25-year-old Cleveland-native Kid Cudi has been dubbed the new voice in hip hop. He's a rapper with a sensitive side. On his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, Cudi touches on depression, nightmares and suicidal urges. It's a darker, sadder album than rap has seen in a while. At times Cudi sounds as nearly tormented as a younger Eminem or Immortal Technique. But he lacks the verbal dexterity of both.
When it comes to lyrics, Cudi is a modest talent, which is fairly common in hip hop these days. He does, however, have something to say, hence the "new voice" label: "I'm super paranoid, like a sixth sense / Since my father died, I ain't been right since." Rhyming "sense" and "since," not very impressive. But at least the words have some weight.
That cut comes from "Soundtrack 2 My Life," and the song itself is rather self-serving. Cudi insists we can't see his pain, but as a listener that's a problem, because he's the one that's supposed to paint the picture for us. That track comes from Act 1 of the album, titled "The End of Day." It one of five acts that split up the fifteen tracks. Following "The End of Day" are "Rise of The Night Terrors," "Taking A Trip," "Stuck," and "A New Beginning."
The gloom prevails right on through "Rise of The Night Terrors" and at no point does it impress. Cudi presents his suffering in a fairly blunt manner, at times practically shoving it down our throats. On "My World," Cudi dedicates an entire verse to everyone's misunderstanding of him: "And none of y'all had a clue about me / And none of y'all really knew about me... / And none of y'all really cared about me."
Fortunately, that song concludes "Rise of The Night Terrors." With "Taking A Trip," the album improves significantly. The act contains "Day 'n' Nite," "Sky Might Fall" and "Enter Galatic (Love Connection Part 1)." Again, the lyrics are only mediocre, but Cudi's energy on all three tracks pulls you in, thanks in part to the production of Dot Da Genius, Kanye West, and Illfonics, respectively.
Neither "Day 'n' Nite" nor "Sky Might Fall" can be called upbeat, but both transcend the perpetual bleakness of the first third of the album. "Enter Galatic" sounds like it's from a different album entirely. The song is a swift, funky ode to novice shroom-trippers and it's the first evidence that Cudi actually got any enjoyment out of the recording sessions. You're even inclined to forgive lines ending with "space below your navalet" and "so moist like…towelette," as they float by happily. Common's voice comes on as the track concludes, and he continues the story of "the man on the moon" which marks the end of each act.
"Stuck" begins with the Ratatat-featured "Alive." The collaboration with the indie band is an unusual one to say the least, and it works to some extent. Ratatat produced the heavily-synthesized beat, and Cudi manages to coexist with it, adjusting his flow throughout the track. The act also includes the singles "Make Her Say" and "Pursuit of Happiness," which features another indie band, the supremely-talented MGMT. They handle the chorus, which vastly outshines Cudi's verses, as he slips back to accusations of misunderstanding: "Tell me what you know about night terrors, nothin' / You don't really care about the trials of tomorrow / Rather lay awake in a bed full of sorrow." Here, Cudi indeed sounds stuck.
Common is absent as the album transitions to its final two-song act, "A New Beginning." A stoner track, "Hyyerr," kicks things off. It features Chip Tha Ripper, a frequent Cudi collaborator, who possesses very limited lyrical ability. The song is decent, but pales in comparison to some of the ganja jams from Cudi's mixtapes, including "Daps & Pounds" and "Maui Wowie." The album concludes with the energetic "Up Up & Away," as Cudi compares himself to Peter Pan. Common returns, however, for the last word, finishing the "man on the moon" story rather anticlimactically.
Although the title of the last act implies redemption, it can't erase the frustration that came with listening to Cudi mope through the first six tracks and beyond. We understand that he's in pain, but it's not enough for him to simply state that. The impact of the suffering comes when it's infused subtly into a track, such as on "Day 'n' Nite." It's almost as if Cudi trying too hard to fit the image the media's spun of him. Like he has to be emotional and sad or else we won't think he's talented. That's certainly not the case.
Kid Cudi has brought a new sound to hip hop, and pigeonholing it into a category, emo-rap, trip hop or whatever the label, is unfair. On both his previous mixtapes, A Kid Named Cudi and Dat Kid From Cleveland, Kid Cudi showed tremendous promise. But with Man on the Moon, his lyrics have digressed. He's simplified the complexities that made him interesting in the first place. In a sense he's a dumbed-down version of the man who crafted "Day 'n' Nite" in '07 and had no idea that, two years later, it would be a smash hit. The creativity isn't gone; it's simply been beaten back for the sake of a wider, stupider audience. The album is about a tortured soul overcoming adversity, but the bulk of the story is left untold.