Kid Cudi and producer Dot da Genius take a step back from rap and into rock

by Matias Grotewold

For rap-fans or those used to Kid Cudi’s laid-back, “Soundtrack to My Life” rapping style, his life’s sound track takes on a new sound as the newly formed rock duo, WZRD—consisting of Cudi and producer Dot da Genius—takes a dip into alternative rock in the album WZRD. Gnarly guitar riffs matched with Cudi’s singsong voice contrast sharply with the colorful rhyming and rhythmic flow that define his earlier albums. Priced at $11.99 and released under the label Wicked Awesome Records, Kid Cudi takes a break from cursing and racist slurs to focus on a soporific “Dream Time Machine” theme. No longer packing the song titles with slang for euphoria-inducing drugs such as “Marijuana” and “Maui Wowie”, Cudi is now “High Off Life” during this “Brake” from his darker side.

Rather than appealing purely to the youthful audience that tends to be drawn to rap, this step into alternative rock may be attractive to members of an older generation whose love of rock has not evolved into a particular fondness for rap. Cudi’s singing keeps away from the usual topics covered by rappers nowadays, such as drugs, sex and money, and instead dwells on topics such as dreaming and love. It is yet another big step for Cudi to have made the pledge that the new WZRD album would contain no profanity, making it “a universal album for everyone.” Cudi has kept away from the rated R topics before; he may have been “Solo Dolo” in doing this, but Cudi has done it. The cursing is a whole other deal. Rap has been characterized as being a verbally aggressive musical genre, so it seems like an abrupt transition for Cudi to jump straight to deeper topics and cleaner language.

With this pledge to keep it PG combined with Cudi venturing into a new style of music, his reputation as a rapper is being put on the line. In the past, when rappers have put their swag to singing or rock, the results have been well below par. Lil’ Wayne’s 2009 rock album Rebirth, containing the ‘hit’ “Prom Queen”, was cited by critics as a song that “would be lame if it was being played by a random rock band” but was “still just as lame when it [was] played by” Lil’ Wayne. 50 Cent’s stab at singing in the early 2000s received a lot of flak from his peers. For the world of critics, a musician stepping into a new genre is like fresh meat, and only if Cudi is able to morph his rap talent into rock talent will he be able to prove us wrong with WZRD.

In the pre-released singles “Teleport 2 Me” and “Brake”, Cudi and Dot da Genius mix Cudi’s singing voice with beats that bring a hint of nostalgia. And they should, because the instruments used bear a striking resemblance to the instruments used in the intro to his earlier hit of “Pursuit of Happiness”. So the sound isn’t something completely new, but the singing that goes with it definitely is. Thankfully for his fans and him alike, Cudi’s voice isn’t something that he can change. The dry but addictive sound of it still stands strong beside his beats, regardless of being rap or rock. His voice still seems to flow with the beat in a way no other rapper has managed to match the two; it will just take some time for his fans to get used to rolling with his rock.

From the fanbase standpoint, WZRD could be a hit. Cudi’s singing is not the hideous yodelling that has marred other rappers’ rock attempts. The beat producer has the loyalty advantage, having already worked on some of Cudi’s early hits. Cudi’s voice, undoubtedly a key point to his fame as a rapper, remains unchanged. From a critical standpoint, a rapper releasing a rock album is akin to hurling oneself into a dark abyss when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the surface you are currently on. It just may be, to quote his peer Young Jeezy, your “favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” turning into your parents’ parents favorite rocker, which would not be acceptable to rap fans. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble based on his own quality and reputation. WZRD could be a fiasco, or it could be fabulous, what’s left is for the die-hard fans to decide.