Kid Cudi | Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
If nothing else, Kid Cudi continues to confound expectations of how the role of star rapper should be played. Behind his breakout 2009 disc, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, and thoughtful hits like "Day 'N' Night," he embarked on a whirlwind year, collaborating with everyone from Kanye and Jay-Z to Shakira, MGMT, and Vampire Weekend. That sort of rapid success — surprise surprise — can be hard to deal with, especially for a hip-hop artist of apparent vulnerability. Brushes with the law and a cocaine habit sent his personal life on a turn to the dark side, something that's soon evident over the course of Mr. Rager's 17 remorseful tracks. Fuck getting the party started — there's nothing to dance to here anyway. Cudi got the party started so hard, it's already time to piece together the details of what happened after the blackout. "Hide the pain with some pussy and mimosa," he raps on "Wild'n Cuz I'm Young." This might be the first example of a commercially viable coke rap that tells the other side of the story: the brittle paranoia and self-doubt that come from the crash. Collaborators like Cee-Lo (who tosses off an effortless hook on "Scott Mescudi vs. the World") buoy the mood, but Cudi is rapping over bass lines so tense and beats so claustrophobic, each snare or kick seems like brackets clamping down on his thoughts. On "REVOFEV," the mood gets downright sickly, with a groaning hook that sounds like the soundtrack to an hour spent face first in the toilet. "I'm so high up, so high up and I like it," he half-sings. This isn't any sentimental, overcoming-demons bullshit — it's simply how it is. "Don't Play This Song" in particular is the anti-feel-good song; for all its surface-level uplift, it's a total bum-out. Cudi musters the bravado on "Mojo So Dope," but it's the most understated, undercutting puff-out in recent memory. Even big-time rappers, it seems, get the fear. Bad news for him, good news for us.