Before listening to the new Kid Cudi album, I had to force myself to forget about everything I knew (or thought I knew) about the guy. I had to forget about his mixtape and two albums that racked up a stupid amount of plays in my iTunes and provided much of the soundtrack to my four years in college. I had to forget that Kid Cudi is a “rapper”.
Why? Well, WZRD isn’t a rap album. The man who sold millions of rap records decided to ditch that whole thing and start a rock band with his producer Dot Da Genius (responsible for the song that made Cudi famous: Day N Night). Yeah, Cudi’s music has always teetered on the edge of hip-hop and eventually nestled into an “alternative rap” niche, but it was always very much rooted in the genre. This new album isn’t. It’s rock. No rapping. After saying in interviews last year that he’s “grown tired of rapping”, he picked up a guitar and started focusing on rock music. That’s why I tried to forget everything I’ve known about him as a rapper and approach this album as if I were listening to new rock group with a weird wizardy name that I randomly found on some hipster blog.
(READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW AFTER THE JUMP)
So, the album… First, lets focus on the music behind Cudi’s voice. Dot Da Genius embraced the rock vibe that Cudi was aiming for and came up with an album full of songs that sound nothing like anything he’s ever done before. The new rock style is the most immediately apparent influence, but his hip-hop background shines through as well – along with pop and electronic sounds. Tight hip-hop influenced drums build the foundation behind fuzzed out guitars throughout the album (especially on tracks like Love Hard and Dr. Pill), giving it an interesting sound that would be hard to find on a traditional rock album. This isn’t like Lil Wayne’s feeble attempt at rock which featured a lot of hip-hop beats that were subtly influenced by rock. This is closer to the other way around. He didn’t just copy the sounds of traditional rock music and forget his background either – he took what he’s learned from hip-hop and brought a fresh new take to rock, resulting in a very original sound that turned out surprisingly successful and interesting to listen to.
Ok, on to the the other half of the collaboration: Kid Cudi’s vocal performance. There’s not much debate to the fact that Kid Cudi knows how to craft and deliver a melody. He got his start when Kanye West noticed the young rapper who was singing his own hooks (and singing them well) and brought him on board to help with his experimental album 808s and Heartbreak.
In a funny way, this is Kid Cudi’s 808s and Heartbreaks.
He’s had two very successful rap albums and now he’s going in a new direction and trying something different. How did he do? Umm…I wasn’t blown away or disgusted with his performance. There are times of brilliance where I thought “Wow, he’s really doing stuff I’ve never heard anyone do before…and I LIKE IT!” which were balanced out by moments of “Uh oh..This is actually really bad.” Sandwiched between were several very average performances. There were times of deep lyrical insights and then others where you’re left wondering, “Did he just sing that only because it rhymed? What does that even mean?” Everything kinda averaged out to a mediocre performance. Not terrible, but not great either. I dunno, maybe he’s just ahead of his time and I don’t get it yet. I didn’t like 808s And Heartbreak at first and now I love it years later.
I know I opened this review by saying I’d keep the rest of his career out of it the conversation, but I’ve gotta break that rule for a minute. Thinking back on his career, this “average” performance kinda makes sense. What made everyone fall in love with Kid Cudi was his ability to put together full and diverse songs. He has the unique ability of jumping from well-rapped verse to melodic chorus and back, creating a full and interesting hip-hop song from a singular point of view. This was a refreshing departure from the majority of hip-hop songs that feature an old sample or a singer on the hook, adding another point of view to the equation which usually diluted the singular voice of the rapper. Cudi was never the best rapper or singer, but he was GREAT at combining the two styles. Take out half of the equation as he did on this album, and its just kinda average. There are plenty of successful choruses on this album, but many of the sung verses in between fall flat and he sounds sort of uncomfortable. Dot Da Genius brought his hip-hop background to the table and infused it into a rock style, creating something interesting and fresh. Unfortunately, Cudi didn’t. He seemed to largely dismiss his hip-hop background which was disappointing.
FINAL VERDICT: This is interesting. I’m in love with the production and couldn’t be more happy with Dot Da Genius’ work on this album, but Kid Cudi’s average vocal performance put a damper on things for me. Maybe I’m just breaking my rule and fantasizing too much about how great this could have been if Cudi sprinkled a few rap verses in. The final product of WZRD is a rock album with a fresh hip-hop and pop influenced sound that can’t really be compared to anything else I’ve listened to, which is nice. It has low and high points, resulting in an decent album that’s interesting to listen to but that never quite reaches its full potential. I appreciate both of these guys for stepping out of their comfort zones to try something different in order to push themselves as well as the progression of modern music, however. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes next from both of them.
Listen to a few tracks below and look for the album in stores February 28th. Pre-order link.