Kid Cudi, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ | Album Review
Alternative, Left-field rapper Kid Cudi returns to form with an ambitious new album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’.
At one time, Kid Cudi was “kind of a big deal.” In 2009, he captivated the world with odd-ball album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day. The album was driven by surprise, left-field hit, “Day ‘N’ Nite.” After his initial success, Cudi cooled off a bit, with his coolest coming in 2015 (Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven). Despite the miscue, he returns capably with an ambitious new album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. Does K.C. slay? He does indeed!
“Frequency” kicks off the LP in typical, Kid Cudi fashion, for lack of a better description. Ultimately, it a record that is left-field to the nth degree. For the most part, he sings, though the second verse finds him embracing pop-rap. One lyric is repeated throughout the course of the song: “Couple girls, couple stories, and a couple of shrooms.” This isn’t far-fetched for Cudi either – his music is known for references to sex and various drugs. The hook is infectious:
“Yeah, yeah, widen your view / and tune on into the frequency / chill all alone, love is the rule / follow it to the frequency.”
Follow up “Swim in the Light” keeps things odd – experimental. Limited lyrically, “Swim in the Light” paints a picture of the unchangeable: “You could try and numb the pain, but it’ll never go away.” In essence, Cudi is filled with pain, and nothing can eliminate that pain completely. Once more, he sings as opposed to raps on this dark, intense joint.
The eerie “Releaser” doesn’t let up, keeping the tone of Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ dark and foreboding. The lyrics speak for themselves: “It’s blinding, your glory / your glory is blinding…” As intriguing as “Releaser” is, Standout “By Design,” featuring Andre Benjamin, gives Cudi a more grounded, traditional record. Nothing is ever traditional with Kid Cudi, but “By Design” has more appealing cues to the less adventurous listener. The groove is infectious while “come on, don’t f*ck up the Feng shui” ends up being one of the most memorable lyrics of the entire album.
“All In” gives Cudi a slightly different sound. His signature sound is still in play, but with Mike WiLL Made It handling production duties, it provides a welcome contrast. The vibe is reflective and continues to be moody. Clearly regretful, he’s dedicated to making it work:
“I’m exposed and I am pure / no one makes me feel secure / except you and now we’re all in / all in, I am all in / whatever happens, happens…”
“ILLusions” references the frequency which the rapper references earlier: “Around the age of 23/ is when I finally heard the frequency / and I’ve been tuned in the line of grace…” “ILLusions” examines Cudi’s past demons and his deliverance from them. He’s joined by an unlikely collaborator on “Rose Garden” – Willow [Smith]. The results are quite impressive, with Willow playing a backing role. The contrast of their respective voices is part of the allure, not to mention the superb production work (strings, brass, etc.).
“Baptized in Fire”
“Baptized in Fire” featuring Travis Scott features dark, enigmatic production work. The record is anchored by a hard-hitting beat. Kid Cudi delivers nimble rhymes, another signal of return to his signature sound. Throughout the course of the single, he flexes, whether it’s his come-up, a variety of girls, or being the best in the game. Notably, he also references his nightmares from the past:
“Nightmares kept a n*gga from closin’ his lids / since a kid I’ve been haunted by visions of death / such a trip, not normal, I customed the grip.”
“Flight at First Sight / Advanced” pairs Cudi with Pharrell Williams, who also handles production duties. A two-part song, both parts are distinct from one another, providing welcome contrast. “Advanced” in particular shines, suiting the eccentricity of producer and MC. The two collaborate once more to conclude Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ with “Surfin’.”
“Does It” goes hard – literally. Cudi eschews pop [rap] for hard-hitting rhymes – save for the hook. In addition to mad rhymes, the production work is lush – stunning. “Dance 4 Eternity” is a stark contrast – a groovy, danceable, love song. No more rapping, expectedly – chilled out singing supplants. “Distant Fantasies” contrasts once more, sounding enigmatic and sketchy. Even so, “Distant Fantasies” intrigues thanks to its vibe and distinct sound from everything else gracing the LP.
“Wounds,” like “ILLusions,” dabbles in the psychological state of Cudi:
“We all have times when we weep / it’s a troubled life, traumatized psychologically / I pray, in the shadows when I’m speakin’ to no one / myself, did everything right, didn’t I / so why arent’ I whole?”
“Mature Nature” moves beyond the wounds, in search of “heaven again.” Danceable, much like “Dance 4 Eternity,” the lyrics are limited, but the listener can read between the lines. Groove continues to dominate on “Kitchen,” which sort of floats along, albeit it beautifully.
Expectedly, “Cosmic Warrior” is spacey: “‘Cause since birth it was prophecy, the cosmic warrior / surrounded by infinite light…” This means that Kid Cudi sings, hums, and has the listener questioning where he’s going ultimately. It’s ambitious (and epic) despite a minimal number of lyrics, but ultimately, Kid Cudi plans to arrive in a sense… somewhere. After all, he says himself, “took a swan dive.”
“The Guide” gives Cudi a second collaboration with Andre Benjamin. Deep, “The Guide” explores love…actually sex. Popular subject matter to say the least. Penultimate joint “The Commander” has more substance, with the rapper taking ownership of his life. At one point, he asserts:
“I’m standin’ in the moon’s beam / blowin’ off some steam / wonderin’ how I got so done with the high…”
Interesting, the aforementioned lyrics are open to multiple interpretations.
“Surfin’,” referenced earlier, concludes Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ confidently and energetically. Few rappers could successfully make reference to Kubrick and Spielberg. Indeed, Cudi “ain’t riding no waves / too busy making my own waves.”
All in all, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ is intriguing. While it runs ever too long at nearly an hour and half, there are more than enough standouts to appease. Much better than Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, Cudi is able to experiment without alienating his core base. In that regard, Passion is a return to form, even trying new things that break from his past. More often than not, Kid Cudi indeed slays.
Gems: “Frequency,” “By Design,” “Rose Garden,” “Baptized in Fire,” “Does It,” “Distant Fantasies” & “Surfin’”