Review Summary: "Maybe, I'm not exactly what you want me to be..."
The Hip-Hop genre has had such a profound effect on American culture. It's origins were birthed by a multitude of elements, ranging from politics to Disco music. It's a matter of dispute as to when hip-hop was actually invented, but it truly began to blossom in the United States during the 1980's. Early groups like; Afrika Bambaataa, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy, began to write music, not only to be enjoyed, but also had a message that was addressed to it's core audience, the Black community. The lyrics were influenced by the spirit of protesting and speaking one's mind that arose during the 1960's. It was a message about becoming aware of social issues, to educate oneself and take a meaningful part in making the world a better place. Chuck D of Public Enemy often spoke to his Black fans, particularly ones in lower economic classes, to know that there is a world outside of the ghettos and all of the violence, but the only way to reach it is by refusing to believe their skin tone is a handicap and knowing that they can accomplish the same statuses of the White majority, if they just apply themselves in education.
As the popularity of the genre grew during 1990's, more, and more hip-hop artists began to rise to fame, but the message changed. Hip-hop artists like Tupac, Biggie Small, and N.W.A., heralded a new era in the genre by introducing new lyrical contents about violence and drugs- this was the birth of Gangsta Rap. Black youths throughout America began imitating these music groups, while embracing beliefs that selling drugs, violence, and gang memberships were a positive thing. The message of escaping the ghettos by means of education became eclipsed by messages assuring that being in the ghetto is the only place for a black individual. That selling drugs and joining gangs, are the only means of earning money as well as being the only respectable means of profit for a Black individual. Leading acts, like Tupac and Biggie Smalls, would eventually die from gang-related violence.
Coincidently, the influence of Hip-Hop became instrumental in the emergence of a new genre in England. Artists began fusing 60's Psychedelia with Electronic music and Hip-Hop-styled rhythmic beats, giving birth to a new atmospheric sound called "Trip-Hop". The genre was nurtured by acts such as Portishead, Massive Attack, and later attemepted by other artists like; Björk, and Gorillaz. The music was much more experimental and intellectual than typical Hip-Hop. These artists embraced traditional methods of vocalization besides rapping, and their lyrics were much more personal and influenced by emotion, ignoring the hold that Gangsta Rap had on Hip-Hop.
In the early 2000's, Gangsta Rap reached it's peak of popularity while having a stronghold on the Hip-Hop scene in general. New artists like Lil' Wayne and 50 Cent now reigned supreme, but their message was still the same. Everyone was claiming to be a "gangster", or a "pimp", or whatever it was that these rappers were telling their fans they should be. But there is a flip-side to this coin, acts like Kanye West and Mos Def, began rapping about deeper topics such as personal struggles and emotional flaws, even referring back to the initial message of Hip-Hop that was about social and political awareness. Their music also branched further than just simple beats to rap to, but embraced other influences such as; R&B, Electronica, and even Hip-Hop's biggest enemy, Rock music. Throughout the late 2000's Gangsta Rap began to dwindle in popularity as Pop-dance music began to become more and more popular. New Hip-hop artists began to embrace these new open-minded approaches in their music, while branching out of their Hip-Hop genres and incorporating different genres, examples being artists like; Lupe Fiasco, Gnarls Barkley, N*E*R*D, and Kid Cudi.
In 2009 Kid Cudi released his debut album, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day
. He was one of the first mainstream Rappers to embrace Trip-Hop while incorporating his own influence of Rock and traditional Hip-Hop music. He began to garner much attention, not only because of his music, but particularly for his lyrics. This being in a time when generic Hip-Hop artist composed overly confident self-praises filled with narcissistic claims of how great they are in every way imaginable, and how much better they are than anyone else on the planet. And now all of a sudden here's this guy calling himself "Kid Cudi" who is rapping about how he is often insecure of himself, how he isn't cool, and how life at times brings him down so bad that he feels like things may never get any better- Here is a rapper who is saying, "I'm not a gangster, I'm not a pimp, I don't live in the ghetto, I'm certainly not the greatest rapper alive… I'm just a human being, and my name is Scott Mescudi."
Instrumentally, his music was a combination of Psychedelic ambience, Dance music, Rock and of course, electronic hip-hop beats- an influence inherited from his mentor, Kanye West. Overall the tone of the album was rather optimistic. Though the lyrical content, like the ones in "Day 'n' Nite"
, touch on dark themes such as loneliness, social awkwardness, and a dependence on Marijuana to deal with these flaws. But the music shined an optimistic light to whatever situation Kid Cudi took us into. But this was a younger Kid Cudi, a talented newcomer who was just starting his career. But sadly the events that awaited him were not pleasant ones.
Kid Cudi begun developing an addiction to Cocaine, which brought legal troubles along with it. Needless to say, these events were among the darkest he had ever encountered in his life, and of course, they would have an influence in his next album. After dealing with these issues, he headed straight into the studio to record his second album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
. But the surprising thing is he doesn't really talk about these past obsticles. Other Rappers, like Lil' Wayne, glorified their arrests and legal troubles in their music. They often proclaimed their addictions to drugs like Cocaine and how proud they were to sell it. But not Kid Cudi, he was embarrassed by the whole situation and instead of glorifying his actions, he translated them in his music by developing an alter-ego named, "Mr. Rager". Through metaphors, we learn about the rise and fall, and the rise of Mr. Rager. How he, in the end, paid the price for all of his antagonizing actions, but became a better person because of it. Experience = Wisdom, this is the theme of the album. And though this album is all about "Mr. Rager", this is the most honest Kid Cudi has ever been with us.
He reveals the theme, and all the experiences he's learned, at the very beginning with the opening track, "Scott Mescudi Vs. The World"
. I suppose it's his way of letting us know what we're in for in this album. Actually, this is more of a personal testimony, than just a regular album. The lyrics of, "These Worries"
and "The End"
, display emotions of uncertainty, not only of the self, but as well as the future, perfectly capturing those feelings of hopelessness that arise whenever we find ourselves in troubles that seem to appear insurmountable. While songs like "MANIAC"
and the eponymous track, "Mr. Rager"
, serve as a window to the things Kid Cudi, I mean Mr. Rager, has experienced in his darkest days. The lyrics tell the tale of a maniacal man who lived a life of no consequence and eventually, met his demise. The iTunes bonus track, "Maybe"
, serves as the apologetic claim from Kid Cudi and is in fact the song that brings all of themes explored in this album in full circle, which makes it even more surprising as to why he chose to exclude it from the album.
But of course, Kid Cudi does regress into some of his past tendencies, showing that this album is not all confession of past mistakes. If there's one thing Kid Cudi knows how to do, it's making good stoner music. And he offers a gift to all of his fellow stoners within the conveniently timed 4 minute and 20 second opus, "Marijuana"
. "Ashin' Kusher"
, which is produced by Beat-guru Chuck Inglish of The Cool Kids, serves as another reference to the stoner culture. All these tracks display a return to past ventures while also adding some buoyant themes in an otherwise, melancholic album.
musically, Man On The Moon II reflects the same ambient touches of psychedelia we've heard before, but the atmosphere is much more gloomy. This album has us descending deeper into a dark realm of psychedelia. The instrumental elements of the album do a great job of recreating the euphoric, mind-altering effects of psychoactive drugs that influenced it's music, creating a seductive trance of cosmic sounds. We also see Kid Cudi embracing a more traditional method of vocalization besides rapping which is evident throughout the album, examples being; "All Along"
and "Trapped In My Mind"
. Overall, Man On The Moon II is a well orchestrated album, but it's more melancholic atmosphere may be misunderstood to those who aren't knowledgeable of how dark the other side of the moon can get. I also wonder how Hip-hop fans will view this album, and the opinions it's music would conjure up. It's has a more experimental agenda than the typical Hip-Hop album, but to anyone who is interested in giving this album a listen, may find this an enriching experience.