Scott Mescudi has seemingly been to hell and back since “Day ’n’ Nite” dropped twelve years ago. Man on the Moon: The End of the Day not only birthed a wave of melodic hip-hop, it also cemented Kid Cudi as an underdog in the culture. He was a protege of Kanye–another hungry, enigmatic artist from the midwest like Lupe Fiasco, only far more relatable. After End of the Day, however, came some questionable choices and lackluster attempts at recreating the magic. Six albums later, Cudi is still struggling to find his voice with Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. And although it seldom resembles that iconic first installment, it briefly reminds us why we love him in the first place.
Like the first two installments, Man on the Moon III, is broken into acts. While The End of the Day is the only one to properly utilize this theme, The Chosen does follow the four part structure fairly well. The first two acts are a gentle return to form, as Cudi mostly plays it safe. The album really gets going with the subtly triumphant, “Tequila Shots”. The album’s genuine sentiment is packaged nicely in the hook, “Can’t stop this war in me”. The warm, dazzling synths are nice on the ears but Scott seems a little bored at times. He flirts with the trap sound on “Another Day” and “She Knows This”, but the stream of consciousness flows don’t have much bite to them. The arena-sized influence of Travis Scott is all over this record, the most obvious being “Dive”. In exchange for an intimate narrative, and clever bars Cudi encourages us to simply vibe instead.
The grand atmosphere of The Chosen is consistently anchored by the improvised nature of the lyrics. “Show Out Feat. Skepta & Pop Smoke” has one of the hardest beats on the album, but Cudi barely finds space to express himself comfortably. He doesn’t do himself any favors by following up two pretty spectacular vocal performances with an aimless freestyle. “Heaven on Earth” has an undeniable energy stored within it, but ultimately sounds more like the work of his peers than his own.
Act three has some of the album’s more tender cuts. “Elsie’s Baby Boy (Flashback)” is a breath of fresh air after the all too serious trap inspired first half. “He was bored in the winter” rolls off Mescudi’s tongue easily, while dreamlike guitars pluck in the background. It’s a shame the more interesting ideas come so late, as The Chosen starts to drag around this point. “The Pale Moonlight” is the closest Cudi gets to recapturing the magic of 2009. The shuffling high hats and starlike production provide the perfect amount of space for Cudi to float around in. Man on the Moon III is content with simply being on the ground, not necessarily breaking it.