Favorite Track: "Show Out (with Skepta & Pop Smoke)" Least Favorite Track: "Sad People"
Kid Cudi is arguably one of the most important hip-hop artists of the 2000’s. His magnum opus, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, is one of the most emotionally mature and cathartic rap projects in recent memory, with Cudi reflecting on the emotional turmoil that plagued him so heavily at the time. When an artist like Cudi fluently touches these topics, they tend to garner thousands of fans that relate to their struggle. On top of this, tracks like “Make Her Say” and “Enter Galactic (Love Connection Pt. 1)” have a lot more of a mainstream appeal to them, making the heavy emotional weight of the record more palatable. The sequel to The End of Day, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager attempted to achieve the same things that its predecessor did, with mixed results. On this release however, it solidified the Man on the Moon namesake as an ongoing series. With Cudi’s incredibly mediocre discography since the release of The Legend of Mr. Rager, fans have become increasingly anxious for the release of a new installment of the Man on the Moon series, in hopes that it would restore the former glory of Kid Cudi.
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen, released in early December 2020, is both a return to form for Cudi and a wholly mediocre collection of tracks that does not manage to live up to either of its predecessors. While this album is significantly better than Cudi’s output over the past several years, it fails to live up to the high bar of Cudi’s early work. Topping an album like Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven is no tall feat, and while Cudi definitely manages to do so here, he does absolutely nothing to live up to the gargantuan legacy left by The End of Day.
The Chosen, at its core, is an album that has no direction. There are points where Cudi shows glimpses of his old sound on tracks like “The Void” and “The Pale Moonlight”, but for the entire first half of the record Cudi sounds as if he is doing his best impression of Travis Scott with little to no avail. Needless to say, this doesn’t work out in practice. Instead of coming off like a fun continuation of this year’s collab between Cudi and Travis, “The Scotts”, it comes off as painfully tasteless and punishingly derivative. Take the track directly after the intro for example, “Tequila Shots”. The psychedelic-trap production on the song paired with Cudi’s very Travis Scott-esque vocal delivery sounds like it could have easily been a B-Side to Astroworld without anyone batting an eye. Then, just to add to the inconsistency, we get an emo-trap style track in the form of “Rockstar Knights (with Trippie Redd)”, where it seems like Cudi takes a backseat on his own song, basically seceding any presence he has on the track to Trippie.
On top of the borderline rip-offs and mediocre genre interpolations on the tracklist, there are even more songs that are just mind-numbingly boring and add nothing but annoyance to the record as a whole. “Tequila Shots”, “She Knows This”, and “Sept. 16” all have little to nothing new or enticing to contribute lyrically or sonically, each and every one only managing to detract from the incredibly over-bloated, eighteen track behemoth that is The Chosen. “Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)” is definitely a red herring on the record, standing out for all the wrong reasons. Cudi’s vocal delivery is bland and too drowned in reverb to fit with the painfully simple guitar and the strikingly low-quality drums that make up the painfully boring instrumental.
Despite the album coming off derivative and boring at large, there are a few tracks scattered throughout that are significantly above average. The drill-inspired track “Show Out (with Skepta & Pop Smoke)” is a huge highlight, with Cudi hitting a smooth stride on top of the driving beat and striking up plenty of chemistry with his collaborators. Pop Smoke’s chorus on this track is succinct, to the point, and really takes hold of the listener’s attention in a way that no other song on the record manages to do. Cudi also fits quite well into this style, and pulls together a surprisingly good drill track that could go toe-to-toe with any track off of Pop Smoke’s 2020 releases. “The Void” is a classic Cudi track through and through, and despite not being able to step to a track like “Soundtrack 2 My Life” or “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” from The End of Day, it serves as a stark return to form and a glaring standout on The Chosen.
Kid Cudi, unfortunately, seems to be an artist that peaked at the beginning of his career. His stroke of genius that came in the form of Man on the Moon: The End of Day will forever be remembered as his best effort, and his largely disappointing discography will be something he will have to live in the shadow of. In a lot of ways, it is easier to appreciate an album like Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven, where Cudi attempts to pave his own lane yet again and fails, instead of an uninspired, over-bloated, incredibly disappointing work such as Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. Kid Cudi, despite coming back with his best album in years, swings and misses yet again.