CD Review: Kid Cudi


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*** out of *****

When we first became acquainted with Kid Cudi, right off the bat we got the vibe that the guy is relatively reclusive.

But the lonely stoner persona was the backbone of his charm, and his début album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, gave us a look into the scatterbrained, paranoid, and at times, insecure mind of Solo Dolo himself.

While everyone was rapping about all the money and girls we don't have, Cudi represented a sophisticated, self-loathing style that spawned a number of hits, including "Day 'n' Nite" and "Pursuit of Happiness."

And now we watch as Cudi attempts to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with his newest release, Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager.

The album begins on a slightly inspiring note, allowing us to get a sense of who Cudi wants Mr. Rager to be, which is the cliché "hottest rapper alive" character.

The first two tracks, "Scott Mescudi vs. the World" and "REVOFEV" are a part of Act 1: The World I am Ruling" and feature Cudi rapping about life's struggles and asking us, "Where will we be for the revolution?"

But along with these words of hope is a hint of sarcasm when we're officially introduced to Mr. Rager in Act 2: A Stronger Trip. The third track, "Don't Play this Song," shows the dark side of Mr. Rager, the party animal who indulges in life's vices to escape the reality of being a rap star. Act 2 contains four songs that contribute to the vulnerability and self-consciousness of Cudi, yet tend to stray too far into a Debbie Downer persona that begs for too much attention.

After the sullen Act 2, he shakes off his depression in favor of the lighter more playful side of Mr. Rager in Act 3: Party On. It's eight tracks into the album where we finally get a taste of the irresistible catchiness that Cudi is so capable of, with the Weezer-like guitar riffs of the album's first single "Erase Me." Cudi and guest Kanye West's smoothness and swagger keep the song from becoming a throwaway Green Day track and turn it into a feel-good college anthem.

The album's potential can summed up in Act 4: The Transformation. The first song of Act 4 is the spontaneous yet predictable track "Maniac" featuring indie-rock newbie St. Vincent. It's songs such as this on which Cudi has a chance to go further in his music and blend genres to create something magical, but instead he prefers to rap the typical lyrics of imperfection and dissatisfaction, which comes off as lazy compared with the outgoing trippy beat of the track.

The album's final act is Act 5: You Live & You Learn, which sums up the kind of year 2010 has been for him. With everything from run-ins with law enforcement to canceled TV appearances because of hangovers, he takes these experiences and runs with them, ending his rambunctious album on a high note. The song "All Along" is when he steps aside from his Mr. Rager persona and honestly tells his trials and tribulations, which range from struggling to find self-identity to simply "eating too much junk food."

It's apparent that Cudi strives to be the David Bowie of today's rap game with all of his numerous personalities, but what this album proves is that he needs to narrow his focus on something that's more straightforward. There are times when he shoves his troubles down our throats, but when he's discreet about his problems, he's at his best, proving why he can stand out in today's overcrowded rap game.

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