Back Tracks is a weekly music column that studies the past, revisiting tunes that might be old but still resonate today.
Overzealous analysis following stellar debut releases is, most of the time, unwarranted and undeserved.
A musician’s introduction to the world feels more soulful and effortful, as he or she stakes a claim for consumer’s attention. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the albums following aren’t worth listening to as well, even if they’re less stellar. Kid Cudi and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) both released albums over Ohio State’s spring break. They are also both artists who are heralded for their classic debuts.
“Man on the Moon: The End of Day” (2009)
“Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin” (2016)
The rapper-singer Kid Cudi closed out 2016 with “Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin,” an album full of anthems about overcoming dark thoughts and living with fear. It is being looked at as his most listenable project since his debut, “Man on the Moon: The End of the Day” and sophomore album, “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager,” which was followed by a slew of less impressive albums projecting the depression Kid Cudi was experiencing.
The mood is dark at times on “PPDS,” pushed by production from known Kid Cudi collaborators Plain Pat and Dot da Genius. Those two also crafted a handful of hits on the Cleveland native’s official debut, “Man on the Moon: The End of Day.” “Simple As…” and “My World” are two Plain Pat cuts that close out two the five acts of the album, while Dot da Genius helped switch up the rap industry’s sound with the futuristic hit “Day ‘n’ Nite.” It is worth revisiting the 2009 spacey soundtrack, as the soundscapes can put listeners in a pleasant, confident state of mind and serve as a reminder of a carefree Cudi.
Yasiin Bey/Mos Def
“Black On Both Sides” (1999)
“December 99th” (2016)
The Brooklyn emcee’s newest release, on the other hand, did not live up to the reputation set by the music that launched his career as a solo artist. His 30-minute farewell to music, the collaborative “December 99th” with producer Ferrari Sheppard, felt like a rushed, yet effortless goodbye. For most of 2016, Bey was being detained in South Africa, which could have affected his headspace while creating the album.
Bey has been aloof most of his career, with “December 99th” being the longest period between album releases since he began rapping in the mid ‘90s. As one half of the iconic duo Black Star, there were high expectations for his solo debut “Black on Both Sides,” which is often included on lists of hip-hop essentials. Even though his farewell might not have been as triumphant as his intro, the beautiful thing is that his classics can still be enjoyed today.
Although Bey seemed more invested in acting than emceeing during his heyday in the 90s, “Black on Both Sides” was more intriguing and dense than mainstream rap albums at the time. The Aretha Franklin-sampled “Ms. Fat Booty,” an enticing tale about love found and lost, still showcases Mos Def’s dexterity but balances out the heaviness of the political and social comments on tracks “New World Water” and “Mathematics.”
Whether you are a fan of the new projects from Cudi and Bey, there is always timeless music in their catalogs to fall back on.