Kid Cudi, in the decade and a half since his era-defining debut Man on the Moon: The End of Day, has become the poster child for existential Hip Hop with his lyrics at the forefront of the genre’s introspective leap into mental health issues such as depression and addiction.
On his ninth studio album, INSANO, which is equal parts lavish and esoteric, the Lonely Stoner floats into a new space in what feels like an attempt to tap into the enormous market of close collaborator Travis Scott (who actually pops up twice on Cudder’s new LP).
In a lot of ways, INSANO grasps the scattershot creative mind of Cudi as accurately as any of his other projects. This is a man who directed an animated film for his last album, has his own clothing line, has written a comic book and acted in films as varied as X, Don’t Look Up and Silent Night. Much like his mentor and sometimes rival Kanye West, Cudi darts in all directions, often to mixed results.
INSANO is a mammoth 21 tracks long — and there’s still a deluxe edition on the way — continuing a beleaguered trend across Hip Hop that sees albums padded out as thick as possible to capitalize on streaming numbers while often sacrificing coherency, although there is a specific throughline on INSANO with DJ Drama serving as a quasi-narrator.
Titled, slightly bizarrely, after a character from the Adam Sandler comedy The Waterboy, INSANO feels like a long time coming for Cudi. He’s teased the end of his music career on more than one occasion in recent times, prior album Entergalacticsaw him grow warmer and less detached and for almost a year now, promised that INSANO would be an album to “lift you up.”
It’s an album determined to give you positive vibes with production that is far more trap than the dreamlike soundscapes fans are more used to hearing from Cudi.
“GET OFF ME” is a perfect reminder of the chemistry Cudi and Travis Scott have when they hop on a song together even if it does not quite reach the euphoric heights of their 2020 smash hit “THE SCOTTS.” But it still feels fit for a rager at a festival.
While contributions from some of the guests range from unnecessary (Young Thug on “RAGER BOYZ”) to downright awful (Lil Yachty on “TOO DAMN HIGH”), Lil Wayne continues his hot streak of features on “SEVEN.” He only spits a quick eight but Wayne makes his limited time count.
“ELECTROWAVEBABY” is the album’s most daring song and sees Cudder throw himself into George Benson funk combined with Giorgio Moroder synths and while it’s undoubtedly a beguiling entry into the discography, it feels out of place on the INSANO tracklist, coming off vintage Cudi anthem “WOW.” Cudi has never been artist to avoid swinging for the fences and or pushing the limits of his imagination — previous albums have featured collaborations with HAIM and Phoebe Bridgers after all — but “ELECTROWAVEBABY” is a distraction better fitting another project.
On the subject of “WOW” — arguably the best song on the entire album — it should be remembered for its soaring, trademark Cudi hook and the the most poignant line on the album: “Finally found my peace, the demon ceased to haunt me all night long, all fuckin’ night long.”
But there’s an A$AP Rocky-sized elephant in the room where one throwaway line possibly aimed at Drake — “These n-ggas can’t stomach me, gotta go get a mandrake” — will take all the column inches and social media chatter.
Most notably on INSANO, Cudi sounds free and relaxed. He’s rapping like a free man, seemingly less lumbered by inner turmoil and finally finding time to enjoy life and success. What has been sacrificed for ease and joy are consistently quality lyrics. Virtually anybody could be spitting the lines about nights in the club and smoking blunts.
Much like Janelle Monae‘s The Age of Pleasure, INSANO is a party record by an artist who’s fans are generally chasing something a little deeper and darker and there becomes a gulf between expectation and reality.
Approached on its own terms, INSANO is a success and features Cudi at his most radio friendly since his debut but even at over an hour long and spanning a multitude of genres, it lacks any depth of feeling that grows tiring over 64 minutes. There’s a truly great 12-track version of INSANO hiding away somewhere.
RELEASE DATE: January 12, 2024
RECORD LABEL: Republic/UMG
Listen to INSANO below: