Review Summary: The rise and the fall and the rise of Scott Mescudi, as told by Kid Cudi.
I can't help but feel a certain sense of disappointment in Kid Cudi, and it doesn't have as much to do with the album The Legend Of Mr. Rager
as it does with the fact that the way I perceived Scott Mescudi the person has been shattered in light of his recent choices. I'm not one to care so much about the lifestyles of musicians as long as the music is good - especially with rappers, whom I relate to less as a rule - but his first album seemed to me a singular event in the world of hip-hop. Here was a man who, instead of bragging about doing or dealing coke, bragged about how he refuses to do coke. He was able to bare his emotions to his audience without resorting to brash, hyperbolic claims; instead of listening to him because he claimed to be the greatest, people listened to him because they could see a little bit of themselves in him. For an album that was supposed to be about Cudi's dreams, The End Of Day
was remarkably introspective, shedding light on his fears and insecurities; because of this, when he did
start in with the bragging, it actually seemed legitimate because of his willingness to put his whole self on display, not just the good parts. Surprising, to say the least, for such a young rapper to establish himself in that way when mainstream hip-hop seems to increasingly be about who can find the most creative way to say "I'm the best rapper alive" and wholly believe it.
To put it simply, I found something in Kid Cudi that I could respect. His talent was a big part of that respect, but it went beyond that. There was something incredibly endearing about imagining a rapper laying alone in his bedroom, feeling down and insecure. I had never really seen a rapper in that way before. It brought out a whole new side to his music; it wasn't just something to groove to, it was something to get lost in. He certainly wasn't the most agile wordsmith, but The End Of Day
was very cohesive; everything fit perfectly, which is more important than any singular lyrical achievement. Cudi seemed like someone who was well on his way to controlling his destiny, to being someone who could shoot off legitimate artistic statements effortlessly. Unfortunately it turned out to be the same old story with Cudi - drink fame to the dregs and you realize how bitter it is. The man who once rapped "If I did coke then I'd probably be a jacka
ss," cultivated a cocaine addiction merely to get through public appearances and interviews, and was arrested for drug possession, smashing a woman's cell phone, and ripping her apartment door off its hinges.
It stands to reason that because of everything that's happened, The Legend Of Mr. Rager
would be a dark album. Though that fact was predictable, the album is anything but: leave it to Kid Cudi to pull off a post-downward spiral album without making every single song about how much he's been through or how hard it was or how much better he is now. Despite not really knowing what a metaphor is (in a recent interview with Complex
magazine, he was asked about the Wale lyric "Throwin' 'round wallets like the dude that Kid Cudi hit," and he responded by saying "Why would you even use that as a metaphor"" and then he called himself a wizard), he is quite good at turning his feelings and experiences into songs that perfectly describe them without explicitly referring to them. The themes that were present on Man On The Moon
- loneliness, detachment, isolation - are still here but the context is different. Going back to interviews from 2008 and 2009, Cudi described himself as a class clown in school, someone who was popular and fit in, but who also felt separate from everyone else. How sad it is that Cudi made it to the top and still felt the same way - especially after going through everything that he has in this past year.
Amazingly however, his artistic vision is still intact, and that is perhaps the greatest evidence that no matter what dark places he's traveled to, he hasn't been broken. That album that would become The Legend Of Mr. Rager
was originally supposed to be a major collaborative effort with many other artists, but Cudi abandoned that idea in favor of a more personal album, which shows his integrity and dedication to his art. It's a good thing too; Cudi works best by himself, when he's able to take free-form beats and drift along on top of them, drawing the listener in for the kill. He has a distinct talent for vocal pacing; he never rushes his words, and even when he starts rapping faster (much rarer on this album than on Man On The Moon
), he is still able to enunciate perfectly. In a lot of ways, The Legend Of Mr. Rager
is much more laid back than Cudi's debut, but there is still a pervasive feeling of darkness to the music. Undoubtedly one of the reasons is because we know where he's been and where he's coming from, but it's more than that: though the beats are slower, they feel somehow more claustrophobic, as if the walls of the songs are closing in around Cudi and he's trying to reach the end before being crushed. A lullaby-like keyboard line drifts in the background (always in the background; it's never allowed enough volume to provide respite) of opener "Scott Mescudi Vs. The World," and pounding drums and strings signal the arrival of soon-to-be superstar (hopefully) Cee-Lo Green, who tears apart the chorus and most of the second half of the song. The beat of "Don't Play This Song" is almost mechanized in its variations; instruments drop out and in seemingly at random but the whole song feels perfectly planned, and Mary J. Blige's vocal contribution is perhaps the only relevant thing she's ever done.
Also encouraging is that Cudi didn't lose his sense of humor this past year. While initially a disconcerting track, "Erase Me" soon proves to be a winner through the sheer force of its melody, and the simple distorted guitar/drum beat shows that the fabled Kid Cudi rock album may not turn out too badly if he really makes it. And "Marijuana," although it features a pervasively minor key piano arpeggio and clicking drums, is exactly four minutes and twenty seconds long (at the very end of the track, Cudi can be heard saying "....aaannd 4:20."). "All Along" almost feels forced in its joviality, but Cudi hits hard in the chorus with "All along, I guess I'm meant to be alone," completely changing the beat into a thin veneer to his isolation, and underneath is Cudi, doing his best to face his demons and the fact that he might always feel separate. There are only a few missteps on the album: "We Aite (Wake Your Mind Up)" is a short interlude track that could have been so much more; its beat pulses like a heart, growing in volume and drawing you in before ending abruptly without any release. "Wild'n Cuz I'm Young" is wonderfully dark but it never lives up to the potential of its beat because of a weak, stutter-step chorus. Still, there are no skip-worthy tracks. If Man On The Moon
was all muscle, with hard-hitting choruses and immediately affecting lyrics, then The Legend Of Mr. Rager
is more akin to tone work, or perhaps even yoga; Cudi is flexing and stretching his skills, exploring untouched areas of his psyche and finding things to turn into songs.
The most interesting thing about Kid Cudi is that, for someone who has such a close relationship with Kanye West, he came much closer to actually being the voice of a generation than West ever did. Man On The Moon
expressed the feelings of this lost generation perfectly - the way we're all floating along, waiting for something to happen and not sure how to make
it happen, or if we should even try. The feelings of isolation, the worries about being erased and forgotten, the desire to numb the pain while running from the knowledge that it will still be there waiting - these are things Cudi understands but he is not trying to teach us about them so much as he's trying to relate to us, to show us he's been there too. The Legend Of Mr. Rager
could have been Cudi's triumphant return to hip-hop after a tough year, it could have been a statement about how everything is back to normal now, but Cudi is more honest than that. There is nothing overblown about the album, there's no sense of superiority here. This is the proof that Cudi fell from grace but was able to gracefully climb out of that dark place with a desire to be better, not just for himself, but for us. The most important thing to take away from The Legend Of Mr. Rager
is the knowledge that as long as artists like Kid Cudi are out there feeling as alone as we do sometimes...well, then we are never really alone.