Cudi's latest offer is a controversial move into rock territory; is it a bold gesture or a misguided blunder?
As one of the most significant rappers of the past decade, for better or worse, Kid Cudi's stamp on the genre has been inescapable. I mean, lets face it, Kanye's last 3 albums have not only featured that man in some right, but they've also had Cudi's fingerprints all over. Loathe though I am to stroke his ego, there's no mistaking that a great deal of non-street rap in the last few years may have been kids raised on Kanye, but Cudi was their babysitter. His use of melody and pop aspiration married to slick rhyming made him what more than one rapper has suggested more of a rock singer than a traditional rapper. It must've been a description that Kid Cudi heard and has been toying with for some time because now, he's gone and done it folks — he's gone and made a rock album.
Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven is pretty simple to understand on a certain level; on prior projects such as WZRD, he's been known to experiment with the flavors of 80s/90s alternative, specifically Nirvana who are going to be cited in possibly every review that comes to mind here. Its not unfounded, we know that Cudi loves Kurt Cobain, and Bullet showcases that with an incredible amount of love and admiration. But the nice thing about the record is Cudi has managed to translate a lot of Cobain's angst along with his humor. Over the years, people forget that records like Bleach or Nevermind weren't simply showcases of a crash & burn rock star, but also an absolute dork. Songs like “Territorial Pissings” or “Floyd The Barber” somehow linger on forgotten in the wake of every new documentary reminding us that a kid who just wanted to make music and be a pop star ended up suicidal and jaded.
So when one starts thinking back to the comedown from the commercial heights of “Day N Nite” and Man On The Moon, his reported difficulties with drug addiction and isolation from the greater rap community, Kurt seems like a pretty reasonable figure for Cudi to identify with and emulate in certain regards. But on tracks like “Fade To Red” or “Post Mortem Boredom”, you can hear Cudi purposefully take the piss out of his performances. Depression and Cudi have gone hand and hand since his debut album, but so has his prankster side (lest we not forget his cheeky “Make Her Say” was released around the same time as “Pursuit Of Happiness”) and that still remains to keep the album buoyant and avoid getting trapped into pure misery. Of course, could we do without the Beavis & Butthead skits? Probably. But we could do without a couple things here.
Essentially, Cudi is doing a lot less rapping and a lot more guitar playing. To be honest, his musicianship is at best, limited, or at worst, the patched together works of a deluded wanna be rock-star. But considering the absolute span of the styles he attempts, many of the tracks fall somewhere within the middle. For every clueless “CONFUSED!” or turgid “AMEN” to sift through, there's some startling brilliance such as the Sebadoh-esqe starkness on “Edge of the Earth” or the unhinged rambling on “The Nothing” which suggests a stream of consciousness (dare we say 'Based') expunge of stoned disorientation. And on tracks such as “Adventures”, Cudi ends up delving in territory familiar to groups such as TV On The Radio's early demo work with his mix of rock, hip-hop and electronica. To be able to work his way around such a wild amount of genre stretching for a guy who's background isn't actually in rock, Cudi works to be an heir to the sort of oddball rap/rock hybrids that the late Camu Tao (of whom Cudi is a noted admirer) was attempting to achieve with his posthumous King of Hearts LP.
Yet the biggest strengths of Cudi's album also remain his weaknesses. Songs can go from subtle and promising to seeming lazy and half-baked with the turn of the time. Cudi's delivery is variable but shows an abandon to his pop sensibilities that seems wild and challenging, as if he's determined to continuously shake any fans who aren't committed to riding with him all the way down from his former commercial grace. And the sheer span of these raw produced songs, the skits, the expectations... Its a difficult demand to place on the listener, let alone fans whom have expectations for this man's artistic output. One can't help but think that a producer who would be more willing to help Cudi edit down the sheer bulk of his material down to the strongest tracks, or to maybe help him furnish these songs to their furthest capabilities. But then again, it seems more and more that such aspirations have now become the antithesis of everything that Kid Cudi seems to stand for.
With Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven on the shelves, the man named Cudi who once seemed destined to be the future of hip-hop for many people has continued a brave and lonely path of remaining the biggest iconoclast possible. His work continues to evolve off in directions that for most rappers, such work is considered off limits. In a way, he's become the intrepid explorer that allows your Gambinos, Rauries, Travis Scotts or yes, even your Drakes to realize their potential beyond the constricts of rap's orthodoxy. As he quotes on the album's centerpiece, “Even if I crash, I'm all smiles”. Still one can't help but wish he let himself drive with both hands on the wheel.