Since the release of ‘Man on the Moon II’ in 2010, Kid Cudi has embarked on series of musical ventures that deviate markedly from his initial ‘lonely stoner’, pop/rap offerings – often to the dismay of his cult-like fan base; they just didn’t want him to be a rock star (and neither did his critics, really). Six years and around six genres later, however, Kid Cudi has released an LP wherein fans and critics alike can rejoice.
Despite its Peter Jackson-esque 87 minute run-time, ‘Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ is sonically gorgeous, unapologetically affecting and certainly his most focused project to date – determining exactly what he’s focusing on, however, is entirely open to interpretation. Whether you can handle this absolute odyssey of a project, then, largely depends on how you receive the following bars from the opener: ‘Curiosity is the key to my frequency’. That is to say, if you want to cash in on Cudi’s idiosyncratic insights, you must be ready and willing to subscribe to the Cudian perspective, and if you are – this album will have a lot to offer you emotionally and intellectually.
Take the absolute standout and refreshing counterpoint to the album’s darker themes, ‘By Design’, featuring André Benjamin. Amongst the boppy, four-on-the-floor drums and spiralling synths Cudi cries, ‘And the choices you make / It’s all by design / Go with it’. It’s unclear, here, whether Cudi is making a play at bashing free will, nevertheless, I believe he is tapping into something more important. Depression lies in the past, whilst anxiety lies in the future; so, instead of dwelling on doing, or what you might have done, otherwise – simply ‘go with it’. The manner in which we deal with our personal autonomy can often be the source of problems concerning mental health, so take a leaf out of Doctor Cudi’s book – he’s certainly been through it all.
Elsewhere on ‘By Design’, 3 Stacks delivers another electrifying guest appearance, reviving the jaw-dropping, machine gun flow from ‘Blonde’s ‘Solo (Reprise)’. And if you thought he was finished, André returns for – and absolutely crushes – the hypnotic ‘The Guide’; I’m not sure if he’s playing with words, or making them play with themselves.
The most creative, and certainly the most harrowing, peaks from ‘PPDS’ manifest rather early on. ‘Releaser’, in particular, is at once terrifying and beautiful – an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one. Singing amongst a bass choir of biblical proportions, Cudi elucidates the triadic relation between himself, his demons and his drugs through an eerie dialogue. ‘You knew you’d find me / You knew just where to find me’ he whispers in resignation. Moreover, extremely ghostly and barely intelligible guest vocals from Kacy Hill exacerbate the despair: ‘I think I’m on the verge of breaking down / And I’m on the verge of breaking down’. For anyone who is currently battling an addiction to a substance, ‘Releaser’ will certainly strike a minor chord.
A similarly expressive track comes in the form of ‘Swim in the Light’. Bubbling synths that rise and warp engulf the track, whilst Cudi repeatedly chants, ‘You can try and numb the pain / But it will never go away’. At first, I found this track rather jarring and a bit melodramatic, however, multiple listens brought something compelling to light: despite the fact that ‘PPDS’ exhibits Cudi at his lowest, his vocals throughout the project sound more commanding than ever. On ‘Indicud’, Cudi was sluggish and weary – almost listless. ‘PPDS’ and the lows that come with it, however, seemed to have galvanised him. ‘Frequency’, ‘ILLusions’, ‘All In’ and ‘The Commander’ all demonstrate this perfectly, each finding Cudi delivering a triumphant vocal performance that oozes purpose – something altogether lacking from previous projects.
A fair chunk of credit must be given to the production team for the reinvigoration of Cudi’s sound, however; Long-time collaborator Plain Pat and Yeezy’s go-to beatsmith Mike Dean do an incredible job on the soundscapes. Plain Pat in particular has been noticeably absent from recent Cudi projects, and this absence is often felt retrospectively on ‘PPDS’. For example, when Pat’s warm, optimistic synths are married with Cudi’s honeyed vocals on ‘Dance 4 Eternity’, it makes you wonder why this beautifully coherent pair parted ways in the first place.
It is rather difficult to reduce this extremely long and immersive album into one page of prose – this is truly a project that must be experienced to be understood. So, despite all the recent flak from the media and Cudi’s incessant Twitter faux-pas’, I believe he’s redeemed himself. This is the best album of his career.