Listening to Kid Cudi‘s Man on The Moon III: The Chosen, all I can think is: can more albums be like this? Not only does Cudi’s fresh album pack a fully realized plot and structure, but it’s also part of a bigger story. Through his Man on The Moon series, we’ve witnessed the turmoil, healing, and pitfalls of a beloved and complicated artist. If only hip-hop had more of this candor.
Cudi (aka Scott Mescudi) made his third moon landing at midnight on Friday, December 11, ten years after his last outer space excursion. Not many albums can live up to a decade of hype, but somehow across 18 tracks with help from the Phoebe Bridgers, Skepta, and the late Pop Smoke, Cudi surpasses those expectations. It’s an extremely difficult task to create an album that’s excellent and unforgettable. Trying to carry that magic over to multiple albums, all connected in one continuous series, is an even more monumental task. However, when done right, album series offer fans years of enjoyment.
Yet – with few exceptions – album series are markedly missing from hip hop. From Cudi’s Man on The Moon to Dr. Dre’s Chronic, Lil Wayne’s Carter, Run the Jewels’ RTJ, and Kanye’s College series, serial bodies of work have defined the culture. For each one of these artists, regardless of where they’ve gone in their career, we can always see how far they’ve come by how they continue these sagas. In the streaming age – contrary to what hip hop purists believe – there is a lot of very good music. Too much of it. Countless album releases have generated hype but very little is remembered. Sporadic releases just don’t cut it in the digital age, listeners crave something bigger.
Kid Cudi’s MOTM trilogy is memorable from start to finish. In 2009, Man on The Moon: The End of Day ignited an evaluation of mental health in hip hop, with Cudi himself as the subject. 2010’s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager continued to draw the blueprint for how to be a vulnerable Black man in rap. And now Man on The Moon III: The Chosen completes a magnum opus of insecurity. “It sounds like you pick right back up where we left off 10 years ago,” Cudi told Zane Lowe of the new album.
The album dropped with a fittingly cinematic cover and an accompanying synopsis on the back. It tells the story of Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), our protagonist who has defeated darkness only to witness the same pain return again, and once more he has to face off against the evil Mr. Rager, a superhero-like character who can do drugs like the rock stars he grew up idolizing. The rapper has been very open about his mental health struggles, which include depression, anxiety, and addiction. In light of this, MOTM takes on an even greater poignance. Across three albums, Scott Mescudi is our antihero and vulnerability is his superpower.
Since 2009, we’ve been on this quest with Cudi through his music and we’ve become part of this story. In real-time, we’ve witnessed the musician’s battles and celebrated his victorious returns. In MOTM III he marches on; “I’m not just some sad dude […] I want serenity” he raps on track two, “Tequila Shots.” Where other rappers may address their state of mind occasionally, Cudi built a whole world around it.
For any fan of Kid Cudi’s and for all the listeners struggling with the same darkness as Scott, this body of work has done a greater service than a single record ever could. Beyond dismantling norms surrounding mental health, the third installment in his classic series proves that a thematic run of albums will always be more personal than a catch-all record. Regardless of how many moons have passed, Cudi’s Man on The Moon series continues to remind us that you can’t just “get over” your demons, but there may be a path to solace.