Last week, as projections of blinking eyeballs danced across the wall of Soho’s W.i.P. during the album preview of WZRD (Wicked Awesome/HeadBanga Muzik/Universal Republic), one couldn’t help but draw parallels between the distressed protagonist of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Eye, Smurov, and Kid Cudi, who makes up one half of the record’s titular duo. The perception and nebulousness of identity is at the heart of Nabokov’s novel, and WZRD will inevitably inspire people to scratch their heads (and, in some cases, jeer) at the idea of who, exactly, Kid Cudi is. At last week’s session, the man who helped make skinny jeans and backpacks fashionable in certain hip-hop circles was a sight to behold, wearing a fantastic bedazzled Prada shirt (it shimmered under the dim pink lights), Balmain jeans and Converse. His short ‘fro was traded in for a smooth, pressed look somewhat reminiscent of soul singers of yore. “He’s rock ‘n’ roll now,” noted a confused onlooker.
WZRD isn’t the next chapter in Cudi’s Man on the Moon trifecta, nor is it really a hip-hop album at all. alt-rock stalwarts like Nirvana and The Pixies, it’s a confusing and depressing—but, like Cudi himself, ultimately engaging—record.
WZRD, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
“I always want to make the most beautiful sonic melody,” Cudi told Complex‘s Joe La Puma during the session. Thanks to the adept touch of producer Dot Da Genius (the other half of the WZRD collective), the beat selection is impeccable; live instrumentation mingles with programmed drums and synths and Cudi’s own strumming. It’s important to note that there’s no real rapping—the album opener “The Arrival” is nearly three minutes of gloriously haunting synths and distortions—and when he is on a track, Cudi warbles in a singsong way. The duo tackles the sorrowful folk number “In The Pines (here called “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, and also performed by Lead Belly and, later, Nirvana). “My girl, My girl/ Don’t lie to me/ Tell me where did you sleep last night?” Cudi moans, rather convincingly. He’s not the greatest singer, but he’s more than capable of believably relaying heartbreak and struggle.
WZRD, “High On Life”
“Day ‘N’ Nite’s” lonely stoner is now free of drugs (he did, however, appear to be brandishing a glass of Jameson at the session), and his sinusoidal grapple with sobriety is a common refrain on WZRD. On “High On Life,” Cudi rejoices in it (“I never ever thought it could be/ never thought the day would come for me/when I’d be high off life/ Oh, there’s so much I haven’t seen”); “Dr. Pill” represents those moments when he finds himself “slipping.” He sings plaintively, “When I look at the mirror I don’t know who this dude is/ staring right back at me/ Dr. Pill, Dr. Pill, gimme something I’m feeling ill now/ What can you prescribe for me?”
WZRD, “The Upper Room”
The optimistic closer “The Upper Room” is the culmination of such struggles. Cudi asks, “This is important/ so please turn it up/ I gotta question/ that I need you to answer now/ If you walked in my shoes/ would you survive?” and then answers himself, “If you said ‘yeah’/ then I’mma call you a liar.” It ain’t easy being Cudi, but he’s matured and is now able to address the demons that once plagued him. Where this metamorphosis will take him next, both personally and musically, remains to be seen; for now, though, “No need to worry/ I’m a happy new me.”