Album review: Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III

The third and final instalment of Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon series evokes feelings that are more complex than just nostalgia. It is about how we simultaneously influence and are affected by human creativity and the power of our local and global community to help guide us out of the darkest, dustiest corners of our mental confines.

Man on the Moon III: The Chosen makes an emotional transition from the sometimes passive and other times intentional consumption of hedonistic pleasures, to a conscious awakening and earnest exploration into the origins of our traumas and how they insidiously shape our lives. When it comes to a lyrical breakdown or a technical approach, I refrain from isolating and measuring one stylistic choice against another because I believe that it is the basic skeleton to his narrative. Just as in MOTM I, tracks such as ‘Alive’ and ‘Make Her Say’, in the first half of MOTM III Cudi alludes to the beast, or the pure sexual energy that he indulges in under the influence of various substances. Yet as he acknowledges in ‘Tequila Shots’: “Lotta demons creepin’ up, they’re livin’ underneath/Gotta take a minute, y’all, traveled far.” He is still bound by his traumas troubling him at a deeper level and those streams of despair break through. He told Zane Lowe in a recent interview that even when wanting all the accolades, writing music, in its simplest form is about releasing his frustrations with his mental health: “It was me being depressed, miserable, angry and wanting to scream on record – I felt alive doing that.” 

It was also no coincidence that Cudi dropped the album during a pandemic, and just two weeks shy of Christmas, at a time where it seemed that the whole world was in a permanent state of isolation. In his review, Shawn Cee expresses that MOTM III differs from the first two instalments, in which Cudi was just stating things were wrong with him but not knowing why they manifested – a distressing experience. I would agree that the dilemma of being conscious of the emotions you are feeling but having trouble grasping the root of those feelings leads to a tendency to distract ourselves from the unpleasant realities. Cudi admits in ‘Elsie’s Baby Boy’ that the loss of his father at the age of 11 affected him much deeper than he thought: “His father had left him/He tried to disguise himself/Made sure that no one could tell/That in his soul, there’s a wide-open hole”.

This album was also a nod to the sounds that he helped inspire, and in turn was inspired by. In ‘Another Day’ and ‘Show Out’, the interpretation of psychedelic trap music that is standard for Travis Scott and, alternatively, drill lyrics that are characteristic of Pop Smoke and Skepta, are what die-hard fans would deem unconventional for Cudi. Even if these production choices led him down the path that was more mainstream, it’s fair to say that “it still generated energy for the first act, energy that wouldn’t have been there had he not tried to use his high as a form of escapism.”

If there is any way to sum up the essence of the conclusion to his trilogy to the new generation, I would call attention to the MOTM III cover art by Sam Spratt. On the left side of Cudi’s skull, just as the character is floating in the fluidity of space, untethered to anything that could bring him back to solid ground and is ever so slightly pulled by the gravity of the moon, this album’s ebbs and flows speak to the impermanence of Cudi’s mental and emotional state – he will always be in motion. And in his own words, he “had to discover that there isn’t a quick fix [and] life is good, you grow, you learn, and get the tools [so] if in a similar situation again, you know how to handle it, you don’t just crumble.”

Article by Shammah Salwa