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Kid Cudi, ‘Indicud’ (Republic)

Kid Cudi / Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Label: Republic

Will Kid Cudi ever find true happiness? That dilemma lies at the crux of Indicud, an album that the mercurial rapper has claimed in interviews is more “positive” than his lonely stoner adventures of yore, trading inert depression for defiant, defensive “King Wizard” triumphalism. Its cover art displays a fiery maelstrom bracketed by an ornately designed frame, a synthesis of high-art aspirations and uncontrollable fury that seems all too suitable for Cudi.

But the real question here is whether you should care at all — and you actually might. It has been more than four years since Cudi transfixed the mainstream with “Day ‘N Nite” and “Pursuit of Happiness,” the two droll, goofily trippy singles from his debut album, 2009’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day. The second installment in his ad-hoc “Man on the Moon” series, the following year’s The Legend of Mr. Rager, was actually much better than its predecessor, though it lacked those charming breakout hits. (Last year’s insufferably lugubrious WZRD project is best left unexplored.) Kid Cudi may claim to love being a cult artist, but he knows that cult artists are in frequent peril of slipping into irrelevance. Here, he aims to avoid that irrelevance by raging against it.

So, here he spikes his supposed contentment with flashes of self-righteous anger. On “Just What I Am,” he conflates marijuana consumption with a search for God, then adds, “Think about all my old friends / Who weren’t my friends all along / Hmph.” On “Unfuckwittable,” he proclaims, “The world is filled with good vibes and that is what I seek / And now I’m feeling more than cool / Yeah, them jokers can’t help me.” But since he doesn’t explain why he’s so upset, it just feels like haughtiness toward anonymous fools who don’t understand why he prefers to sing-rap about his precious alienation in a mumbled croon. “It’s just me and my niggas, my family, and people that care about me and my fans,” he states plainly at the start of “King Wizard.” And: “Fuck all these other niggas.”

Cudi’s unrepentant attitude is partly why Indicud sounds so engaging, at least during the album’s sparkling first half. (Sadly, he doesn’t have enough good songs to fill out its hour-plus, 18-track length.) He’s not just mewling piteously in an attempt to win our sympathy; he tells the world to fuck off, and then convinces us why we shouldn’t return the sentiment. His canny sense of melody guides him from the metal-churning, Tricky-inspired boom-bap that girds “The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi” to the MGMT and Adam Sandler samples powering the electro-pop-crushing “Immortal” to the fuzzy noise guitars of “Young Lady” to the soaring prog-house synthesizers that swirl above “Red Eye,” a joyously uncomplicated duet with the Haim sisters. Unlike other rappers’ corny EDM loops and “molly” sweat lodges, Cudi carefully works to incorporate electronic sounds into his production. Traces of dubstep flicker through “Just What I Am” and “Mad Solar,” but they’re wholly absorbed into his moping hip-hop aesthetic.

There are other cameos. Michael Bolton (yes) indulges his inner Charlie Wilson for “Afterwards (Bring Yo Friends).” Too $hort bumbles around like a dirty old man on “Girls.” RZA is his usual loquacious, offbeat self on “Beez,” save for one great line (“I don’t write songs, grasshopper, I write sceneries”). And Kendrick Lamar fumbles his “Solo Dolo Part II” verse, turning what should be a simple, imaginative rhyme on drug addiction into a bag of sherm sticks, halfway houses, and other convoluted metaphors.

As for our main attraction, despite all his navel-gazing, Kid Cudi can be a generous host. He steps back into a relatively silent producer role for RZA’s cameo, and on “Brotherhood,” he pays tribute to “My niggas / The brothers that I never had / Made my life a lot less sad” in an ungainly but heartfelt verse. (As a rapper, he’s still clumsy but effective; appreciators of technique should look elsewhere.) Save for Haim’s star turn and maybe Chip Tha Ripper’s energetic “wakin’, bakin’, contemplatin'” leadoff verse on “Just What I Am,” none of the guest actors here distract from Cudi’s signature self-mythologizing and inner turmoil. And most of the time, it’s his inner turmoil that beckons you in, rather than merely pushing you out.