Most people only know Kid Cudi, born Scott Mescudi, as the “‘Day ‘n’ Nite’ guy,” after his 2008 surprise hit that rocketed the then-unknown artist to dance floor notoriety. Recognized by the few familiar with the artist as “Dat Kid from Cleveland,” Kid Cudi has been amassing a small following over the past few years, releasing mixtapes and appearing on—as well as contributing songwriting to—Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak.” With a talent for balancing the serious and the laughable, Kid Cudi sings and raps about not only the universal experience of heartbreak and regret, but also about the joys of getting really stoned and playing video games. His newest release and first full album, titled “Man on the Moon: The End of Day,” showcases this lyrical diversity as well as his impressive flow. Cudi’s voice is beautiful and his words meaningful; he can spit just as well as he sings. For a new artist attempting an ambitious mixture of styles, Kid Cudi’s album is an impressive success.
Immediately noticeable is Cudi’s close attention to detail, not only sonically but also in the album’s presentation. Calling his liner notes a “scene listing” rather than a track list, he groups songs into five acts: “The End of Day,” “Rise of the Night Terror,” “Taking a Trip,” “Stuck,” and “A New Beginning.” While a specific story is difficult to pinpoint, important themes become apparent: feeling misunderstood, staying true to oneself, and getting high. Of course, these ideas are not new to rap, but Kid Cudi’s strength lies in his impressive ability to extend these ideas beyond hip-hop into a variety of genre hybrids, vehicles that provide his lyrics uncommon accessibility.
At the heart of Cudi’s musical diversity is his hand-picked mix of guest artists, which include big-name rappers Kanye West and Common, dance-rock bands Ratatat and MGMT, and relative unknowns like rapper Chip Tha Ripper and singer Billy Cravens. The album’s collaborative highlight is “Alive,” featuring Ratatat. An exquisitely executed marriage of hip-hop and techno, it combines Ratatat’s effortlessly cool beats with eerie lyrics: “There’s something going wrong with me / I am changing rapidly / I’m feeling stronger, more alert / I’m on the move / I smell her scent / and I know I will find her soon, soon, soon….” One of the album’s darkest tracks, Cudi’s haunting lyrics are perfectly complemented by Ratatat’s space-age sound.
“Make Her Say”—featuring Kanye West, Common, and humorously placed samples from Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face”—is another standout collaboration, albeit a bit more off-color: “So, that explain why I love college / Gettin’ brain in the library ‘cause I love knowledge / When you use your medulla oblongata / And give me scoliosis until I comatoses / And do it while I sleep, yeah, a little osmosis.”
Later, on “Simple As…,” Cudi continues his streak of sophomoric yet witty quips—“Simple as dat for your simple ass,” he recites with emphasis on “as” and “ass”—giving the song a lighthearted quality matched by its jingling melody. While many tracks have a serious, creepy, or downright melancholic feel, Cudi offsets the dismal mood they create with clever, playful elements.
While Cudi’s consistency is admirable and his missteps are few, some tracks are notably weaker than others. While “Pursuit of Happiness” is imaginatively crafted, again featuring Ratatat as well as fellow neo-psychodelic rockers MGMT, Cudi makes a surprisingly insensitive, unnecessary remark that stands out among his usually moderate tone: “I don’t care, hand on the wheel, drivin’ drunk, I’m doin’ my thing.”
And though “Sky Might Fall” is Cudi’s most forthcoming song emotionally—“And then you see ’em / Gray clouds up above, man / Metaphor to my life, man / Still I feel my heart stronger than it’s ever been, / Strong will ’til my journey ends, / ‘Til then I roll…”—it seems a bit insincere in light of its remarkable similarities to Kanye’s “Welcome to Heartbreak.”
“Man on the Moon: The End of Day” is futuristic, but in other ways it’s also a throwback. Cudi’s rhymes hearken back to an “old school” style rap lyricism, but his blend of genres and forward-thinking production keep him from getting mired in any one cast. His willingness to experiment artistically is notable, especially for a newcomer to the hip-hop scene. With “Man on the Moon,” Kid Cudi embraces the challenge of bringing hip-hop to a wider audience, and in so doing stretches the established boundaries of the genre itself.