Many were introduced to Kid Cudi as Kanye West’s dedicated hook man. Cudi assisted with writing and vocals on Kanye’s 2008 Auto-Tune detour, "808s & Heartbreak," before signing to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint and releasing "Man on the Moon: The End of the Day" and "Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager." Both albums are of druggy, paranoid sad bastard musings that garnered critical as well as commercial acclaim off the strength of hits like "Day N Nite" and "Pursuit of Happiness." Things got a little weird after "Man on the Moon 2," when Cudi decided he wanted to move beyond and launched "WZRD," a rock side project with "Day N Nite" producer Dot Da Genius. WZRD’s self-titled debut was poorly received by critics and consumers alike, and in the year since its release, Cudi has split amicably from both his go-to stable of producers and G.O.O.D. Music. His latest album, "Indicud," is a new beginning.
Less the production team responsible for all of his biggest solo successes and the protective umbrella of Kanye West’s imprint, Cudi produced and wrote "Indicud" on his own. He’s not a natural behind the boards just yet, and so much of the production on "Indicud" tends to be more texturally intriguing than melodically sound. Sometimes it’s fun to listen to him figure things out, but there’s a stretch of this album that suffers seriously for lacking a storied producer’s touch, and the songwriting takes a dip in quality presumably because Cudi is wearing too many hats now.
"Indicud" isn’t going to win Kid Cudi new fans, and it might actually have the net effect of scaring off a few older ones, but as the first step in the direction of total self-sufficiency for an artist many hip-hop fans write off as just a hook man, there’s a lot of range on display. And as weird as these songs are, a lot of them are quite good.
1. "The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi"
"Indicud" opens like porch-front star-gazing, with crickets and space until a warped synth comes plummeting into the mix like a spaceship landing on a cornfield. Suddenly a beat drops replete with clattering drums and fat, distorted keys while a bass guitar plucks out a hook in the midst of the maelstrom. Cudi soaks in the pathos for awhile, then the noise cuts out just as quickly as it came together.
"Unfuckwittable" unveils the first of many odes to invincibility with a sample of Macaulay Culkin’s sociopathic hell spawn from 1993’s The Good Son. Cudi sounds more empowered and energized than ever before, but the song lags where it should soar thanks to a vocal that’s more spirited than in tune and chunky synths that drown all the melodies in goop. "Unfuckwittable" wants to succeed but just can’t bring itself to.
3, "Just What I Am"
You can’t have a Kid Cudi album without a song about weed. "Just What I Am" gets it in quickly with pothead platitudes from King Chip and psychiatrist’s couch over-sharing from Cudi. He states his purpose plainly on the chorus, braying "I need smoke" like hits from the bong are the cure for what ails him. "Just What I Am" is as smothered in heavy synth sounds as anything before it, but a dedicated tunefulness lifts it out of the mire.
4. "Young Lady" feat. Father John Misty
"Indicud" gets a much needed change of pace with "Young Lady," a jolt of guitar rock intrigue on loan from ex-Fleet Foxes drummer Father John Misty, whose 2012 garage rock nugget "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" is sampled liberally here. Cudi uses the assist to pine for the affection of a secret crush he just can’t summon the nerve to talk to.
5. "King Wizard"
Cudi dedicates this one to the haters, puffing his chest out for two verses of self-mythologizing smack talk. Like "Unfuckwittable," "King Wizard" is lyrically lighter than its accompanying music would suggest. The song’s triumphant bars are outfitted in layer after layer of morose, plinking keys. It’s a weird fit for Cudi’s mostly uplifting message, but by now, weird is "Indicud's" primary musical currency.
"Immortal" is about waking up one day and deciding to leave depression behind. "I can’t explain this sudden peace in my walk," Cudi sings over a sample of MGMT’s "Congratulations" run backwards and drums that approximate the slow disco thud of Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer." "Immortal" is an affirmation that early career triumphs like "Day N Nite" might’ve used sadness as a crutch and a promise that the Cudi we see here is a new man.
7. "Solo Dolo Part II" feat. Kendrick Lamar
Cudi updates "Man on the Moon's" lonely stoner anthem "Solo Dolo" with a little help from Kendrick Lamar. The psych rock sampling production on "Solo Dolo Part II" gives it a '60s pulp horror vibe that Kendrick picks up on in his verse, which is full of tongue-in-cheek darts like "You wish me well, I wish you hell." Cudi’s in trash talk mode too, patting himself on the back for turning kids on to MGMT and Ratatat (both guests on his first album) and offering foes the "Will Smith smack."
8. "Girls" feat. Too $hort
"Indicud's" second song about women gleefully celebrates the diversity of the female form over insistent kick drums and an airy synth figure descended from Simple Minds’ "Don’t You (Forget About Me)." Cudi is fairly respectable, celebrating "so many colors and sizes, so many surprises" until Too $hort pops in and squanders much of the good will on a crass verse. The rapper replaces Cudi’s wide-eyed excitement with pure ravenous lust.
9. "New York City Rage Fest"
This one’s a quick instrumental that does away with the hip-hop trappings of the rest of the album in favor of stripped down house anchored by a martial snare drum. The sounds here are informed by the post-punk revival of the early '00s that matched punk sensibilities and instrumentation to otherwise electronic dance music.
10. "Red Eye" feat. Haim
"Indicud" takes another sharp turn with "Red Eye," which hands most of the vocal duties over to indie pop sister act Haim. "Red Eye" dispatches with the standard verse-chorus-verse format for a journey through a series of bridges and choruses. It works for a bit, but the chorus about "floating through the night on a red eye" begins to fall flat over nearly four minutes of repetition.
11. "Mad Solar"
Cudi explored reggae sounds on the "Man on the Moon 2" deep cut "Trapped in My Mind." "Mad Solar" picks up where the song left off with a track infusing "Indicud’s" trademark cavernous synth explorations with a Caribbean thump that Cudi blesses with a warbling vocal about maybe being an extraterrestrial. ("People think I’m mad, but won’t you tell 'em I’m mad solar?")
12. "Beez" feat. RZA
Again Cudi cedes mic duties to an outside artist. This time the guest of honor is none other than Wu-Tang general RZA, who delivers a verse so delightfully off-the-wall and yet so frustratingly off-the-cuff that Cudi was smart to not try and keep up. One minute he’s threatening to "slice your pie like Sbarro’s" and the next he’s in search of a girl whose "body could convert like Lady Gaga," whatever any of that means.
13. "Brothers" feat. King Chip & A$AP Rocky
The lyrical smack down on "Beez" was delivered over refreshingly minimalist production, and "Brothers" follows suit, matching a quavering synth line to spacious drum programming. Here Cudi, Chip and A$AP Rocky kick bars in between laid back choruses. Rocky edges out the victory for best verse on a double-speed flow that tips its hat to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
14. "Burn Baby Burn"
Cudi uses "Burn Baby Burn" to get some things off his chest, and he lets it all out in one long verse, addressing accusations about heavy drug use ("I just experimented, and it helped me adjust") all the while admonishing anyone who counted him out. "Indicud" is pretty much all about Cudi bounding back from the brink of a dark headspace, except the message is dispensed over keys that are oppressively turgid and at times devoid of memorable hooks as they are here.
15. "Lord of the Sad and Lonely"
If you thought "Burn Baby Burn" was the only bad drugs number, "Lord of the Sad and Lonely" quickly arrives with a pocket full of xannies and adderalls to kill that notion. As hard as "Indicud" purports to distance Cudi from the darkness we’ve come to expect from his music, he still appears to feel like a patron saint of the depressed. "Lord of the Sad and Lonely" is more foggy-headed, depressive free verse over a tuneless beat.
16. "Cold Blooded"
Just when the songs were starting to run together, Cudi comes back with agile bars and lively production. "Cold Blooded" is Cudi’s most adept turn as a lyricist on the whole album and it’s a shame that it got buried in a streak of nonsensical rants. This song’s only crime is its placement in the album’s trying final quarter.
17. "Afterwards (Bring Yo' Friends)" feat. Michael Bolton and King Chip
"Indicud" is most fascinating when it’s most off-putting, and "Afterwards (Bring Yo Friends)" brings it. It’s a nine-minute micro-house workout that chases the same melting roller-skating jam vibe Frank Ocean achieved on "Pyramids" last year, but the monkey wrench here is Michael Bolton. The singer shows up on a chorus a minute in and sticks around to invite everybody back to his for an after party. It sounds like a scene out of a schlocky college movie, and that's the appeal: sketchiness and randomness in such measure that they cease being just terrible and become terribly funny.
18. "Flight of the Moon Man"
We’re back to the crickets and cornfields for the album closer. "Flight of the Moon Man" lays a droning synth over found sounds from the forest until a foreboding and robotic instrumental drops in and fiddles about for a minute or so then disappears like every time the bad guy is presumed dead in a horror movie but comes back for one more scare.