By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Kid Cudi's a polarizing rapper whose sonic creativity is either weighed down by gloomy self-indulgence or enhanced by his soul-baring vulnerability.
His music's labyrinthine psychedelic arrangements sometimes verge into dance, like on his biggest hit, "Day N' Nite," thanks to a world-beating remix by Crookers. This paean to the "lonely stoner" set the tone for his 2009 debut concept album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, dovetailing with the music's hazy, dreamy, space-faring headspace. The album's ruminative emotional tenor owes a debt to Kanye West, who enlisted Cudi's help on several cuts from his own 2008 release, 808s and Heartbreak.
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But Cudi's no clone. His speak-sing raps invert hip-hop's traditional braggadocio to arrive at a level of doubt and self-loathing pioneered once by Atmosphere. Shaped by his father's death from cancer as a youth, Cudi dives deeply into his own psyche, sounding even more troubled on his follow-up, Man on the Moon II: Legend of Mr. Rager. It meditates on his struggles with drugs, fame and self-destructive impulses, expanding on the icy, benumbed feel of its predecessor. Yet if the lyrics are sometimes claustrophobic, the music's equally expansive, enlisting a wide range of collaborators in forging rich billowing atmospheric tapestries as indebted to Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush as Jay-Z or Dre.
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