Review: ‘WZRD’

12 Mar

With the media so ready to scourge artists who stray from their preordained genre, taking a chance with an entirely foreign instrument is similar to ratifying one’s own execution warrant.  Still, we are occasionally entertained by an eccentric rapper who being bored of hearing the same loop for minutes on end, decides to pick up a guitar and release a shoddily constructed rock album that is shunned by all except the diehard fans. Lil Wayne’s collection of chirps and squels mottled by Auto-Tune entitled ‘Rebirth’ should have dissuaded even the craziest hip-hop artist from trying to branch off into rock. That said, by combining an astute musical ear and an appreciation for the classics that define the genre, rap virtuoso Kid Cudi  created a surprisingly nuanced album inWZRD for having picked up a guitar a short while ago with the goal of having “people hear the guitar in a different way than they’ve ever heard”. With the aid of his long-time producer, Dot Da Genius, who established the rapper’s trademark sound with hits like “Dat New New” and “Day ‘N’ Nite”, the two fashioned a niche for themselves with a self-taught sound.

In a way, WZRD, (the album is self-titled) is a removal of any rap influence; Cudi does not spit once on the entire album and as a result  there was no profanity and subsequent “parental advisory” sticker adorning the cover. Being a strong advocate of rock music — he has covered Jimi Hendrix on his past tour, and is known to be a fan of Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, and Nirvana — this album seemed like a viable step forward in Cudi’s progression as an artist. A note one should make before listening is that Cudi struggled with a sobriety-induced writer’s block for five months before making any progression with his lyrics; he had been under the influence of marijuana for the two incarnations of his unfinished Man On The Moon trilogy, but has since quit. The entire album, with the exception of ‘High Off Life’, was recorded at Cudi’s house in L.A. to avoid leaks.

When Cudi’s first album, Man On The Moon: The End of Day, was first released, it signified the beginning of an era in which emotions where not scorned, but welcomed by the hip-hop crowd;WZRD is a continuation of Cudi’s catharsis through another medium. The opening track on WZRD, ‘The Arrival’, is the album’s only instrumental, bearing hazy distorted guitars along with an eminent sense of foreboding. Having struggled with the writer’s block that accompanies sudden sobriety for so long, the next track ‘High Off Life’, seems to be Cudi cataloguing the moment where his eyes were opened to the possibilities of life that he hadn’t fathomed under the influence ;”Never thought the day would come for me /  When I would be high off life / Oh, there’s so much I havn’t seen”. The guitars are violent and boast a grandeur entirely befitting for the arena shows to come; the song is the biggest that the album has to offer, which is ironic considering it was recorded on the tour bus. Dot’s use of the drum machine cramps the head-thrashing style of the song with its manufactured nature, but one can expect Cudi to implement a band at his live shows. ‘The Dream Time Machine’ is Cudi leaning towards the psychedelic rock song-as-origin myth most notably used by MGMT on ‘Time To Pretend’. From a retrospective point of view, Cudi reflects and is amazed by how far he’s come from his humble beginnings as a sales associate at BAPE; “Times have changed now / I’ve changed, a good different / More champagne now / What I’m seeing for the world I wouldn’t miss it”. The lyricism is not “deep” by any means, nor does it have to be. It succeeds because of its dreamy nature assisted by the backing vocals of Empire of The Sun’s  Luke Steelen and Nick Littlemore. What follows in ‘Love Hard’  hard-hitting riffs is perhaps the experimental track on the entire album. Here we are placed into the racing mind of a man whose girlfriend has just told him, “we need to talk”. Cudi recognizes how his overbearing tendencies have turned him into the archetypal jealous boyfriend, and how he should let down his guard for the relationship to reach fruition or so that he can “love hard”. Although the track is a strong one, it could benefit from being shorter. The listeners are subjected to an interlude laden with synths and ambient washes that transitions to electro before finally returning to the rock grassroots.  The transformation of consciousness trope is maintained on the aptly titled ‘Live & Learn’ where Cudi proves that his vocals can rise above the thundering din of electric guitars and carry a song. ‘Brake’ was released by the duo for free via the popular media sharing platform, Mediafire, due to the album being continually pushed back by Universal Republic Records.

In the dark, introspective track filled with nebulous guitars, one may find a homage to Jimi Hendrix. ‘Teleport 2 Me, Jamie’ is an intensely personal track and one that follows the ‘Erase Me’ strain, but it would seem at home on the radio. Its theme of loneliness is one that has pervaded all of Cudi’s music. The song heavily samples Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’, a track made famous in the movie Drive.  ’Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ is one of the most interesting cuts on the album. Originally penned by Leadbelly, it gained widespread popularity upon being covered by Nirvana during its hallowed MTV Unplugged session. Nothing is held back on the WZRD reincarnation, where Cudi’s bellowing voice retains an emotional rawness that is so scarce in the single-dominated era we live in. ‘Efflictim’ is a bare-bones acoustic record where Cudi bemoans the fact that “life is too short” and encourages everyone to make good use of their time on Earth. ‘Dr. Pill’ elaborates on the regretful admonition of doing too much drugs we find on ‘Pursuit of Happiness’; Cudi is “feelin’ strange” on an equally bizarre track. Although his temperament is light-hearted, Cudi manages to touch on the weighty subject matter associated with drugs; developing an alter-ego — a Dr. Jekyll Vs. Mr. Hyde persona — which in effect, prevents one from recognizing themselves in the mirror.

Triumphant album closers that look back in retrospect on the growth of the artist are nothing new. Filled with an abundance of optimism, Cudi welcomes his fate with zeal. Aided by Dot on the keys and a Cream sample, Scott Mescudi encourages us to “turn it up real loud”. Not shy of cliches, Cudi embraces the theme of maturation with a laconicism most would shirk away from me, “I have matured so much / the boy has become a man”. He is similarly unabashed by the perplexing nature of life, suggesting that destiny plays an integral part. Some may find it twee, but to those that frown upon his growth, the rapper has this to say:

“Most people are pussies”

Lil Wayne’s failure may have cautioned other innovative rap artists from attempting to create a rock album, but WZRD have succeeded in paving the way for future upstarts.

WZRD performing ‘Teleport 2 Me, Jamie’ on Conan

Note: The album sold 70,499 in its first week

Complex’s online cover story on the band and full coverage of WZRD week.

Buy the album on iTunes or Amazon

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