There was a time when everything used to be more simple. A time when KiD CuDi the artist was more famous than the antics he is more commonly associated with today. When Drake beefs, twitter rants and rock albums weren’t the first thing you thought of when you heard his name. A time when an up and coming artist broke up the title track from his breakout mixtape by telling us that he would “play all my stuff for everybody and you know all the people would give me feedback and they would be like yo why your shit sound so different…like it was a bad thing?”. To this the then 24-year-old replied “Why not?”. It was the type of care free answer from an artist that was innovating as a result of the music he made and not one that was setting out to make music that innovated. That statement signified a rapper that heard what critics had to say, but didn’t necessarily care. Somewhere along the line, Scott Mescudi lost this ability to let criticism go in one ear and out the other and in turn lost his musical charm, and quite possibly, himself. The years following 2010’s Man on the Moon II found KiD CuDi dabbling in acting, alternative albums and self-produced ones that amounted to the finished products feeling more like side projects. At the time, many saw this divergent attitude as an artist attempting to do something different, when in retrospect it was most likely a man trying to find happiness in something new. This made CuDi’s October letter that he was checking himself into a rehabilitation facility for “depression and suicidal urges” a sad yet not necessarily surprising development. The announcement came right on the cusp of the artist’s 6th solo release Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’, which was delayed as a result. The letter reminded us all that behind the music there are real people that create it. People that cry, bleed, and worry just as their listeners do. It saw an artist suffer from the same thing that so many have said he has saved them from. In the wake of all of this, CuDi turned to music as one form of therapy, and apparently turned to it quite frequently with his 6th LP as it runs 19 songs and almost an hour and a half. Would this be a CuDi finding himself or meandering into more of the experimental territory that has plagued his work for the past 6 years?
Throughout the album’s rollout, most of Passion’s 19 tracks were kept under wraps with about 4 songs being released ahead of schedule. The album kicks off with ‘Frequency’, a song that found the rapper moving away from last year’s rock influences and instead veering back into the territory that garnered him a loyal fan base to begin. The track almost crawls along, and introduces the album with CuDi’s signature moans and some rapping to boot. Recurring themes rear their head as the album goes along. One of which is an artist reminding listeners that he is on a different wavelength than many of his contemporaries like on the Willow Smith assisted ‘Rose Golden’ and closer ‘Surfin’. Claiming that he’s been “grooving to his own drum” and “surfing on his own wave”, the songs prove, almost ironically, that CuDi is at his best when he lets others into his creative process. Whether it’s ‘Surfin’s Pharrell laced beat and backing vocals that close out the track or Smith’s harmonies on Golden, the collaborations make up most of the albums highlights. The two Andre 3000 guest spots continue his hot streak in a year where he hasn’t missed. The first, ‘By Design’, is a dance ready cut with 3000 on bridge duties and CuDi helming the track’s strong pulsing melody. The second, ‘The Guide’, sees Andre deliver a show-stealing verse over the haunting instrumental. The two have good chemistry as both of their collaborations here feel organic and fresh. The final friend that is brought into the party is longtime fan Travis Scott trading effect drenched bars with CuDi over a sprawling backdrop on ‘Baptized in Fire‘. The two artists’ sounds converge successfully as they did earlier this year on Scott’s LP.
The remainder of the album’s 13 songs is the moon man flying completely solo. These alone are enough material for a full length and their effectiveness varies throughout. Where he succeeds most is when he harkens back to that “Why Not?” attitude from his mixtape days and decides to have fun. Whether he’s almost two-stepping on ‘Dance 4 Eternity’ or finding an endearing groove on ‘Kitchen’, this is where KiD CuDi the solo act shines. He even throws in an ode to his 2009 debut standout ‘Heart of a Lion‘ by repurposing its melody for the penultimate ‘The Commander’. Moments like this or the spitfire rapping of ‘Does It’ or even the melodious ‘Mature Nature’ feel more like an artist remembering the past without trying to cheaply recreate it.
Another theme that pops up frequently is the demons that KiD CuDi is battling. ‘Swim in the Light’ is the strongest instance of this. With a beat that could have fit seamlessly on the soundtrack to the 2011 film Drive, CuDi’s vocals are a match made in heaven. Where the album begins to fall apart is when some of the tracks take what could have been an interlude and stretch them into nearly 5 minute exercises in drudgery, as on ‘Releaser’. There are still engaging musical elements here like the piano that closes out the previously mentioned track, but sitting through 5 minutes of aimless moaning to reach them is too much to ask from the listener. This starts to become one of the albums final recurring themes; song length. Many of these tracks could have benefitted had they been cut tighter to the 2-3-minute mark as opposed to their current 4-5 ones. This would have kept listeners engaged for the long haul of multiple listens as opposed to the long haul of one full listen that can sometimes feel like a chore to get through in its entirety.
With Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’, we find a KiD CuDi proving a couple of things to us: At his best, he is still entirely capable of creating music that pushes the boundaries while sounding nothing like his peers. At his worst, he is incapable of not succumbing to his worst tendencies. Make no mistake, a good portion of this album finds CuDi creating some of his best music in years. Music many people weren’t even sure if he was capable of anymore. It’s good to see Scott Mescudi fixing himself and finding happiness in life. That’s a simple pleasure that everyone should be entitled to but sometimes isn’t quite as simple as it seems. In a perfect world, CuDi would have taken the best moments and delivered a concise, 11 track album to the world. Instead we’re left with Demon Slayin’. A project that finds an artist trying to figure himself out in real time, for better or worse.
Repeatable: ‘By Design’, ‘Rose Golden’, ‘Kitchen’, ‘Surfin’
By Scott Evans