“There is a beautiful saying amongst the Irish peasantry to inspire hope under adverse circumstances: ‘Remember,’ they say, ‘that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day’,” wrote Samuel Lover, a phrase that can be translated to the ancient proverb, “It’s darkest before the dawn.” As Samuel noted, the phrase was used to inspire, a way of giving hope to those that were in a suffocating darkness. Dawn is the light that is guaranteed to come, a way of knowing that this too shall pass.
Kid Cudi knows about demons, his entire career has been an open and honest battle against despair. Fighting against an addiction to drugs and chronic depression has allowed him to create great art, but it has been taxing on his soul. Just a few months ago he admitted himself into rehab due to the increasing fear that he would take his own life.
Cudi’s music has been the dawn for many of his fans suffering from their own darkness. His struggles brought comfort, a voice that said you aren’t alone. His candid artistry showed there was a place for an outcast to vent his deepest troubles. The man might have found a home on the Moon, but his isolated tales spoke to the thousands on Earth. Being a big brother isn’t an easy role, but Cudi embraced being more than just another artist.
With that said, Cudi isn’t the easiest artist to love—there have been more than a few occasions where he’s been downright unpleasant. This year alone, Big Sean, Drake, and Kanye West have had words for Cudder. Understanding Cudi is to see both a brilliant artist and a flawed man, there’s no separating the two. No matter how much I might disagree with some of his actions and statements, I’ll never overlook what he means to music. Removing Cudi’s existence would rewrite hip-hop history, the entire landscape would change without his presence.
Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ is the perfect title for his sixth studio album. It defines his career—a man of passion, a man full of pain, and a man who has slayed his demons like Buffy slays vampires. The 19 song tracklisting shows he has a lot to get off his chest, which is expected give his year full of controversy. Cudi has always cared about the art, even when his daring attempts at being different were less than stellar. He isn’t alway brilliant, but he’s always eagerly searching for the next leap in creativity. Even if his best days are behind him, Cudi may very well invent the wave of tomorrow by his vigorous way of pushing forward. I’m expecting Cudi to once again channel his passion, pain, and darkness into art. Cudi personifies hope, a reminder that you can push through into the dawn.
This is going to be a long one, but the 1-Listen rules are the same—I can’t stop, rewind, or fast forward through the album. I must listen and write my gut reaction to each and every song. Time to step into the darkness...
Act I: Tuned
Two shots of Ciroc, a house full of people, and 88 minutes of Cudi, this will be a 1-Listen to remember. This is one single that I missed despite it being released back in September. The Cudi hum is magical, he could release an R&B album of hums. This is mellow, there’s a complete lack of aggression. A couple girls and shrooms could easily be a vacation from reality or a nightmare that you’ll regret. His voice is entrancing, but that yell just broke whatever trance I was entering. Structure is something that Cudi is vehemently against. He creates music off feeling, his shortcomings as a rapper are overshadowed by his ability to send listeners into a mood, or vibes as they call it now. This is a vibe. This one is a bit long, a strange choice for an intro, but not bad. It feels like entering the Cudder zone. I believe this is the first Cudi album to bring back the Act since MOTM 2, a good sign that he wanted this project to be a world, story, and concept listeners could get lost in.
2. "Swim in the Light"
The sound is building, there’s an energy here that’s good, I’m hoping that it explodes into something bigger. Cudi sings about numbing the pain, but his voice needs more passion. I hear him, but I don’t feel it. I like the sentiment, it has all the making of a Cudi classic, but there’s this lack of grappling fervor. Songs like this have to punch you in the chest, grab out your heart, or else it’s a flatline. The Auto-Tune drenched mid-section sounds like T-Pain being tortured by the girl that sprung him. He sounds like Zordon dying. It’s not a pleasant death. I’m really glad to hear Cudi sing about not succumbing to the darkness. I like this despite my heart still pounding.
So far the music has been very mellow, this is another slow builder. The chords are light, the hum is a scary movie. The whisper that just came in could easily be the crypt keeper. This is weird, the kind of interesting strange that drew Mike to Eleven. A woman’s voice, she sings with a tone that is like a ghost haunting us from the other side. This low growl hum is freaking me out. I’m starting to love how sparse this beat is, it's minimum, barebone, there’s a hypnotic quality to this entire song. I’m not sure if it’s been playing for five minutes or 50, the kind of song you sink into by accident. It’s too long. Piano keys came at the end. I don’t know how I feel about this one, maybe if it was shorter I’d be more enticed to play it again in the future.
4. "By Design" (ft. André 3000)
More piano keys, very light, but the funk just kicked in. I’m feeling this rhythm, Cudi just sang about being alive, and this is the most lively the album has sounded thus far. The singing, rapping, humming style works for Cudi. Oh! ANDRE 3000! Let’s GO. This guy really does avoid rapping on hard drums. I’m getting Wale vibes from 3 Stacks. Oh man, that was too short. Cudi is one of the best non-traditional singers in rap. Don’t fuck up the feng shui—a mantra for 2017. Loving the bounce, it’s joyousness that I hope to hear more. Andre and Cudi going back and forth is the most moved I've been by a tag team by since Booker T and Stevie Ray, long live the Harlem Heat. Tap into the frequency. A good song, but it didn’t launch my soul to the moon.
5. "All In"
This is interesting. The sound of water. It’s like walking along the beach at night. Building. The beat just dropped—it was more of a bunt than a homerun—but the drums are hitting. I need Travis to give Cudi the firecracker drums. A personal Cudi, the harmonies are good. This is very light, the album is picking up its tempo a bit. Man, these songs have felt long. There has been a lack of dynamic moments thus far. Each song builds, but it doesn’t combust. He’s giving us honesty, but I wish he exerted a lot more feeling.
Act II: Prophecy
“All In” was the end of Act I and Act II already sounds way more compelling. Every time I see Act II it reminds me of the Jay Elect album we are NEVER getting. The beat is dirty, the high hat sounds like the tail of a rattlesnake. 13 seems to be the age where Cudi truly started to feel the darkness, likely when he was fighting with his demons. So young, so sad. I like the self-reflection. Cudi talks a lot about light on this album, you can tell he’s searching for an escape from the darkness. I believe this song is a so long message to all the demons in his head. This has been the first song to really give me that old Cudi feeling. The production really plays in the back, very easy, the foundation really gives him room to let his voice rang.
7. "Rose Golden" (ft. Willow Smith)
Still trying to connect the bigger picture. I'm sure the acts will play a big part on this album's theme. Oh CUDI JUST BROUGHT OUT THE HARP STRINGS. Yep, this already sounds like picking daisies in the Garden of Eden. The drums just kicked in and...is that Willow Smith? Nah, this isn’t the same girl who once sung of whipping hair. This duet with Cudi sounds like a swirling hurricane of awesome. Production is so soft, the light shining through the darkness. The house party is playing Maceo’s Nextel Chirp, I’m somehow in heaven and in ‘05 Atlanta. “The story of the chosen” would’ve been a better title than “Rose Golden.” I love this production, if you’re familiar with the legend of Zelda, I'm getting Link vibes from this one. A lot of reminiscing lyrics. Cudi just mentioned ‘03. Act II is a step up from Act I in production. Another good song.
8. "Baptized in Fire" (ft. Travis Scott)
The album flows well, each song sinks into the next in harmony. “Turn the radio off.” I did that a few years ago, Scott. The punch is still missing. It’s like Cudi is planning to ride this rather mellow train to the very end. It would be way more impactful if the song had a bit more enthusiasm. Travis Scott is here and this is the least energetic he has sounded in quite some time. For all the talk of energy and frequencies on this album, I wish they would turn it up a bit. “Since a kid I been haunted by death,” don’t get it twisted Cudi is saying some very real things on the album—it just doesn’t kick you in the face. This album should be a drop kick instead of a heel tape. Also, "Baptized In Fire" sounds like an episode of Vinyl. "We live so geeky" is the most Travis Scott lyric of the year.
9. "Flight At First Sight/Advanced" (ft. Pharrell Williams)
Smooth. Cudi is so against the conventional that he refused to call this song "Love At First Sight." Okay, we finally got some drums that kicked with a bit of passion. This beat switch is a bizarre nice twist, I was almost bored but this is funky. Cudi proved he can make something quirky with a groove. We could’ve skipped the entire first half, the beat change is a mood. I love a dark, moody Cudi, but it’s nice to see him switch it up. I need to find out who produced this so they can do his entire next album. [Editor's note: It's Pharrell Williams.]
10. "Does It"
Some moody piano keys. Deep in sound. The strings just came in, this is the making of something epic. Please be epic. His voice came at me with the force of saying Bloody Mary three times in the mirror and actually seeing something daunting. Another more up-tempo record, but it isn’t too fast. I have to say, so far, this album doesn’t sound like anything in rap. Telling Satan to fuck off,” I feel you, Scott. I'm loving the self-empowering lyrics. I don’t know why he wanted to highlight the two T’s in unfuckwittable, but okay. Cudi does it, whatever that means. The beat is pulsating, kicking like a nine-month-old baby in the womb. I wish Cudi would let his words flow, his slight mumble is irritating. He just said something about pissing people off. A faster flow than usual. Cudi has mastered the art of rap/talk. I want to like this song, but there’s something off-putting about it. It sure isn’t the beat, Jesus.
Act III: Niveaux de l'Amour
11. "Dance 4 Eternity"
Loving the production already. A Cudi love song? The tempo could be a bit faster, but if we’re slow dancing at a funeral this could be a very nice record to throw on. Cudi’s voice reminds me of the one person who can’t pay telephone— quiet but louder than a whisper. It has a nostalgic feel, an infectious groove, but lyrically lacking. I guess this could be a wedding song if you got married at Hot Topic. I miss “Enter Galactic” all of a sudden. Eh, I will likely pass on this one.
12. "Distant Fantasies"
I hope this song is about long distance relationships. It has a very dark build up, a lot of distortion on Cudi’s voice. He’s talking to a woman, there’s a bit of aggression in his voice. You can tell this woman hurt his ego, he’s letting her have it. This is like a Drake song but way more vehement. I like this, it’s a, “I Don’t Fuck With You” kind of petty, but by Cudi’s weird standards. I guess losing a girl and being a celebrity has to be a big bomb to the ego. He’s really letting her have it. I love the zeal, even if it comes from such a negative place. Andre had to call out Caroline, but even Cudi hasn’t wished that this woman will crash into a ditch. I hope this isn’t the same woman he wished to dance with for an eternity.
I’m assuming this portation of the album is about a woman who hurt him? Need someone to translate Niveaux de l’Amour in English. A lot of passion in his voice for this one. The bassline that just kicked in is otherworldly—if there was a spaceship above me this is what I'd expect it to sound like. This is a good example of how Cudi needs production that dresses up his vocals. If vocals are going to drive his album production has to have more life than a newborn nursery. "Wounds" is getting it right. “I’m going to sow these wounds,” there’s something very badass about this hook. Hurt him all you want but he will heal himself. Again, the self-empowerment on this album is very refreshing.
14. "Mature Nature"
Okay, I’m a little surprised this album is still going. The liquor is flowing so I hope the next few songs will knock my socks off or else the words may be harsh. I like this, it's string driven and has a heavenly touch. We have reached heaven. The claps are leaving me with a yearning for a southern church choir to add some back-ups. Cudi is a true minimalist, there has been no overwhelming moments. The moon man knows how to make you feel like you’re floating in outer space. I love how easy on the ears this one is, a potential keeper.
Cudi has this sound that isn’t harsh, kind of tranquil, even at it’s darkest, you don’t feel engulfed. I want to get into this song, but a recurring critique on this album is this lack of feeling. He talks about being punch drunk and that’s what I want. The mellowness is a magic carpet ride that will put you to sleep like a breathtaking experience. I want Cudi to make me uncomfortable, send me into the depths of my heart, but he’s only scratching the surface of emotion. An album this long needs to be like a blockbuster film. I need action, I need explosions, I need blood, or else I’ll sleep in this chair. THESE STRINGS THOUGH. I’m a sucker for beauty and you could put those closing strings on a magazine cover.
Act IV: It's Bright and Heaven Is Warm
16. "Cosmic Warrior"
The final act. The cosmic warrior. Sounds like a decent Marvel comic that I would watch at the AMC. Production is a bit harder, the drums are like asteroids colliding into Earth. The bassline has a bit of bounce, I could get down with this. The intergalactic groove is hitting, Cudi is going the extra mile to try and hit these notes. They don’t send chills running, but I might have a few bumps on my arm. Well-produced. Cudi's letting these strings talk. Easygoing chords. The instrumental endings have all been lush and elegant.
17. "The Guide" (ft. André 3000)
Feet walking, the kind of beat that can be made from natural everyday movements. Cudi is in full mumble rapper mode on this intro. Beat's got a bit of kick to it. Spacey, but demanding. I like this. More excellent hums. I would love it if someone would let Cudi score a film. I think he'd be a natural. Another Andre verse, he must have really liked the last album. THIS FLOW. Man, this is one rapper who never sounds like he’s not on his A-Game. That was painfully short. Can we get a full-length Andre album already? For the culture. Cudi’s breathing flow is a cool texture, to be honest. I think this song was better than their first offering. A good record. I wouldn’t ask Santa for a full-length Cudi and Andre album, but a short EP would be satisfying. Too soon?
18. "The Commander"
Church organ? Sounds like it. Soulful. Take us there. “You can’t run from who you are,” you can say that again Captain. I've been having moments when songs almost hit me, this isn’t one. This is very Cudi but also good. Soaring, this is a lift-me-up record. Maybe a bit late on the album? I like this record as an anthem for people who feel like their control is slipping. Cudi is preaching that you’re always in control.
19. "Surfin" (ft. Pharrell Williams)
I hate that all album long I've been waiting for drums to break my neck. The production on “Surfin” makes the album sound dull in comparison. These horns, this drum pattern, the background vocals, it’s an incredible groove. This is the big production that the album has been missing. In retrospect, I feel this song doesn’t really fit. The wave riders made him get out of his shell and make something just for them. Maybe that’s what this album was missing, a less internal perspective. That horn riff just tore my heart in two, so beautiful. There’s plenty of songs that have much more meaning, and better context, but this is by far the most immediate keeper. It has feeling, life, passion—all qualities that I expected this album to be packed with. These keys at the end. Oh, this switch-up— with these drums—it’s like getting a buy one get one free shirt at your favorite shop. Pharrell, please do an album with Cudi. The people need this. Please!
Cudi is a compelling artist. He lives on an edge of life that most of us will never reach, never see, never truly experience. But we might come close, peeking into our own darkness, and that’s what makes Cudi someone that people adore. Going through this album, I see a lot of self-growth. He truly slays demons and embraces stepping more into the light than waddling in the depths of darkness.
You see an artist maturing his views, a complete understanding that the journey out of his mind isn’t an easy one. The lyrics are there, and there are moments where you feel him, but for all the personal revelation, it just seemed like emotion wasn’t poured into each song like it should’ve been. I never truly reached the darkness, I only touched the shadow.
The album is long, very long, there isn’t a song shorter than 3 minutes on the entire album. It hurts an album that isn’t diverse. A lot of similar sounds and perspectives. The production doesn’t punch you, it’s a light tap, but I needed a knockout. Maybe a shorter, more condensed version would better suit his overall message.
I do see this album being one where the subject will be very real to his fans. A lot of self-reflection that shows a man who isn’t hiding, but confronting the problems that lay before him. The beauty of Kid Cudi is how he stands in his closet instead of hiding the skeletons. The lyrics will make an impact, but I wish vocally Cudi was able to translate more sentiment. There’s pain, there’s demon slayin’, but I needed more passion. The kind of heartbreaking, chill running, breathtaking passion that you get lost in.
If this album was a pool, it'd be like swimming into the deep end without your head going under. We see the dawn, but it's not the blinding light of sunrise.
By Yoh, aka A Kid Named Yoh, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Republic