One of hip-hop’s most anticipated albums of the year, “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” marks recording artist Kid Cudi’s return to the hip-hop scene after his foray into alternative rock in his last studio album, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven.” Comprised of four acts and 19 tracks, it is his sixth studio release and certainly one of his most developed. Having recently faced struggles with drug abuse and mental health, Kid Cudi delves into complex and personal territory, touching on themes of trust, failure and love, particularly within the context of an often toxic rap industry.
The album opens with the mellow, science fiction-inspired track “Frequency.” Contrasting Kid Cudi’s melodic humming with intermittent rap verses, the song gradually builds a sense of tension, producing an eerie sound. This style of humming also appears on the second track, “Swim in the Light.” Though “Swim in the Light” is a bit heavy-handed in its use of synthesizers in comparison to “Frequency,” the two tracks seamlessly mesh. Together, they slowly transition the album towards its later three acts, which all include a repertoire of more multilayered songs.
One of these more intensively produced tracks is “By Design,” which features recording artist Andre Benjamin, better known by his stage name, André 3000. André 3000’s verses fuse effortlessly with the song’s upbeat piano background, but Kid Cudi’s distinctive voice takes center stage. As he delivers a strong hook — “The universe never steered me wrong/The universe never lied” — Kid Cudi shows that catchy choruses are not his only assets; his vocals have an authentic, powerful feel as well.
“Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” includes a number of other collaborators. Pharrell Williams and Travis Scott each make two guest appearances. Willow Smith is also featured, lending smooth, matured vocals to the album’s standout track, “Rose Golden.” This song is especially intricate, interweaving string instrumentals and climactic percussion. Willow Smith’s airy voice melds with Kid Cudi’s, as the two relay an impassioned lyrical message about their mothers’ inspiring them to achieve their goals, singing, “Oh, since I was young, been grooving to my own drum/Ain’t that many teachers show me my potential/Felt like a failure, momma said you know better/Future in my hands, God, she had a plan.”
The album’s hip-hop-heavy sound is a return to form after Kid Cudi’s last album, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” a polarizing venture into the alt-rock genre. Though the angst-driven “Speedin’” had its fair share of inventive tracks, Kid Cudi’s newest release succeeds in creating a more cohesive and enjoyable collection.
Though innovative in its own right, “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’” does take some cues from prior Kid Cudi hits; it mixes dreamy and dark undertones with clever, rapid-fire raps reminiscent of the three-part “Man on the Moon” series.
The album not only has great sense of flow, but also a clear narrative, effectively telling a story with the progression of each act. The four parts, titled “Tuned,” “Prophecy,” “Niveaux de l’Amour” and “It’s Bright and Heaven Is Warm,” are inspired by different stages of Kid Cudi’s own life story: feeling lost, finding himself, exploring love and overcoming his past. This personal journey is also reflected musically, as the album’s final two tracks, “The Commander” and “Surfin,’” ring with a triumphant, more optimistic sound.
Still, Kid Cudi does not abandon his trademark experimental quality. “Cosmic Warrior,” which introduces the fourth and final act, is quite psychedelic, both lyrically and instrumentally. At times, however, the song falls short, as if overwhelmed by too many elements. In this sense, the already lengthy album would benefit from a more refined, streamlined approach.
That said, the album has potential to mark a new era for Kid Cudi’s music. While it occasionally lacks direction, the work’s overall effect is both poignant and memorable. Even its music videos, shot in dark jungle environments, mirror the album’s tumultuous and thoughtful nature. As a whole, Kid Cudi’s sixth studio album illuminates a musical and thematic transformation for the artist, ultimately accurately exemplifying its title: “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin.’”