In its first week, Kid Cudi’s full-length debut sold more than a hundred thousand copies; in 2009, that’s enough to raise eyebrows. But Cudi’s ascent, as atypical as it’s been, says more about navigating the hip-hop of tomorrow than its impassability today. Cudi’s 2008 single “Day ’N’ Nite” placed the sing-speaking ringer/pop protégé/hipster-consultant-to-Kanye West on the same next-gen flight as Drake. But while Drake’s burps yield braggadocio and camera-angle charm, Cudi is most comfortable stoned and trapped inside his own head. Alone.
And that’s exactly where he spends most of Man On The Moon, a concept album where Cudi’s harmonized, emotionally raw LiveJournal-ing meets interstellar synth drifts. On “Soundtrack 2 My Life” he storms through his many issues early, while “Pursuit Of Happiness” (featuring both MGMT and Ratatat) finds him unpacking all the self-doubt and frigid ambition he often references in interviews. Elsewhere, executive-producer Kanye turns in an ironclad verse over a refashioned Lady Gaga sample in “Make Her Say,” a welcome respite from all the psychic bleeding. Despite the fat here, that thick layer of open, intense self-loathing is a clever way of unifying Man On The Moon as pure mood piece, a stream-of-consciousness pop voyage that’s more Phil Collins than rap.