While it’s now old hat for new musicians to reach prominence out of nowhere, the ascent of Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi, is still legendary. His debut single, “Day ’n’ Night” was officially released in February 2008. It created a good groundswell and his mixtape A Kid Named Cudi caught the attention of Kanye West, who signed him to his GOOD Music imprint. Cudi subsequently co-wrote four songs on West’s relationship dirge 808s and Heartbreak that released in November 2008. “Day ’n’ Nite” lived on too, becoming a huge college hit, and served as the lead single for his debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day which followed in late summer 2009. Cudi went from being an unknown at the beginning of one year to getting one of the most valuable cosigns ever by the end of it. But the seams started showing early.
Split into five acts and featuring indie-crossover collaborations with Ratatat and MGMT, Man on the Moon revealed Cudi to have a great ear for production and a knack for intuitive melodies. But the album was overly ambitious and undercooked with its prosaic lyrics, flat singing, and overall lack of focus. And yet, over the course of his next five releases, four solo studio albums and a one-off rock album with Dot da Genius under the name WZRD, Cudi was able to maintain a deeply committed fanbase. Moreover, he’s been consistently name-checked by many revered musicians (West, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, ASAP Rocky among them) as being a huge influence. But, why?
Because Cudi is real. Or at least he feels that way. The tone and texture of Cudi’s music, with its lacking lyrics and sometimes amateurish singing, communicates contradictory emotions better than nearly any of his peers. It’s druggy and percussive, thick with synthesizers but never hitting hard enough to make a listener uneasy. His music is a perfect fit for when hedonistic impulses run aground and one is left looking inside himself, wondering if this is the person they are meant to be. It speaks directly to the loneliness one can feel at a party or within a relationship—that slippery place where trust and lacking self-confidence converge. West said at a concert in December 2016 that Cudi was “the most influential artist of the past ten years.” It might seem hyperbolic, but could you imagine Future without Cudi’s influence on the genre? Or Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles”? Even edges of Drake’s more recent work? No.
And with that, we now have Kid Cudi’s sixth solo album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’.
Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ is a formidable record. At 19 tracks, stretching across 87 minutes, Cudi waxes prosaic on love, sex, anxiety, depression, and frequencies. There’s scarcely a song here that’s shorter than four minutes in length. Moreover, there isn’t a lot of variety in the tempos, making the album sound very samey for long stretches. Like his earlier works, this one too is split into acts (four this time), but they add up to be of little consequence when listening to the record. It also features some laughably bad song titles, like “Cosmic Warrior”, “Baptized in Fire”, “Distant Fantasies”, and “ILLusions.”
While all this would typically signal an indulgent failure from any other artist, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ might be Cudi’s best solo album. Even in its generous length, there’s never a misstep like Common’s narration on Man on the Moon or his own unfortunate grunge-rap dalliances on Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. There’s a level of refinement here that’s been rare for Cudi previously. An immediate highlight is the opener “Frequency”, which introduces many of the album’s motifs: a driving midtempo beat, great onomatopoeia, and vocals that are completely at one with the beat.
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Other highpoints include the Willow Smith collaboration “Rose Golden”, which initially floats in on some beautiful ambiance but then morphs into a strange duet with deep throated vocals from Cudi. “Rose Golden’s” lyrics are from the point of view of a disaffected creative, grousing about teachers that never showed him his potential. And yet he transcends this handicap by virtue of being “the chosen one”. This again is part of Cudi’s charm: his confessional self-importance mirrors the perspective many of us have, giving us comfort by holding up the mirror to our flaws.
Still, picking out individual highlights diminishes the overall hypnotic effect from the sheer volume of work here. Cudi might lack ingenuity as a lyricist and songwriter, but he makes up for it by creating an environment in which the listener can enter an altered state from his vibes. The consistent sound here isn’t so much redundant as repetitive; it builds a world in a way that too few records do. It’s not a particularly deep work—and it’s certainly not as important as its maker implies. But if there is a deeper truth to be found, it’s going to be in the album’s texture which conjures a beautiful night where the streets are wet, and you might be sad, but not sad enough to go to bed just yet.
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