The Man On The Moon series has always seen Kid Cudi excel as an anomaly in the overall hip-hop landscape.
Scott “who said Cudi can’t sing?” Mescudi crooned over psychedelic production and influenced countless artists since his debut in 2009. However a decade later, many of those that he inspired have gone on to improve and commercialise his sound better than Cudi ever has (i.e. Travis Scott).
Meanwhile he went on this uneventful experimental period that spawned some pretty decent albums (and one horrendous one), but none came close to the brilliance of his first two.
Cudi labels MOTM 3 as the end to his original trilogy, so naturally I was excited for him to return to a sound that I’ve sorely missed. Enlisting his right-hand man since day 1 – Dot da Genius to produce nearly every track on it, there was little reason to doubt the potential quality of the album given their track record over the years.
I’d say I was a bit too optimistic though.
Tracks from ACT 1 and 2 are cut from his Indicud-PPDS era cloth rather than its prequels. Songs that feature much more modern rap/trap production, with Cudi performances that trade in his signature raspy singing for more rap-heavy verses. It’s a stark reminder that Cudi isn’t the trailblazer that he once was, instead he’s now an artist that’s as influenced by his contemporaries as they are by him.
The inspirations Cudi takes from current hip-hop extends beyond just production though, notably from his protegé – Travis Scott. Songs like “She Knows This” and “Damaged” straight up rip-off Travis’ reverb-heavy flow and the inflections of his iconic ad-libs. You could write it off as a homage but ultimately, it’s an incredibly disappointing choice to blatantly copy a sound of an artist that lists Cudi himself as a major influence.
Then, there’s the trend chasing “Show Out“. A drill collaboration with the late Pop Smoke and Skepta that has NO place on a Kid Cudi record, let alone a MOTM one. It’s a mind-boggling inclusion that reeks of a quick cash grab that aims to leverage Pop Smoke’s continued popularity for a stab at mainstream success. Not to mention it ruins the momentum and atmosphere that previous songs have built up thus far.
Fortunately, “Mr. Solo Dolo III” ends ACT 2 on a high note. Ripped straight out of the Indicud sessions, Cudi opens up about his addictions and the pains inflicted on him by the resulting isolation. It’s one of the most affecting songs on the record, channeling the haunting imagery that he’s painted often over his career that’s still as disconcerting. It’s prime post-MOTM Kid Cudi.
The album reaches its peak in ACT 3, fully returning to the MOTM sound on tracks like “Elsie’s Baby Boy”, “Sept 16”, “The Void” and “Lovin’ Me” (w/ Phoebe Bridges). An incredible 4-track run equipped with bright synths, gentle keys and Cudi hums, elements that spark a familiar warmth inside me.
Honestly the 2nd half of MOTM 3 is much, much stronger in terms of production variety and in Cudi’s performances, where he sounds considerably more impassioned. In particular, the tracks “Rockstar Knights” w/ Trippie Redd and “Lord I Know” feel like a fusion of his old psychedelic sound with his current rap-heavy delivery that could be an evolution which Cudi could take his sound in.
This half escapes the shadow of his past 4 records and washes out the bad taste that the album’s 1st half left on me, but it’s also another depressing reminder that the potential of a full project with this consistent quality could have existed.
Don’t get me wrong though, I loved Indicud and PPDS but naming your album Man On The Moon 3 comes with it the weighty expectations set by two well-regarded classics. It’s an uphill climb that Cudi barely attempts to scale, instead this album is another step down a rather underwhelming career trajectory that he’s set himself on since 2013.
MOTM 3 isn’t a bad album by any means but if it was named anything other than MOTM 3, I’m pretty sure I could have loved it a lot more.