Cleveland rapper and singer Kid Cudi has come a long way in the last decade, and how his latest album, Man on the Moon III: The Chosen, came into fruition is quite an extraordinary journey. One of the darlings of rap music in the early 2010s as a prominent Kanye West collaborator and protégé, Cudi dropped the first two installments of Man on the Moon to mixed critical reception but an overwhelmingly positive buzz from a loyal fanbase that has stuck with him to this day.
The next few years saw Cudi traverse down a more experimental path, resulting in albums like Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven and Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon, that drew even more divisive reception from critics and even some backlash from ardent supporters. However, on the other side of a turbulent several years and an updated revival of his original sound, Cudi’s fanbase has been rewarded with the most focused, intelligible and tuneful version of Kid Cudi since Man on the Moon II.
The production on The Chosen is the most recognizable change to Kid Cudi’s typical formula, although it remains to be very suitable for Cudi’s voice and subject matter. Cudi is known for being one of modern hip hop’s most influential voices in terms of the style he helped create on albums like 808s and Heartbreak by Kanye West, and that prescient artistry has been paid back on this album to the likes of Juice WRLD and Travis Scott, two artists whose styles are obviously indebted to Cudi’s early work.
Kid Cudi takes a psychedelic trap approach to the beats, effects and aesthetics on The Chosen, and it works exceptionally well. His signature humming and vocal style are laced beautifully throughout the instrumentals to give it that distinct feel of a Kid Cudi project. Still, the album sounds so rooted in the new wave of psych trap that my mind immediately went to “Cudi’s version of Astroworld.”
Cudi’s lyricism and melodic sensibilities made a remarkable comeback in quality on his and Kanye’s 2018 collaboration Kids See Ghosts, and The Chosen confirms that comeback was not a fluke. His patented moody hums and soulful baritone vocals on “Tequila Shots,” “She Knows This” and “Damaged” capture the old Cudi in a new, fresh-sounding exterior.
“Mr. Solo Dolo III, “The Void,” “Show Out,” “Lord I Know” and “Heaven on Earth” are a handful of other highlights that bring out the best in Cudi’s ability to produce a strong mood on a track. Guests Phoebe Bridgers, Skepta, Trippie Redd and the late Pop Smoke contribute nicely to the project as well. While there are a few redundancies and skip-worthy tracks (miss me with “Elsie’s Baby Boy”), this was a solid return to solo success for Cudi and breathes new life into his career.
Kid Cudi’s latest album The Man on the Moon III: The Chosen lands eleven years after the first installment of his Man on the Moon series and gives listeners a fresh concept in a familiar way.
In MOTM III, Cudi continues the internal fight with his impetuous and overindulgent persona Mr. Rager. The album’s synopsis states that Cudi is fighting to “win back his soul” from the opponent he thought he defeated years ago, which is oddly himself. Cudi’s concept for the entire album allows us to see the complexity of the artist as a person. The MOTM series has followed Cudi’s struggles with mental health and addiction in what seems like an endless cycle.
The 18 track album has a 58 minute run time divided into four acts that bring a chaotic trilogy to a buoyant conclusion.
Act I: Return 2 Madness is a new direction in Cudi’s beat selection and sound. His high energy rap cadences and ad-libs are reminiscent of collaborator and mentee Travis Scott. While much of that sound can be attributed to producers on the album such as Mike Dean and Take a Day Trip, it’s easy to see Cudi has been inspired by today's sound. The tracks “Another Day,” “She Knows This,” and “Dive” best encapsulate that energy.
The second and third acts each have their highlights as well.
Act II: The Rager, The Menace paints the confrontation between Scott and Mr. Rager. “Show Out” featuring the late Pop Smoke and British drill-rapper Skepta sounds like an unlikely pairing, but its intensity matches the theme that Cudi is trying to convey here. “Solo Dolo Part III” Cudi wrestles with his addictions and inability to accept help.
In Act III: Heart of Rose Gold, Cudi makes listeners reminisce with “Elsie’s Baby Boy.” He tells both his mother’s story and his own. The guitar strums, simple melodies and repetitive hook are all the tools of a classic Cudi song. The FINNEAS produced “Sept. 16” is a more heartfelt Cudi track about his longing for love, but is immediately followed by more confusion in “The Void.”
The void he speaks of is a dangerous place to be mentally, but Cudi develops a sense of solitude and acceptance by dwelling there: “I will fall in the void just to avoid anything that’ll bring me down or f—k w my flow.” Cudi’s echoing hums are a refreshing sound amidst a beat and synth that’s unsettling yet comforting.
MOTM III’s third act rounds out with the Phoebe Bridgers featured track “Lovin’ Me.” The indie artist pairs with Cudi to speak on self-love and acceptance.
Act IV: Powers is the optimistic resolution Cudi comes to after his fight with Mr. Rager. “Rockstar Nights” with fellow NorthEast Ohio-rapper Trippie Redd is an upbeat reminder that Cudi is and always will be a rockstar. His delivery is boastful and inward-looking: “Tell ‘em it’s the sequel to, all them days I was faded figured I was through.”
The album’s final track “Lord I Know” is the perfect end to Cudi’s infamous trilogy. His introspective look at his life and story offer hope to all his fans and even those just learning the story of the Man on the Moon.
Overall, Cudi delivers another timeless psychedelic experience in MOTM III that covers a variety of different moods. Being a day one Cudi stan isn’t necessary to enjoy the album or its message, and it has a vibe for just about any sort of music fan to enjoy.