Republic Records
Republic Records

For many Kid Cudi fans, the question unfortunately wasn't if Cudi fell of, but rather when he did it. Some would say as far back as 2012, when he followed up Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager with his lackluster attempt at a rock album, WZRD. Others may say his official hip-hop follow-up to MOTM2, Indicud, was where they drew the line. Others stayed fans for a bit longer, but were turned off by the experimental (even by Cudi's standards) and largely instrumental Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon. Those that remained with the rapper even through that admitted that his last album, Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven was a disastrous attempt to blend his style with 1990s grunge rock that fell flat on its face.

Any way you look on it, there's been at least a decline in the quality of his music since Man on the Moon II dropped in 2010. None of those follow-up albums scored higher than a 60 percent average score (out of 100) on MetaCritic. Combine those professional demons with some of Cudi's personal demons -- drug addiction, depression, rehab, public feuds with other artists like Kanye West and Drake -- and you'd be hard-pressed to find much hope for Cudi as an artist.

Then in March, only a few months after the horrendous reception of Speedin' Bullet, Kid Cudi released "Frequency," the first track off of his latest album, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'. With opening lines to the first verse like "Couple girls, couple stories and a couple shrooms/Couple clubs and I'm in the zone" and a hook that tells listeners to "widen your view and tune on into the frequency," it felt immediately like classic Cudi.

That was shortly followed up with "All In," the rapper's first-ever collaboration with producer Mike Will Made It. The fact that Cudi and Mike Will both excel in spacey, atmospheric sounds makes one wonder why the two had never worked together before. After years of disappointment, it looked like Kid Cudi was finally back on track as an artist.

Now that Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin' is out, those hopes have come true. Cudi sounds revitalized on the project. He's rapping and singing better than he has in years. There are no attempts to really get out of his atmospheric hip-hop wheelhouse and chase those dreams of being a rockstar, something that has never worked for him no matter how hard he's tried. It's classic Cudi.

One noticeable factor is that he seems more confident than he's been since those early years of his career. On "Does It," he calls out his critics with lines like "Uh, doing music, TV and music, sitting on the floors we ain't heard of/And the media wanna act like I ain't out here, I'm out here." On the final track "Surfin'," Cudi says he "Ain't ridin' no waves/Too busy making my own waves, baby." On his last few albums, he felt a bit lost as he experimented more with his sound to varying degrees. Now he's back on top of his game and knows he can get back to being a pioneer.

Another major factor on the album is the production. It's noteworthy that this is the first album in years where Cudi takes a backseat for much of the album when it comes to its sound. He's at least co-produced many of his songs since he came onto the scene, but it was starting with Indicud that he took most of the burden of making his own beats. They were serviceable, but sometimes seemed like pale imitations of the producers' sounds that helped him come up. He wasn't quite on the same level as Dot da Genius, Plain Pat and Mike Dean.

So while Cudi has plenty of production credits on Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin' (often on less memorable tracks like "Distant Fantasies" and "Mature Nature") it's a welcome change that we get those aforementioned producers as well as the likes of Pharrell Williams and Mike Will Made It on the boards.

Most of the album features Cudi as far as vocals go, but there are some very notable exceptions. Pharrell gives vocals on the two tracks he produces: "Flight at First Sight/Advanced" and "Surfin'." Andre 3000 (credited by his legal name Andre Benjamin) has highlight appearances on "By Design" and "The Guide." Travis Scott, an artist who owes a bit to Cudi for helping open up a lane for him, shows up on "Baptized in Fire." Willow Smith's vocals duet wonderfully with Cudi's on "Rose Golden."

The moaning and groaning vocals that some criticized on Satellite Flight and Speedin' Bullet are still present on Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin', but that's no surprise. Cudi's always had a bit of mumbling and moaning in his vocal delivery. It's just for the last few projects, those groans were pronounced as there was little else he offered to back the tracks. Here, they're much more in the background.

The album's biggest issue is its length. Like Speedin' Bullet before it, Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin' clocks in at about 90 minutes. For comparison, both Man on the Moon albums only run about an hour in length. Even a revitalized Cudi drags on as the album continues, and it seems that one of the project's four acts (more than likely Act III) could have easily been cut for the sake of time.

Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin' is what many Cudi fans have been waiting on for as long as five years. He returns to the sound and the producers that made him become a star around 2008, and that change has him making the best music he's made since those Man on the Moon albums. While the project is lengthy, it's just good to hear Kid Cudi sound like himself.

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