Kid Cudi hasn’t had the most successful set of years.
After breaking out with his much heralded Man on the Moon: The End of Day and Man on the Moon: Legend of Mr. Rager, Cudi quit smoking marijuana and had a kid — both massive milestones for anybody. Yet, musically, Cudi’s public good graces have dissipated over the years, with Cudi releasing let down after let down. While Indicud and Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon were interesting in their own rights — pushing the boundaries of what one can expect from the “rapper” Kid Cudi — his rock album Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was near unlistenable.
In Cudi fans’ defense, “Day N Night” or “Maui Wowie” are still the life of any party. He hasn’t really been able to rekindle that stoner magic since. Much of Cudi’s music deals with Cudi’s own relationship with his drug addiction, his lack of a father figure and his endless nightmares and anxiety. The negative reviews surely didn’t help his vulnerable mental health.
This prior context makes Cudi’s return to hip hop in Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’ such a welcome return to form. But like the best of his early work and the ambitious elements of his misfires, here Cudi is pushing rap and looking out for the future of the genre.
Kid Cudi is still exploring the themes that have pulsated through his music since the beginning. Here, Cudi offers an insight into the struggles and fears he has been facing. The “pain” and “demon slayin’” referenced in the album title aren’t misplaced. When Cudi raps “I think I’m on the verge of breaking down” on “Releaser” or opens “Dance 4 Eternity” by singing “it’s so hard to trust anyone,” we feel his pain. Cudi provides us a look into his troubles. Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’ stands as a presentation of the demons he needs “slayin’.”
With this in mind then, Cudi’s music is his coping mechanism. It can lift people up or bring them down, depending on the artist’s intentions. And that can be said for the newest album. Yet, the catch is that the album seems to be the first from Cudder that isn’t made to prove his chops as a musician. There’s none of the showboating of spacey beats on the first Man on the Moon album or the chip on his shoulder as a musician found in any of the songs on the post-Man on the Moon II album. Most importantly, Cudi allows the passion and the “heart of a lion” he once had in music to shine through the album.
Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’ is an intimate look at an artist struggling and coming to terms with his musical identity and his life. Despite featuring four distinctly titled chapters, the album isn’t as cohesive as those previous. Because of this struggle being the centerpiece, the flow from song to song has some jarring tonal shifts. Many tracks have wild shifts mid-song from bitingly funny to somberly depressing.
Because of the epic length of the album and Cudi’s history, it’ll be a while before there’s an overall consensus among many critics about where this album will rank in Cudi’s discography. Yet, featuring Andre 3000 (credited as Andre Benjamin here), Travis Scott and Pharrell Williams, the album is never less than captivating. But, for what it’s worth, it’s better to have Cudi back making the music he wants and exploring the ideas he wants rather than keeping his emotions bottled up.
Kid Cudi has been slaying his own demons in the public eye ever since he made it big. Coming after the exposure he received during his most recent personal battle with his own mental health, Cudi has once again produced important work out of his passion and his pain.
As Cudi slays his demons, all we can say is welcome back.