Artists from the hip-hop world dropping in on the alternative rock scene has not been a successful strategy. Yet, here we are, another prominent name attempting to do what others have failed at. Kid Cudi and producer Dot da Genius have come together under the moniker WZRD to break that barrier and come up with a great rappers’ rock album. While Cudi would seem to be a more logical choice than others that have attempted to fit that highly specific role, the album lacks both a strong voice and an energetic punch, instead meandering in rock archetypes.
Over a year ago, Cudi announced his plans, calling the project “a rock album, no raps, just singing,” and altogether a “brand-new thing.” While the suggestion that this wouldn’t be another Rebirth (Lil Wayne’s prominent attempt at the rappers’ rock record) was a hopeful one, the results aren’t all that brand-new. The whole thing feels like an impressionistic assumption of the way in which rock music is made. Here’s Cudi picking up a guitar; here are the big, heavy drums and rich rock chords; here’s the attempt at the anthemic chorus. That said, nothing really measures up to a good rock version of the same component, and the existence of this album definitively sets itself up for that comparison.
The aimlessness of the whole project might be its biggest flaw. Introductory track “The Arrival” sets this tone early, jagged edge synths and stuttered electronic percussion attempting to lay out an epic world. Squiggles of distorted noise and a repetitive, dull guitar progression add in over the top, the whole thing lacking any point of catharsis or anything of memorable worth. This all leads into the cliched guitar chugging of “High Off Life”, which on their own aren’t offensive, but then Cudi starts singing. Known largely for incorporating a large amount of singing into his hip-hop, it’s kind of surprising that the vocals would sound this bad. Every syllable comes out in a staccato mess, barely moving in tone, like he’s never sung before, or even heard someone sing. It could be an attempt at that brash rock ‘n roll attitude, but it just sounds odd and unfortunate.
If a bit unfocused and expected, Dot da Genius’s production is solid. The reverbed percussion and twinkling synths of “Dream Time Machine” could make an excellent bed for a track (rock or hip-hop). That said, the laid-back, lingering vocal line and lack of a real hook is less than unmemorable; it all barely registers as it happens. There’s not enough depth behind this easy vocal to justify its lazy meanderings. Dot da Genius does enough to make this album more than it should be, a tolerable risk rather than an undecipherable mess.
That said, the producer isn’t beyond reproach regarding this disc’s shortcomings. The album is full of patches of instrumental blandness, even on one of the few tracks that has a halfway memorable vocal delivery, “Love Hard”. Cudi’s sharp syllable delivery is back here, but followed by a longer, thicker sound on the chorus. After two and a half minutes of that song, an inexplicably long intermission of over a minute pops up, losing any of the momentum built by its first half. The interlude is syrupy slow and breaks the continuity. Similarly, after an overlong introduction on “Dr. Pill”, Cudi rambles on detachedly, asking for medicated help, an odd growling sound cutting through a thin screen of snare and synth. The lyrics are a bit dull, even cliched, but the sheer oddness of the whole thing is worthwhile.
The insistence that there wouldn’t be any rapping on this album, that it would just be singing, would seem to be a mis-analysis on Cudi’s part. His nearly atonal talk-singing throughout could just as easily have been replaced by rapping, perhaps giving these lackluster, mediocre at best tracks a sense of intensity that is instead severely lacking. The album lacks the urgency of successful rap and rock, instead wallowing in a blah middle ground in its best moments.
Essential Tracks: “Dr. Pill”