Kid Cudi has never quite fit in. His debut single, “Day ‘N’ Nite” introduced him as a “lonely stoner” in 2009. Since then, he’s proven himself to be even too outré for Kanye West‘s band of outliers, having left the G.O.O.D. Music collective in 2013. He’s always been an emotional artist, dealing with expansive and nebulous feelings in acute and often destructive ways. On Indicud, he declared himself “Lord of the Sad and Lonely,” rhyming “Sky might fall but I ain’t worried at all / Got me some Xanies and a couple Adderall.” Now, on his fifth studio album — the grungy, rockish Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven — he’s more exposed than ever, and perhaps all the better for it.
Cudi’s prior albums focused on escape on terrestrial terms. There was a fascination with the moon, as if leaving the planet behind were the answers to his problems, and the music reflected this: spacey and electronic, but still filtered through hip-hop’s conventions with drums, bass and rhyme as the driving forces, even in their scarcity. Speedin’ has no such allegiances. Here, everything is driven by an alternative rock ethos and the themes more internal — the flight is more about Cudi breaking free from his mortal coil than anything around him.
Over the folksy twang and melodic fuzz of the drug-trip ode “Adventures,” he speaks of “floating out to nowhere” and philosophizes that “only crazy makes sense.” He half-raps: “Hell is beyond the door / Heaven doesn’t want one more.” And then: “Accept yourself / Exit yourself / Access yourself.”
Cudder’s sixth studio effort is a hard left turn more than a departure — the sound has a precedent in 2012’s WZRD, which was presented as a side project with longtime collaborator Dot da Genius. Cudi’s experimentation with mind-altering substances has been part of his DNA since day one; alienation and internal turmoil remain integral parts of his motif. But Speedin’ is more well-formed than anything he’s done before in his genre experimentation, even eliciting a throwback to MTV’s ‘90s heyday down to its running commentary from Beavis and Butthead, courtesy of Mike Judge. The album wouldn’t sound out of place on a re-airing of Alternative Nation, and it’s a smart move — by embracing punk mores, Cudi sidesteps deep scrutiny. Speedin’ is about message, not methodology: expression, not execution.
Cudi differentiates things raging up and down emotional scales, mores than musical ones. He’s angsty on “Judgmental Cunt” and defiant on “Fade 2 Red.” On “Fuchsia Butterflies,” he raps, “I’ll be happy, happy, getting shitfaced by myself / Just loathing in my sweet misery.” The title track is the kind of song that Kanye would use as a soundbed to bigger ideas, sandwiched in between harsher notes and tones and clicks and clacks from other places; it’s the type of foundation Kendrick Lamar would layer with aggressive modulations and angry crashes; something Drake would have Noah “40” Shebib elongate and screw and submerge under a fog of vaporous atmospherics. Cudi leaves it exposed — all measured looping and muddy moods presented as a finished idea. (To bring home the point that the music here is raw but not unfinished, an acoustic demo version on the song is featured on the album’s second disc.)
Speedin’ is an uncomfortably internal album that’s a pleasurable listen. It’s not as gleefully nihilistic as Future, but comes across just as revelatory. And it’s more pointed than the fabricated faux-rebellion of Travi$ Scott. “I always end up back in the cycle of shame / Looking in the mirror is hard / Some days I hurt myself to distract me from distractions / That’s madness fixing sadness,” Cudi confesses on “Confused!”
The kid is not alright, but the music is.