Luis Perez, Broadside Correspondent

Last December, hip-hop magazine XXL wrote a feature piece on 10 relatively unknown MC’s, deeming them hip-hop’s “freshman class of ‘09.” Among that list of up-and-coming future stars was Kid Cudi.

Kid Cudi’s major-label debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, is the second release from the ’09 freshman class, following Asher Roth’s mildly received Asleep in the Bread Aisle last April, and the similarities between the two end at their mutual affinity for celebrating April 20.

Cudi makes it clear on more than one occasion that he doesn’t have much in common with anyone at all, which in a twist of irony is Cudi’s major selling point.

If you had the chance to catch Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark tour, Man on the Moon’s format will seem suspiciously similar. Divided into five acts, the concept album follows Cudi’s consciousness through the night, beginning with the end and ending with a new beginning. Narrated by fellow G.O.O.D. artist Common.

Kanye’s 808 and Heartbreak presence is felt even further on tracks like “Sky Might Fall” and “My World,” where Cudi raps from a the shell of a boy banking on being top-dog sometime further down the road.
This might be a good as time as any to give you a head’s up: this isn’t hip-hop by hip-hop’s self-enforced standards.

To give you a better idea of Cudi’s pseudo-transcendental vibe, I’d suggest you Google “A Kid Named Cudi,” his first official and free release that put him on the map and see if you like that, because for the most part, Man on the Moon feels and sounds like A Kid Named Cudi with a much larger budget, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

On “Pursuit of Happiness,” one of the album’s stand-out tracks, Cudi embodies more Walden than Wu-Tang and rap-sings, “Feelin’ lit/feelin’ light/2 a.m./summer night/I don’t care/hand on the wheel/driving drunk/I’m doing my thing . . . if I fall/if I die/know I lived it/to the fullest,” all over a beat filled with optimistic guitar riffs, piano chords, a deep bass-line and staccato synths reminiscent of midsummer grasshoppers. This is his niche.

What Cudi lacks in technical ability and lyrical dexterity–and he does lack–he makes up for in developing landscapes out of songs, making one nostalgic for that sliver of a moment between last night and tomorrow morning, that comfortably numb moment where what happened and what needs to be done dissolves and you’re left with the joy of simply being.

By no means is Man on the Moon a masterpiece. The final track, “Up Up & Away,” seems more appropriate at the end of the next Disney franchise film than it does here, offering as much insight as can be derived from any high school sophomore girl’s Facebook status, “They gon judge me anyway so/whatever” (Google “Asian Girl Saying Whatever,” it’s identical. Trust me).

There’s also an argument to be made against Cudi’s singing abilities as well, but if you’re buying the album just to hear a rapper singing, maybe you should just hit replay on 808’s.

A few months ago, Cudi appeared on BET’s 106 & Park, alongside mentor and co-signor Kanye West, and dropped a verse acapella. The same verse appears on Man on the Moon on what is easily the standout track and embodies who Cudi is. Furthermore, it marks a landmark moment in hip-hop. On “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” Cudi reaches a level of vulnerability only hinted at by other artists.

Hip-hop has been up to this point a genre that markets a certain brand of hyperbolized masculinity, and no other rapper has ever been willing to wax poetic at such an oedipal level.

“She copped the toys I would play with in my room by myself/why he by himself?… I’ve got some issues that nobody can see/and all of these emotions are pouring out of me/I bring them to the light for you… so now I’m in the cut/alcohol in the womb/my hearts an open sore/and I hope it heals soon… never truly satisfied/I am happy/ that’s just the saddest lie”.

Cudi’s willingness to be as vulnerable as he is here, combined with his success so far, opens hip-hop’s versatility as a genre beyond the façade of hyperbolized masculinity.

Of course, this runs the risk of being written off as “emo-rap” and undergoing the subsequent filter cycle of branding and marketing something genuine into something formulaic, but hopefully it also shows rappers that it’s ok to acknowledge emotions here and there.

Cudi still has a ways to go in terms of developing his flow and rhyme scheme, and whether this is a step forward, backward or sideways is still yet to be entirely seen.

But there’s no doubt that this is a step, and from where we are now, everyone stands to grow more than they lose.