It’s a strange day to be a Kid Cudi fan.
With the release of “Perfect is the Word,” the Cleveland rapper has officially taken the ill-advised route of ditching hip-hop for droning, dreary rock ‘n’ roll. Cudi’s fascination with rock is nothing new (his best song, “Pursuit of Happiness,” features MGMT and Ratatat, while “Erase Me” is built around cheesy Weezer guitars), but “Perfect is the Word” is an entirely different, ultimately ugly beast.
Along with producer Dot Da Genius, Cudder is fronting a rock project titled 2 Be Continuum (clearly the music isn’t the only problem), and their first offering is a swirling mess. Cudi’s vocals — including a new, perplexing rock accent — are trapped under Black Sabbath guitar tones and sweeping strings. It’s three minutes of rambling, with a primary focus on creating a dank mood. Too bad that “mood” is the audio equivalent of trapping a listener in a soaked cardboard box with no exit. We’re at the mercy of Cudi’s vaguely existential lyrics (“Safety is the word / it’s the main thing the lost souls want”), asking ourselves, “Wasn’t this the guy that did ‘Day N Nite’?” On Twitter, Cudi takes a predictable stance: If you want his old sound, buy his old albums. For him, this is about artistic evolution. It’s a cute, tightly wrapped defense but it’s exclusionary, leaving a huge chunk of fans that connected with his idiosyncratic rapping in that cardboard box. You’re either with him and his new rock vision, or you’re not. And if you’re not, you don’t support the Artist, as if blind following should be the listener’s pre-set prerogative.
Even weirder: Cudi released a video for “Marijuana,” a live-staple from his last rap album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. To some, it could feel like he’s hedging his bets, as if he’s anticipating the negative feedback to “Perfect” and presenting “Marijuana” as a reminder that he’s still Kid Cudi, rapper. But to me, it’s a goodbye to the past. Recently, Cudi announced he had stopped smoking weed, a huge piece of his rapper persona (“the lonely stoner seems to free his mind” was his unofficial mantra). His reason was admirable – desire for a clear mind in dealing with business and as a new parent – but fans reacted as fans do, selfishly, like Cudi was abandoning them and their common bond of being stoned together.
It appears Cudi is headed down a rabbit hole of Marshall half-stacks and psychedelic rock, and tracks such as “Marijuana” and other stand-outs from his criminally slept-on second album could very well become mere artifacts. And it’s a shame, because the progression from his first album to second was vast and encouraging and even hinted his rap style could still grow into something sharper. Instead, we wait with skepticism and trepidation for the next leak from an album we probably won’t want or need. Strange, indeed.
Kid Cudi performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion July 2 with Chip Tha Ripper.