Review: Kid Cudi, ‘Man on the Moon III: The Chosen’

The rager’s long lost album ascends from the ashes to sweetly tie up the greatest hip hop trilogy of the generation.

In modern day music, there is a two-year window for an album to drop before fans become restless. For Kid Cudi fans, there has been a ten-year anticipation for the third Man on the Moon, following 2009’s The End of Day and 2010’s The Legend of Mr. Rager. The hope seemed to have been lost in 2015 when the rapper tweeted “News Flash: motm3 doesn’t exist”, shattering the purpose of 2014’s Satellite Flight: The Journey of Mother Moon, an album that was dubbed as the ‘prelude’ to MOTM 3. In between the decade, Cudi continued to release music, channelling his influences in the self-produced (and underrated) Indicud and the rock-inspired WZRD and Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven.

Critics have berated the majority of Cudi’s output, but he has still mustered a cult following that have supported his artistic growth. With all hope dead and gone, Man on the Moon 3 was cryptically hinted at in summer 2020 before finally confirming its arrival in October. In an incredibly turbulent year, it was a moment to rejoice and see what ten years in the making brought to fruition.

Established as rap’s favourite rookie at the start of the last decade, Kid Cudi begins the next decade as an honoured veteran of emotive rap. Man on the Moon 3 completely embodies the meaning of a trilogy, modernising yet maintaining textbook Cudi for one of the best albums of 2020.

Just like its predecessors, Man on the Moon 3 splits into Acts to strategically structure the adventurous journey, in his own words, to “win back his soul from the evil Mr. Rager.” A subtle shot of static noise signifies the turnover of the acts that transition from party soundtrack (Return 2 Madness), to sinister Scott (The Rager, The Menace), to vulnerable, transparent Scott (Heart of Rose Gold), and finally reaching a celebratory breakthrough in the tale (Powers). The moods are perfectly segmented, bringing forth multiple opportunities to diversify the album. Auto-tuned adlibs, soothing singing, classic hums, and even straight rapping scatter themselves into exactly the right pockets.

The Chosen bears its previous instalments in mind, but is mindful of becoming a mere replication. Man on the Moon: The End of Day flexed a galactic sound, while Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager indulged in a dark vacuum of production. For the third edition, the same team is assembled (Plain Pat, Emile Haynie, Dot da Genius) but there is a colourful zest to both Cudi’s performances and the production he raps on. In essence, every track feels a continuation of Kids See Ghosts’ “Reborn”, in sound, content and mood. It is an album that certainly moves forward.

In his interview with Zane Lowe, Cudi confessed a desire to deliver what ‘the kids will like’. As a result, the opening of Man on the Moon 3 shifts with the times. Trap percussion simmer on the vibrant “Tequila Shots”, followed up by the auto-croons of “Another Day”, “Damaged” and “Heaven on Earth”. The Cleveland rapper’s natural versatility allows him to slot right into these tracks and perform like a master of the trendy sub-genre, all while providing the Scott stamps; catchy hooks, compelling vocals and colourful personality. As a pioneer of the new generation of hip hop, Cudi reserves the right to borrow back from his students.

Cudi ensures clarity through the stark contrast in the two halves of the album. A carefree, partying rager turns to the Scott Mescudi consumed by his demons. “Mr. Solo Dolo III” kickstarts the descent through touching lyrics and a solemn tone (“Can’t hear me scream / Somethin’ twisted in me”). The soothing “Sad People” is heroic in spirit, yet wholly deflating. As is the case with “Sept. 16” and “The Void”, channelling Cudi’s ever-present desires for love. It is a bittersweet section of the album, reaffirming Kid Cudi’s status as the most emotive rapper hip hop has ever seen.

Few hip hop albums in 2020 check boxes the way The Chosen does. The conscious focus on rapping leaves no room to disappoint, as Cudi sharpens his pen and leaves the corny bars behind. But the melodies remain in abundance, with no single song forgetting to leave an infectious hook. The raps, vocals and hums are all there, presenting exactly what is expected of Kid Cudi and more.

Although minimal in features, those that do lend a hand all elevate their respective tracks. The collaborative highlight is “Show Out”, a spacey drill anthem featuring Skepta and the late Pop Smoke. The British vet continues his streak of bodying American guest spots, leaving enough room for Kid Cudi to successfully tackle the drill beat. Initially feeling out of place on the album, it is the perfect appetiser for the darkness that immediately takes over the second half. “Lovin’ Me” is a stunning duet with Phoebe Bridgers that also delivers one of the strongest hooks of the album. The Trippie Redd-assisted “Rockstar Knights” is a match that made perfect sense, who lays a killer verse and hook. Appearances from Kanye West and Travis Scott would have been welcomed to provide a polish to the gold.

By the end of the record, it appears Cudi has restored his faith in God, leaving his despairs behind for good (“Blessings in my life / Lord I know you can make it right”). When observation the trilogy as a whole, this moment truly feels like the end of a long and traumatic journey that finally has the happy ending it deserves.

After a ten year wait and tumultuous times, the third Man on the Moon is a masterfully constructed victory lap for both Kid Cudi and fans. There is a focus and newfound spirit to finish off what the rapper always intended. In what is one of the greatest albums of 2020, the Rager has finally been tamed.

Rating: 9 / 10

Best tracks: “The Void”, “Sept. 16”, “Show Out”, “Rockstar Knights”, “Sad People”, “Lovin’ Me”, “Mr. Solo Dolo III”, “Tequila Shots”, “Lord I Know”