitted to ducking and dodging requests for verses from Kanye. He will be continuing his acting career in the upcoming second season of the HBO series How to Make It in America. He also announced the formation of a rock band featuring Dot Da Genius called Wizard, a name that anyone who read Cudi’s Complex rant will appreciate. All that is clear about Kid Cudi is that he’s determined to work his emotions out through the music.”When I was growing up I didn’t have songs like this,” Cudi told the crowd after the album’s final track petered out. “This is my motivation.”