10:00PM ET February 28th, 2012
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
It's easy to roll your eyes at the idea of another high-profile 'hipster' rapper releasing an alt-rock album. After all, Lil Wayne's Rebirth, hackneyed vanity project that it was, didn't do much to endear that particular movement to the masses. As loathsome as the late 90s rap-metal boom was, it didn't initially come off as cornball and forced as many of these 'rock-rap' releases.
But WZRD, the duo comprised of rapper Kid Cudi and producer Dot Da Genius, have crafted their own entry into the burgeoning subgenre. Their self-titled debut makes for an interesting listen--but doesn't always hit the mark that they undoubtedly sought to achieve when the project was announced last year.
But even it's misses are compelling--though that could be damning with faint praise.
The processed power chords of "High On Life" don't seem to mesh well with Cudi's somewhat stiff singing. He sounds unsure of himself on a track that would be a triumph if he just allowed himself to cut loose. When he sings "I'm ODing, High Off Life," you don't really believe him. "Love Hard" suffers from a similar problem--but here, the issue is a song that's all feel that doesn't really go anywhere musically. "Live & Learn" is a near-hit for the duo, but its bouncy verses are undermined by a non-hook that is near-unintelligible and makes the song sound unfinished--despite the fact that its heavy coda is one of the more dynamic moments on the album.
"Dream Time Machine," which features Empire of the Sun, finds the duo attempting what sounds like an approximation of late 90s/early 00s Radiohead--a feel that permeates a lot of the album. And its closer to Cudi's own druggy, moody singsongy style on his 'normal' releases. He sounds much more at home here, offering more of the po-faced introspection his fans have come to expect. When WZRD find this sort of combination, the songs typically work. "Brake" is probably the most atmospheric moment on the album, full of hard percussion and ethereal distortion, with Cudi's trademark druggy, echo-heavy vocals floating above the din as opposed to wallowing in it.
"Teleport 2 Me, Jamie," is an obvious choice for the first single. Not because it has 'hit' written all over it, but its probably the most 'conventional' sounding song here. With its singalong hook, lovelorn lyrics and off-key "na-na-na-nas," its probably the most akin to Cudi's previous releases. And the slightly off-kilter cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" (which is actually more of an approximation of Nirvana's 1994 'unplugged' version) works well and shows that WZRD understand where they want to go musically.
If only their original tunes had the songwriting heft to back up their ambitions.
What hinders much of the WZRD project, like a lot of rappers' recently-released excursions into alt-rock, is that while Dot and Cudi nail the feel of the rock artists they are obviously influenced by, they forego melody and structured songwriting. Behind all of that pathos and angst, there has to be a melody--or at the very least, if you're going for abstract and unconventional, (a la Radiohead or Mars Volta) it helps to have the chops to pull it off. But, one has to admire WZRD's commitment to their vision. Even if all of their ideas aren't fully realized on this project.