Man on the Moon: The End of Day, the debut album from Cleveland native and noted curmudgeon, Kid Cudi, is effectively hip-hop’s answer to The Cure’s Disintegration, a web of sprawling self-reflection and faux-philosophy that has soundtracked the shotgunning of Natural Ice cans with surprising longevity.
This is mostly due to “Day ‘N Nite,” the album’s lone radio hit, and Cudi’s only really successful single to date.
It doesn’t faze him, judging by more recent album lyrics. Cudi is, in many ways, the Stamp Act of the current, and still ongoing, hip-hop revival that is recharging rap’s underground. He isn’t the most interesting player – his latest, Indicud, was largely ignored – but nothing would’ve followed without him.
Cudi’s coup de grace was reimagining traditional rock song structures with hip-hop elements, a feat that’s on full display in some of Man on the Moon‘s best cuts – “Enter Galactic,” “Up, Up and Away” and “Sky Might Fall.” By widening the genre, and taking influence from experimentalists like TV on the Radio and indie acts like Band of Horses, he opened the door for hip-hop to embrace and create sounds that it wouldn’t have otherwise explored.
Without Man on the Moon, we almost certainly wouldn’t have gotten My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Yeezus.
Yet, there’s an insistence that Cudi is Kanye’s protege. It’s important to highlight the mainstream music press’ stance on this issue, as they’ve routinely failed to identify why Cudi is so important. Cudi and Kanye are two creative equals, and it’s hard to tell exactly who influences the other the most.
Sure, Kanye plucked Cudi from obscurity, but the two worked closely on 808s and Man on the Moon. (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy eventually found West internalizing this spirit and warping the form into his own conceit, but Cudi’s influence seems to have been his blueprint, or perhaps more accurately Blueprint.)
Note the resemblance of Yeezus‘s “New Slaves” to Man on the Moon‘s “Solo Dolo (nightmare).” Both songs use the same sparse hooks, though Cudi doesn’t bring the same masterful production or intense subject matter as West. West’s reverence of Cudi is further evidenced by his virtually unnecessary inclusion on Yeezus.
While the musical influence may be apparent, critics have also take aim at Cudi’s particular lyrical weakness, his penchant for rapping about weed, his emotions and his isolationism.
“And its like, I…I would play my stuff for everybody / And you know, and all my people would give me feedback, you know / And they’d be like ‘Why’s it sound so different?’ like it’s a bad thing. Then I’d be like, ‘Why not? Nigga!’”
Such is the particular wisdom of Kid Cudi. But, the point is that it doesn’t matter that Cudi doesn’t say much. He’s found something better – a different template for expressing himself.
One only needs to list to “Friday I’m in Love” or “Just Like Heaven” to realize both songs could have been sold to Cyndi Lauper and still topped the charts. What The Cure mastered was the presentation of the material, the affectation of his voice, the shimmering guitars that gave the material emotional weight.
The cover of Man on the Moon is also steeped in duality. Taken at face value, it could be viewed as a somewhat ridiculous expression of the album title. Flipped on its head, it’s an icy vista bathed in moonlight. You can look at it either way.
Pete Rizzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.