In this special collaborative piece, CentralSauce writers Miki Hellerbach and Ryan Gaur explore their favourite sides of Kid Cudi’s new Man on The Moon instalment. Miki favours the front end, but first, a little introduction from Ryan…
Expectations are beyond our control. As a fan you can try to downplay or lift them, but ultimately they are abstractions built internally and naturally over time. Our conscious excitement for an album may be paired with a subconscious dread of not liking it. Either way these feelings only materialise upon listening.
Man On the Moon III: The Chosen was a monumental event to me, but was just another Kid Cudi album to Miki, at least going into it. Our personal experiences with his music up to this point were the only points of reference for our expectations.
We both ended up loving Man On the Moon III, but found what we wanted from the project in the exact opposite halves of the tracklist. I was blown away by the back half of the album while Miki’s favourite moments occurred before track 11. Upon further study we realised there were distinct differences in soundscape between both halves of the album. Ultimately, these differences contributed to the expectations we didn’t know we had. Miki and I got together to outline our journey with the album. Through our individual tastes, voices and UK/US spellings, we explain how each side of Man On the Moon III presented us with things we didn’t realise we wanted to hear; ultimately teaching us about how we see ourselves in the musical expression of others.
Miki’s First Half
As I went to listen to Kid Cudi’s third iteration of the Man On the Moon trilogy, I had very minimal expectations. I’m someone who preferred the second Man On the Moon to the first, but overall my Cudi fandom has been tied to choice songs rather than the standom’s emotional connection to the discography. My favorite Cudi project is still his experimental WZRD album. I’m not a fan who feels connected to Cudi through nostalgia or a therapeutic experience with his music, so all I knew is I wanted to hear something that expanded on the essence of Cudi’s sound that I personally connected too. This pocket ranges from WZRD‘s “High Off Life,” where Cudi leans into guttural rage energy, to Man on the Moon II’s “Marijuana,” where Cudi floats over dark piano with silky and hazy melodies. The Sam Spratt artwork for Man on the Moon III sparked a certain level of intrigue that I wouldn’t be able to characterize until after listening, but basically, I went into the album with subconscious hope for reinvigorated energy and elevation. The first ten tracks filled the auditory canvas with what I only now realize I wanted all along.
“Beautiful Trip” & “Tequila Shots”
Thirty-seven seconds of suspenseful guitar plucks and an atmospheric soundscape laced with classic Cudi ad libs of “ohh” and “ahh” are the first things to materialize on the album. They are completed by a “3,2,1” countdown to blastoff towards where else, but the Moon. By solely instrumental standards the introduction is clever. Yet, when combined with the double meaning of the title “Beautiful Trip,” whether it be the one that got us here or the one we are about to go on, the immaculate set-up becomes absolute. The second track “Tequila Shots” spikes the served up auditory volleyball. The song sublimely combines a blend of sauced up narration, Dot Da Genius synths, Take A Daytrip drums, hook lyrics like “can’t stop this war in me,” and most importantly, hums. The ringing lyrics of “Can’t lose I’m in the third act” initiates the expansion of the intro’s title. Listening to this opening one-two punch brought my subconscious expectation to the surface. I began to anticipate that Cudi understood what I was craving from the album more than I consciously could. The rage from his early work had potentially matured and tonally advanced and I leaned into the idea that theme might carry throughout.
“Another Day” & “She Knows This”
These two songs feel like you’re navigating through a party on the moon that Cudi is hosting. Travis Scott-styled “yeah” ad libs ring throughout “Another Day,” and the beat switch with slightly enhanced drums at the 1:50 mark is the clear highlight. The electronic percussion hugs Cudi’s floating and low pitched sung/rapped vocals like a grandmother who hasn’t seen you in a while. “She Knows This” is similarly marked by an undeniably enticing beat switch at the same 1:50 mark, after which come the lyrics, “It’s been a hell of a ride,” which define this entire two song sequence. The double meaning of the intro track re-emerges, but this time these two songs show the journey’s result. Cudi feels incredibly at home in the pocket of these more current trippy trap instrumentals – modern reinterpretations of sounds he introduced. So hearing him elevate these tones even more, is a result of him building on people like Travis Scott and Lil Uzi Vert’s expansion of his own original work. Man On the Moon III is quite literally the third iteration of the euphoric outer space Cudi-created harmonic environment. He is reborn as a new version of himself who seems, in the sense of these two songs, pretty lit.
“Dive” & “Damaged”
These two songs feel like a clear nod to the inner chaos in Cudi’s music that initially cultivated his loyal following. The stark difference in the energy this time, however, is the self-awareness he has garnered over time. With the line, “Soaring through my world I’m ‘bout to take a dive. This is just the sadness in me, sad times,” we hear Cudi preparing himself for the plunge into his depression. Yet the fall on Man On the Moon III is more celebratory than helpless. As he lets himself feel the rough patch on “Damaged,” the booming beat behind him makes you dance through the sadness with him. Cudi also outlines the three-step process he has set up for himself to cope. He sings, “This is a trip that I gotta do alone,” as the first step is removing himself from the people or the environments that feed into his depression. Then Cudi later sings, “Praise God, thank you, never left me on my own,” as step two is leaning on his faith for solace. Then in step three, to help him fully come out of the low state, he sings, “While I pull up a smooth toke, lift up pronto.” The weed provides the final element of alleviation in the form of a healthy mind-altering solution. Solitude, God, and marijuana in that order are Cudi’s procedure for healing and over the most dense production on the album all the steps are covered lyrically and sonically. Cudi feels like he knows the moon he occupies more thoroughly, rather than floating through space trying to find his balance. A stark difference between early Cudi and now.
“Heaven on Earth” & “Show Out” Ft. Skepta & Pop Smoke
Cudi transitions here into a full emergence into the light. Those bells in the background of “Heaven on Earth” make me envision Cudi sliding through the snow on a pimped out sleigh dressed as a draped up Santa, smoking a j and dancing. As he comes out of his battle against his mental state, the best way to express his victory, it seems, is flexing his rap muscle. He floats on “Heaven on Earth,” but the real shocker of the album is how comfortably Cudi flows on a drill beat. Many think the Skepta verse is the standout of “Show Out,” but to me, the most impressive rapping is how Cudi weaves, dips, and maneuvers one of his signature flows over the warbles and hi-hat taps. One of the most satisfying moments of the album is hearing Cudi provide sung ad libs over a posthumous Pop Smoke hook. It’s surprisingly sweet and joyous. This section was when I fully came to, and realized what I wanted from Cudi. I wanted to hear and feel what it sounded like when he came out on the other side of the inner turmoil that haunted him during the first two Man On the Moon projects. Then I wanted to hear him channel that energy into contemporary sounds that derived somewhat from the place where he began. These two songs felt like the culmination of where Cudi is now, and they are triumphant.
“Solo Dolo, Pt. III” & “Sad People”
These two tracks feel to me like the perfect conclusion to the intention and storyline of this last hurrah of the Man On the Moon trilogy. “Solo Dolo, Pt. III” seems absolutely essential, and the ideal track to insert right before the final message. Cudi and Dot Da Genius nosedive into the nostalgia and reflection of the journey to get here. They show how even with understanding that results in affective highs, the lows continue to exist and that Cudi’s life is a continual process. With “Sad People,” Cudi seems to finalize his purpose for the body of work with a rallying cry to those who have found support following his sonic voyage through the three albums. As he sings the hook, “This for the sad pеople who keep the blunt burning and we off on a journеy,” it feels like the album should fade out with the shared knowledge of patience and tactical self-care. While “Heaven on Earth” and “Show Out” culminate the climactic core of the 2020 moonman’s growth in their updated melodious vigor, tracks 9 & 10 are the denouement to the storyline. The necessary closure is provided in these tracks. Cudi can feel elated from his new outlook, but still accept that some low feeling moments will come and go in the times ahead.
The album cover, in reflection, appears to signify the original Cudi Man On the Moon feeling with a renewed aesthetic. The album’s first ten tracks do a complete job of adding the aural accompaniment to that visual portrayal. I heard sonic elements throughout this first half that reminded me of early favorites like “Cudi Zone” and “Mojo So Dope,” but present-day reinterpretations of Mr. Rager filled the uncolored spaces of the auditory canvas. Cudi will continue to paint, but now it seems if he wants he can hang this piece up and start another. The final “Sad People” lyrics are “You learn me.” This feels like the end to as complete an education of the internal processing of the Man On the Moon as is possible through the music created on Scott Mescudi’s mental planet.
Ryan’s Second Half
The first two Man On the Moon projects mean the world to me. In those years where I was grinding out days on legs that could collapse at any second and arms which slumped beneath the Earth as I struggled to find my place among my peers, songs like “Trapped In My Mind,” “GHOST!” and “Sky Might Fall” were my scaffolding. These albums have a spirit which seemed to occupy Cudi at rare moments as he moved forward with his career, so the announcement of Man On the Moon III was met with cautious, yet still barely containable hype on my part. The sound of hip hop, as well as Scott himself, has changed so much over the years… what would this project even sound like? Would it be a failed attempt to recapture an ancient magic? A nominal successor rather than a sonic one? Would it feel like Cudi? A lot was swirling around my head as I pressed play, and as I did, I found my desires in that mental cloud, desires that were fulfilled by the closing half of the album.
“Solo Dolo, Pt. III” & “Sad People”
On “Mr. Rager,” the arguable climax of Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, Cudi begins the song stating that it was “dedicated to all the kids like [him].” Consistently channeling his loneliness, trauma and mental health issues through his music, Cudi’s Man On the Moon projects had the intent of acting as companions to those experiencing the same troubles. “Solo Dolo, Pt. III” and “Sad People” are the first songs on Man On the Moon III that truly embody the spirit of those previous installments.
After a gentle, spacey intro, Cudi produces a hook which encapsulates so many themes of the Man On the Moon projects, singing “I take it, they don’t know ‘bout it.” Cudi’s music found its impact in the exploration of internal issues which were invisible to the eyes of others. The second half of Man On the Moon III kicks off with a warm embrace to those who found solace in his earlier work. The kids, like Scott Mescudi, have grown with the music. Working through trauma is a long, difficult and seemingly impossible process, so it’s possible that those kids have grown into the sad people that Cudi dedicates this 10th track to. We’ve reached the point in the third installment where a mature Kid Cudi can expand on the ideas, themes and sounds of albums past, where I found what I wanted from Cudi all these years – meditations on dark times from a better place.
“Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)” & “Sept. 16”
‘Meditative’ is a word that can both be used to describe Cudi’s lyrical tendencies and the sonic landscapes he consistently builds on Man On the Moon projects. Ephemeral synths, psychedelic melodies and those gorgeous hums make up only a fraction of Cudi’s hip hop legacy and make up a sound that he can step into today as a seasoned professional. Over a decade as the Man on the Moon means Cudi is familiar with extraterrestrial soundscapes and can navigate them with the grace, confidence and assurance that we can only dream of as our feet are planted to the Earth.
“Sept. 16” lulls you into that place so reminiscent of past albums where you’re not entirely sure if Cudi’s mouth is open all the way at any point, but you can feel yourself falling deeper into his hypnotic, therapeutic cocoon. “Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)” cements this side of the album as a true successor to Man On the Moon II by recalling the track naming conventions of those first two albums, adopting a sound native to Cudi and by further highlighting his legacy with the song’s topic. “Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback)” sees Cudi tracing trauma from his childhood, as he commonly did on his debut and sophomore projects which opened the door for hip-hop artists to be more emotionally vulnerable in their music.
“The Void” & “Lovin’ Me” Ft. Phoebe Bridgers
Just as the descent reaches equilibrium, “The Void” melts my sense of safety and I’m confronted with the reality that it isn’t 2009 anymore. This is a Cudi who can take control of a track by grabbing it by the neck and pushing it into unexplored areas of grandeur and energy. Singing: “See new things in my soul / When I’m just sittin’ in my room all alone / This is the real, it’s how I roll / Tell my friends and folks that I’m on a ridе, don’t know when I’m comin’ home,” he gives a sense of adventure to self-discovery and growth that only Kid Cudi can.
As the swelling synths and dramatic drums continue, Cudi acknowledges that his quest for growth can only continue with a dedication to self-love on the album’s 14th track, “Lovin’ Me.” Despite having sought self-love on previous albums, it has never felt so tangible. Cudi’s words are those of confidence rather than desire. Self-love is the logical next step for Cudi, not a distant dream.
“The Pale Moonlight” & “Rockstar Knights” Ft. Trippie Red
These two songs feel like a return to Earth. Life on the moon is all too familiar to Cudi but his mission to dispel depression and loneliness has found him back on his home planet. The process of getting used to Earth’s gravity again is analogous to the process of working through trauma. Though breakthroughs are to be celebrated, you may never be fully healed. Echoing this sentiment on “The Pale Moonlight,” Cudi sings “Healing but I’m dealing with some things, shit’ll never stop.”
This lyric is placed amongst one of the more energetic and boastful moments of the album’s second half as Cudi aims to balance celebration of his success with recognition of his ongoing issues, a sentiment amplified on “Rockstar Knights.” Braggadocio is in full force here, but for the odd moment of introspection. Cudi’s love for boastful bars can sometimes feel like a departure from an album’s core themes and can lack nuance (I’m looking at you, “Make Her Say”) but “Rockstar Knights” is a testament to Cudi’s artistic growth. The plethora of sounds and shades to Man On the Moon III never stop the album’s message from seeping into every track.
“4 da Kidz” & “Lord I Know”
Our space opera trilogy ends with us staring into the twin suns of “4 da Kidz” and “Lord I Know.” The first Man On the Moon finalised with a renewed hope in the heart of our hero, the second with him firmly within the grasp of his demons. Man On the Moon III closes by fulfilling a mission statement set by Cudi back in 2014.
My mission statement from day one, and I’m getting so worked up talking about this, all I wanted to do was help kids not feel alone, and stop kids from committing suicide” – Kid Cudi on Arsenio (2014)
The Man On the Moon albums were my companions while I was going through my own issues, but they were also Scott Mescudi’s while he went through his. Man On the Moon III feels like the first Kid Cudi album made from the top of the mountain, from a place of triumph where he can be a shining example showing people that it really will be okay. Songs like “4 da Kidz” display Cudi’s intent of documenting his experience in the hopes that his listeners can break their own vicious cycles of mental illness.
His journey complete and his purpose achieved, Cudi can rest and let his blessings wash over him, as he does in “Lord I Know.” Following Cudi all these years, it is incredibly moving to hear the man speak on his strength, his happiness and the peace within his path. I now realise that this is all I wanted from this album, to hear a Kid Cudi who is healing, giving me hope that I can undergo a similar process. The second half of Man On the Moon III is the living, breathing proof that no environment is too shrouded in darkness for light to ever find you.
Though it’s clear we had two sonic preferences with what felt right as the third Man On the Moon, it is also apparent that Cudi reached us with a wildly similar sentiment. Cudi has taken the time to ground himself, though the OG moonman will always exist at his core. He has garnered a new set of tools to help him handle, at times, his difficulty with a reality that proved overwhelming. While the first half shows a reinvented Cudi, the second shows an evolved one. That’s really the two sides of the coin of a human. Sometimes through growth, we feel like we’ve conquered our troubles and sometimes we feel like we simply handle them better. With each half of the album there is nuance to these overarching statements but Cudi, through his own natural maturity, has somehow found a way to reach the ears and hearts of people who process their emotions and musical taste differently. Whether it be the first or second half that you connect to, or a bit of each, Man On the Moon III: The Chosen, chooses you.