Album Review: Kid Cudi — “Indicud”
“Don’t you know that I’m unfuckwittable?” wails Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi over the shape-shifting “Unfuckwittable,” the second track of Indicud. After 2011 saw Kid Cudi get divorced, depressed, and doped up on pills, only to come out the other side with his best track to date (“Just What I Am”), this made up Carroll-esque word might be the only way to accurately describe his current creative state of mind.
Three years removed from his second installment of the Man on the Moon series, Indicud is the manic mood-swing back to the other end of the emotional spectrum after drowning in self-doubt and substance abuse for the first five years of his career. It quickly fills the room with a thick fuzzy haze of synthesizers and heavy beats that only fades away over an hour later once the whirling of “Flight of The Moon Man” fades to black. The in-between is filled with melting walls of sound shaped from warped synths that sound like they’re simultaneously from the 80’s and the future. As this oozing aural world takes shape over the next eighteen tracks, Kid Cudi does his best to explain where he’s been in the past year.
Unlike his Man on the Moon series, Indicud is largely self-produced by Cudi and Cudi alone. In an effort to lift up his friend, King Chip (formerly Chip tha Ripper) gave Kid Cudi a Maschine controller for his 29th birthday last January, and roughly a half-hour later, Cudi had accidentally created the best song of his career. “Just What I Am” was released later that summer, featuring a lethal beat and a tripped-out alien chorus (not to mention Cudi’s best verse since “Soundtrack 2 My Life”). This song set fan expectations for Indicud quite high, maybe too high.
This album features over an hour of music, and you would be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop producer not named Kanye West that could generate this type of output without becoming repetitive. Cudi, unlike his mentor and biggest fan ‘Ye, still dwells in the mortal realm of beat-making with the rest of us and is surely guilty of failing to measure up to his former label-head. Instead of embracing grand production and prolonged song structures like West, Cudi’s limited skills produce looped tracks that rely on adding and taking away layers to create movement inside of them. This format has proven to be fitting and hypnotic for stoner trances like “Marijuana” from Man on the Moon II, but it can become brain-numbing when used back-to-back-to-back without a song like “Erase Me” in the track list to break the pattern.
The run of “Unfuckwittable” through “King Wizard” is about as flawless as Kid Cudi has been since his debut album. “Young Lady” features folk-rock guitar chords that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tom Petty record. The centerpiece of the song is the seductively smoky chorus from Father John Misty, former drummer/vocalist for Fleet Foxes, as he howls “Jesus Christ, girl,” in between Cudi’s attempts to woo the unnamed woman. Kid Cudi relinquishes the spotlight again later, just long enough for Kendrick Lamar to deliver a predictably stunning verse on “Solo Dolo Pt. II” with quick, jabbing pokes of lyricism over the nightmarish jazz-fusion sample from Menahan Street Band, one of Cudi’s favorite groups to borrow from.
The front nine closes out the first half of Indicud with “Girls,” a dark party-banger that gets a barely adequate verse from Too $hort during the bridge. This is followed by “New York City Rage Fest,” a short X-infused beat that acts as a an intermission for the LP. The second half begins with the wonderful (and practically Cudi-less) weed-anthem “Red Eye” featuring the harmonies of the LA-based Haim. “I’m going insane and I really don’t know why/There’s only one thing to do/I’m floating through the night on the red eye,” sing the young sister-trio over dreamy scenery, championing the “lonely stoner” personage that Kid Cudi’s been cultivating since his first mixtape.
Aside from features from RZA (“Beez”), A$AP Rocky (the playful banter of “Brothers”), King Chip, and Michael Bolton(?!), the back nine of Indicud contains too many flat spots when Kid Cudi’s left to stand on his own on songs like “Mad Solar” and “Burn Baby Burn.” His rhymes are on par with just about any other album cut from his catalog, but the repetitive production format that Cudi clings to like a crutch becomes more irritating with each repeat of the same sixteen bars. “Cold Blooded” joins “Unfuckwittable” and “King Wizard” as the only songs on Indicud that Kid Cudi is able to carry by himself without a guest there to help conjure up some fresh air from his suffocating production.
Since we’re discussing the features on the album, I’d like to take this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the previous Michael Bolton name drop was not a typo, and that Michael Bolton (yes, that Michael Bolton) is a featured vocalist on a nine minute Kid Cudi song. “Afterwards (Bring Yo Friends)” is no “Pyramids,” but rather a strange hippie-flip of a head-trip that never finds any solid footing and never really seems concerned with finding it in the first place. Big, deep-breathing synths that modulate throughout the song are just as likely to carry the listener in slowly like a patient ocean tide as they are to bore them into paddling back to shore. Diligent listeners are rewarded with a confusing journey that, like all good trips, is initially intimidating but ultimately fulfilling in way that escapes explanation.
It’s easy to forgive Kid Cudi for his “throw all the shit against the wall” mentality largely because of his transparently genuine personality. His lyrics are filled with big claims of superiority, dominance, and being untouchable, and in a way they resemble the writings of someone much newer to the music industry than someone who has been a part of the system long enough to become jaded by it. He’s a kid that just got his first basketball hoop, and even if he’s bricking every other shot, he’s still having fun on his own terms. The main source of his enthusiasm is his naivety but it’s endearing all the same. Undertaking both the production and writing for just about every track of an eighteen-song album is an arrogant, risky, move that could’ve ended terribly for a lesser artist, but luckily Kid Cudi’s abilities manage to keep up with his ambitions long enough that he delivers some truly original music that also happens to have a few less-than-stellar tracks thrown in with it. Indicud shows Kid Cudi accepting his personal and creative faults for what they are, and the resulting lyrical honesty makes it all the easier for his fans to follow him through the detours as he pushes to find the limits of hip-hop, wherever they may be.