ALBUM: Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon
ARTIST: Kid Cudi
Kid Cudi's had enough of this Earth.
Ever since his instantly enjoyable debut (Man on the Moon: The End of Day), Cudi has been trying relentlessly to recreate the sprawling imagination, yet confined focus, he had when crafting those original "lonely stoner" anthems. For the most part, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager (a more drugged out chapter of his story) was successful in doing so (it’s probably my favorite of the two) - but the frayed, and really just dulled, edges to his enigmatic persona were already seeping through. All this only became more magnified when he made the poor decision to attempt trip-hop and "psychedelic rock" with the same drawling cadence he tackled hip-hop with. On paper, a change in dynamic seemed perfect after stretching his initial conceit for two albums, but, the thing is, Cudi doesn't seem to want to let go of the niche he carved out for himself. This made WZRD a middling effort, and forced him to head back to hip- hop with his tail between his legs - hopefully to try something new and daring. Instead, we got Indicud - which was met with (appropriately) reserved praise as a return to form of sorts.
If only that were enough.
At this point, Cudi was sobering up for personal reasons, began acting more, and simply seemed to be past his phase in music. But, due to sobriety, or, inversely, due to the lack of weed that usually seemed to help him stay on point, he decided to just shed any notion of progression and just embrace the tired shtick of "doing it for the fans" and just "for himself." Slug and Ant made Sad Clown Bad Dub II "for themselves." Blu & Exile came up with Below the Heavens, and then followed it up with a whole slew of obscure and self-involved gems. Jay-Z had American Gangster.
There shouldn't be a divide between progression (or creativity) and simply putting out better material. But, as it were, Cudi made the distinction, and simultaneously made it obvious that, even when claiming that all these albums tied into the same story and universe with some Tarantino-esque brilliance, he was just reaching to capture past nostalgia and sinking deeper into his established niche.
On the other end of this “progression-spectrum,” (a term I just coined), are those who find so much inspiration in their own niche that they never have to leave it. But that requires consistently great writing, engaging and evolving production, and just plenty of new ideas. Instead, Cudi decides to repeatedly rehash the same ones - with less and less conviction each time. When he tries to hone into his previous rap ability (“Too Bad I Have to Destroy You Now”), his regression as a writer becomes blatant. When he evokes a familiar melody, it’s lost in a mess of jumbled ideas that aren’t complicated enough to deserve such flawed execution (“Satellite Flight”). Even as his producing reaches new heights, it's still cut off by a low ceiling ("Copernicus Landing" and "Return of the Moon Man (original score)" boasting the same aesthetic he's previously gone for with glimpses of newfound creativity).
One thing you can’t fault Cudi for is his adherence to a shtick - whether it be the “lonely stoner,” or a “galaxy traveller” with his fans. He pulled all the punches for the last minute roll out (reminiscent of Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Mr. West before him - but a lot less important). Including invitations to “copernicus landing” and other extraterrestrial affairs, he does always seem steadfast when delivering his product to consumers, even if he sounds more disconnected than ever on wax. Maybe it’s because the concept of space and knowing more than we can understand is in itself so broad that Cudi seems to always be so wavering in his execution. He chose a basic premise to follow with nothing to ground his actual sentiments too, aside from droning on about how his “heart is leaking,” and that “people talk shit about” him. The intricately woven, yet haphazardly written, “Balmain Jeans (ft. Raphael Saadiq),” the minimalistic “Troubled Boy,” and the various atmosphere-setting instrumentals throughout this release are where his focus should be - if not on breaking out of the suctioning orbit that’s got him repeatedly delivering the same tracks, repackaged even more poorly, time and time again.
“No one wants a troubled boy”