Flirting with a musical retirement – though we know how often to trust those lately – and now on his eighth solo full-length, the endlessly influential Kid Cudi has dropped a new multimedia project in a career full of multihyphenate ventures. The soundtrack to a new Netflix animated special dedicated to his late friend, fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the project comes in the wake of a resurgence in both Cudi’s popularity and musical quality following a stint in rehab and a mental health breakthrough. While a lot of what gives Cudi such a dedicated and passionate fanbase worldwide still appears across the project, it’s still a soundtrack to a narrative film – meaning that for the most part, we’re getting all the classic Cudi-isms, just toned down and designed to blend seamlessly into the background. Entergalactic has its high points, but for the most part it feels a little bit like an AI-generated Kid Cudi album, hitting all the expected points without as much of the deep, human vulnerability that makes him so many people’s favourite artist.
After an expectedly cosmic instrumental opening theme – featuring someone other than Cudi humming for once – the project kicks off with “New Mode.” Drawing us into his world with a series of those classic hums once again, the track is catchy, charismatic, up-front and confessional like all of his best ones. Speaking about self-love after the defeat of his decade-long doubt-casting rival Mr. Rager on his last album two years ago, it’s additionally elevated by an instrumental of trap psychedelia and some engaging, static-sounding percussion noises. Locked into what works for him at this point, as the track continues it begins to feel a little like he’s doing what he thinks we want to hear, touching on his narrative beats and melodic style with about 70% of the vigor as usual – the chorus especially is a little undercooked for someone renowned for them. “Do What I Want” runs into a similar issue – hearing Cudi dropping some rap flows, running through some charming vocal inflections, and clearly in a more upbeat and fun-loving place is great, combined with the heavy trap beat and raw guitars of ascendant production duo Take a Daytrip – but the chorus is repetitive, obnoxious and feels off-key. The track “Angel” is a low-key track backed by nothing but a couple heavenly, shimmering synth chords, as Cudi passionately sings through what sounds like a freestyle about a partner’s divine nature. As most of Cudi’s best moments can sound like they were off-the-cuff – it’s a major reason why he was such an important figure for the breakthrough of Drake-style emotional rap – it’s easy to get lost in his soothing tones. Still, it could have been mixed much better. Cudi sounds great, so it’s unusual for him to be so washed out and faded into the background.
The similarly-titled tracks “Ignite the Love” and “In Love” come back-to-back, and they’re also two of the weakest points of the album. The former starts to really take on the background-music designation, with Cudi attempting to capture a blissful vibe of new romance more than anything else. Of course, Cudi has repeatedly proven throughout his career that he’s one of the best at doing this, but it’s still incredibly boring to listen to attentively. With bright acoustics and falsetto whoops in the background, the bones of a song are there, but the rest is taken up by baseline, underwritten lyrics and repetitive melodies. “In Love” takes it further and gets completely unhinged. The song is dangerously off-beat, with Cudi straining at the top of his range – there’s no possible way that this wasn’t Cudi messing around in the booth copy-pasted onto a premade beat later. Cudi has never been a good singer, but he’s a master at playing to his strengths. That all goes out the window here with one of the year’s most blatantly unmusical tracks on an album this big. “Willing To Trust,” however, turns things back around and introduces the album’s best run. The first feature in Ty Dolla $ign appears, dropping his always-incredible multilayered harmonies into the mix to serve as a great complement to Cudi’s more understated, straightforward flow. With his most tender vocal inflections, he captures the love a lot better than the two tracks with the word in the title – especially on an adorable extended outro where he repeatedly croons “I got you, don’t worry, love.” The instrumental combines what sounds like alien UFO noises, shuffling hip-hop production and some ringing electric guitar notes.
The back half kicks off with “Can’t Believe It,” an ice-cold track that sees Cudi teaming up with 2 Chainz for the first time since a decade ago, when they were both GOOD Music affiliates. Dropping down to his infectious lower register, this is the track where he gets to go all-out with his new, unleashed attitude, and he recruits one of rap’s biggest goofballs to play off of. A straightforward banger of the highest order, these two both kill their verses over a futuristic beat. Speaking of GOOD Music, it’s unfortunate that the animosity between Kid Cudi and former close collaborator Kanye West has reached such heights that another one of the best tracks here, “Livin’ My Truth,” is actually a completely re-produced Kanye beat, done to avoid crediting him. You can tell it’s West’s, because of the masterful sampling. Lifting a funky rhythm from Al Green, it’s filtered so that it sounds like it’s playing right off of an old-school record player. With a short but sweet length, Cudi drops some more top-tier rap verses and fun ad-libs, his charisma shining through. The track “Maybe So” finds Cudi crooning about the pain of waiting for time to heal over an orchestral palate, the song itself feeling a little disjointed and empty at times but undoubtedly pretty. Without seeing the special, it has to be the moment where the relationship looks like it’s over, with a montage of staring out the window and doing things alone at home, before the dramatic reunion – in other words, it’s another background music-ready track.
As the story rushes to its conclusion, the music gets progressively less noticeable – but along the same lines, “Can’t Shake Her” and “She’s Lookin’ For Me” have to be situated around the climax, going for similar aims and achieving different results. The former is pretty overwhelming, with a vibrating, overbearing synth line in the back as Cudi speeds through some more meandering melodies, but the latter is a gem near the album’s conclusion. Truly reminiscent of some of his older works with the warm, inviting chords and a soaring and anthemic chorus, Cudi powers through this one with an almost Weeknd-esque rap-sung flow. “My Drug” has to be another freestyle, with some generic and overdone lyrical moments and Cudi calling the relationship “epic.” It’s short, and doesn’t flow together well, leading to the underwhelming closer “Somewhere To Fly.” Despite the presence of Don Toliver, it’s the most AI-generated of them all here, the energy often dying throughout.
If this is truly Kid Cudi’s final album, the greater project that is 2020’s Man On The Moon III will likely be remembered with that label in the future for closing out so many of his running narratives with some more engaging music. Of course, Cudi’s endlessly creative talents are going to be applied to many other areas – and if he’s done with music, I’m excited to see what he does next.
Favourite Tracks: Can’t Believe It, Livin’ My Truth, Willing To Trust, She’s Lookin’ For Me
Least Favourite Track: In Love