Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Once and Future Kid

15 years ago Eric Wright took a chance on four kids from the Glenville section of Cleveland who called themselves Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The Thugs rapped in a way never seen before or since, largely because few have been capable. Their music took the form of sung, staccato rapid fire raps oddly accentuated that floated woozily around gothic synth driven beats punctuated with huge, strangely beautiful hooks in pitch perfect four part harmony. Their content was primarily West Coast influenced gang culture, welfare checks, dead homies, killing hundreds of people with every verse and a sophomoric obsession with marijuana. Shaker Heights’ own Scott Mescudi was 10 when Creep on ah Come Up touched down, and with his fearless debut album Man On The Moon: The End of Day he may have delivered the freshest stylistic vision since that EP.

Man On the Moon is a stunning accomplishment. It’s the psychedelic, experimental head phone album several MCs have attempted and none have succeeded in realizing until now. On an ambitious 15 song album that’s only 3-4 unnecessary cuts past perfect Cudi out raps Kanye West and Common Sense, incorporates groups like Ratatat and MGMT seamlessly and widens the parameters of Hip Hop in content and style. This is a bizarre hybrid unlike anything you’ve ever heard before and the craziest part is it works, so much so that with confidence I can call it the best album I've heard this year.

Like Bone Thugs, Cudi is a product of his generation. The content here is the personally driven, emotionally indulgent fare “Hipster Rappers” of the Freshman Class are accused of peddling. It opens with Common espousing wisdom as his Pops used to on his efforts, declaring an unafraid willingness to be different and blaze trails. "Kid Cudi Zone" is about little besides his strange, wonderful impulses but contain some of the album's best rapping along with the heart stirring melodies that are literally never absent for a moment throughout the proceedings. The score is techno driven with a powerful string section on deck, rich (occasionally overwhelmingly so), layered and heavily musical as is the entirety of the album with touches of electro and the playful side of indie rock you're just going to have to get used to.

Kid Cudi Zone

Most of the quarter Mexican, quarter Native American, half African American from Ohio’s album is a discussion about loneliness, alienation in individuality and coping with these emotions using music and substances. Most often these differences supposedly lie in his stylist inclinations but mentions of night terrors and songs like the year old “Day N Nite” (given new life in the context of the album) show that the lines run deeper. It’s the most interesting exploration of the subject since Andre's ruminations in 96.

Make no mistakes, Kid Cudi is alyrical. At his best he achieves Kanye level goof and his worst moments are worthy of the poetry fourth graders write when mom and dad split up. While particular Southern MCs have achieved greatness through an alyricism relying on unorthodox flow and ugly quirk that comes off dope, Cudi finds success through beauty, refinement and a true ear. His content is besides the point, it’s awesome listening to him get there. Due to bizarre mixtape beat selection and the artists he most often comes into contact with I myself, along with others misdiagnosed Cudi as having indie rock sensibilities. There is no thin, ironic guardedness to Cudi’s music, his unchained melodies are much closer to earnest emo. This album is chalk full of show stopping, soaring power hooks he dives into head first, and there isn’t a verse off. This also might be the first relevant Hip Hop album this year that doesn't feature at least one uncomfortable stab at auto-tune. (In its robotized, hand tipping T-Pain form) This kid has R. Kelly level instincts and the taste makers have taken notice. (See: 808s & Heartbreaks, his pitch perfect thin chorus on Jay-Z's "Already Home" and Kanye and Common following his lead on "Make her say")

Soundtrack 2 my life

I was a fan of Cudi’s first two mixtapes, dropped this summer and last July but had reservations. He seemed oblivious to his shortcomings as a traditional MC and as a result both efforts are mixed bags at best. There are bad songs on Man On The Moon but Cudi finally knows himself, in retrospect his mixtape mistakes seem like respectful caveats to the medium.

What’s the difference between Foundation and OB4CL 2? Conviction, confidence, a comfort and lack of consideration for the taste of others, being true to oneself which shines through the music. Jadakiss’ “Broken Safety” verse is the best on Raekwon's album though it’s devoid of any really devastating punchlines. Why? Because it’s a rapper in his lane practicing what he does best, sneering, growling at a nasty beat, murdering it and knowing he’s murdering it. In many ways that’s exactly what Cudi’s done. This is a sensitive album without sneer or swag, like its author. A lot of Hip Hop heads will skim through and dismiss as a result. Kids will love this album but the people who already hate Cudi for his jeans, punchlines and Lady Gaga samples won't be converted. They won’t recognize that in freeing himself from Boom Bap bondage Cudi is faithful to our medium’s oldest adage: He’s keeping it real.

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