It seems that just when a music genre is hitting rock bottom, a savior emerges from the dredges to resurrect that particular brand of music to its former glory. To say that hip hop is dead in a world in which “rappers” wear their sister’s jeans, emblaze themselves in colors only the Easter Bunny could be proud of, manipulate their voices through computer synthetic programs and steal beats from bands like “3oh3!” would be a disturbing understatement. The intelligence and creativity that once flourished in the 90’s hip hop scene is now gone, replaced by music that comes off like a get rich quick scheme. As Jay-Z put it in so aptly in his latest hit, “Death of Auto Tune”, “No lyin, your n*ggas’ jeans too tight/Your colors too bright, your voice too light”.
Last week I was convinced that hip hop needed a drastic revamp. Some emcee needed to come along with something new. Hip hop fans worldwide were desperate for a colossal breath of fresh air.
September 15th changed the face of hip hop indefinitely. Rather than basking in the quick “ringtone cash” that artists such as Soulja Boy are reveling in, a young man named Scott Mescudi from Cleveland, Ohio choose another route. Better known by his stage name, Kid CuDi, Mescudi took a genre void of originality and turned it upon its head.
Kid CuDi’s debut album, “Man on the Moon: The End of Days” is a riveting, refreshing release from an artist burdened with ceiling high expectations. The brilliance of MOTM is very easy to explain. While most emcees are more than comfortable with employing producers that spit out cliché boom bap beats (Yes Timbaland, I’m looking at you) Kid CuDi challenges himself to mold his lyrics and flow to excellent beats, rather than forcing generic beats to compliment his vocal performance. Featuring a symphonic sound, CuDi’s songs float and glide through 58 minutes and 31 seconds of raw emotion.
The structure of the album is simply genius. While many artists narrate their albums, very few rappers have the confidence to allow the narration to encompass the album, much less direct the album’s very existence and direction. Kid CuDi could not have chosen a better narrator. Common, with a voice ripe with intelligence and wisdom, speaks to the audience about Scott Mescudi’s life perils, pains and pleasures through five theatrical acts containing a total of 15 scenes.
Act I: “The End of Day” details CuDi’s maturation and abandonment of childhood. “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)” is one of the more mellow tracks on the album in which Mescudi seems to enter one of his many dream like states. As the track ends and the beat fades into the ether, Common begins his first narration, an extremely epic one at that.
“Long before we know ourselves, our paths are already set in stone. Some may never figure out their purpose in life, and some will. There are a lot of us who are caught up in this hell we all live in, Contempt with being blinded by rules and judgment. We live in a world where it’s more okay to follow than to lead, in this world being a leader is trouble for the system we are all accustomed to, being a leader in this day and age is being a threat. Not many people stood up against the system we all call life, but towards the end of our first ten years into the millennium, We heard a voice, a voice who was speaking to us from the underground for some time, a voice who spoke of vulnerabilities and other human emotions and issues never before heard so vividly and honest. This is the story of a young man who not only believed in himself but his dreams too. This is the story of the man on the moon.”
This harrowing epilogue sets the tone for the duration of the album; a young man fighting against every sentiment that fame, pressure and drugs can implant in a man’s mind. The next song in Act I, “Soundtrack to my Life” tells the story of Mescudi’s adolescence, namely hopping in and out of poverty, his father passing away at a young age, and failing to instill connections with women. One of the top songs on the album, “Soundtrack to My Life” highlights CuDi’s ability to weave simple lyrics with complex emotions. The final song in Act I is “Simple As”. Produced by Plain Pat, CuDi spits his monotone flow over a sampling that belongs in a children’s book, not a rap track. The irony is outstanding, as the production on this song is extremely advanced, yet samples an elementary recitation to spawn an insanely catchy beat. The end of the song dawns the advent of Act II: “The Rise of the Night Terrors”.
Act II signifies Mescudi’s entrance into a new life of responsibility. Unable to cope with his faults and fallacies, CuDi delves into a world of depression and anguish. “Solo Dolo (Nightmare)” is, honestly, a painful song to listen to. CuDi’s lyrics raise questions that demand introspection from his listeners. Second in Act II is “Heart of a Lion (Kid CuDi Theme Music)” I have no doubt that this song will be used by the NFL or NBA in an advertisement series due to its high tempo and lifting lyrics- “at the end of the day I’m walking with the heart of a lion.” The final song of Act II adopts the same style of “In My Dreams.” Billy Cravens provides the bridge on the track with his chilling echo of “I told you so, this will be my world.”
As Mescudi leaves listeners feel cold and abandoned, Act II suddenly melts into Act III as “Day and Night” begins to hypnotize with his whirling beat. Act III is entitled “Taking a Trip” and revolves around Mescudi’s attempt to combat his sorrows and insecurities through drug use. There is no need for me to discuss Day and Night, as it has been whored over the air waves for half a year now, and remixed by every wannabe rapper on Myspace, which speaks volumes to CuDi’s weight in the rap game. The next scene in Act III is “Sky Might Fall”, produced by Kanye West. Of all the tracks on the album that address profound feelings, I believe “Sky Might Fall” surpasses them all. Mescudi’s desolation is apparent and West’s production couldn’t have fit the mood of the album any better. Following “Sky Might Fall” is “Enter Galactic (Love Connection Pt 1)”. With its spastic beat and flirtatious lyrics, “Enter Galactic” should be a hit in the clubs.
Act IV: “Stuck” finds CuDi at a particular time in his growth. After inhabitating his new substance supported home, Mescudi finds himself simply “Alive”, the first track of Act IV. Subtitled “Nightmare”, CuDi’s life is improving, yet he still feels trapped by his work and struggle. CuDi’s lyrics tell of his lonely travels into the night, alone in the city and intoxicated. This is the only time he experiences the feelings of happiness and self acceptance that have hid from him his entire life. Following Mescudi’s discovery of these foreign sentiments, he engages in a crusade to stay in his “CuDi Zone”. In this new state Scott worships his new mental phase in which he soars through life, high not only on drugs but also intoxicated by his own positive feelings. Third in Act IV is “Make Her Say”, featuring Kanye West and Common. Produced by West, “Make Her Say” samples Lady Gaga’s hit single “Poker Face”. Integrated with old school scratching and catchy “oh’s” from the Gaga sample, this track’s beat is one of the best of the year. Furthermore, Kanye’s verse is simply outstanding. Flush with sexual innuendos, West somehow managed to use sexual jokes to display his striking intelligence. The final song in Act IV is the album’s next inherent hit, “Pursuit of Happiness”. Accompanying Kid CuDi on this track is RATATAT and indie rock superstars MGMT. Glazed over with harmonious electric guitar riffs and reverberating bells, “Pursuit of Happiness” achieves an otherworldly aura of bliss. I admittedly get goose bumps when MGMT and CuDi sing in harmony “everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold. I’ll be fine when I get it, yeah, I’ll be good”. “Pursuit of Happiness” is the most ambitious song on the album, most definitely a lofty statement. Collaborating with an indie rock group is simply unheard of for a rap artist, yet Kid CuDi took a chance and produced what may be the top single of 2009. This success will lead other hip hop artists to experiment with cross genre projects without fearing mainstream rejection.
The final act of the album, Act V:"A New Beginning” embarks with “Hyyerr” an extremely slow paced bone thug-esque blazing anthem. “Hyyerr” does not gel with the rest of the album in the least bit. I would have much preferred Mescudi chose one of his songs from the mix tape “A Kid Named CuDi” to fill this spot in the track list, perhaps “Man on the Moon” or “Down and Out”. Rounding out the album is “Up Up and Away (The Wake and Bake Song)”. Following sharply in the artistic direction of “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Up Up and Away” is a breezy song that provides the album with the same sense of completion that Mescudi must have felt once he completed writing “The Man on the Moon”. CuDi’s lyrics hit his newfound carefree attitude spot on with the line “I be up up and away, up up and away, cuz they gonna judge me anyway, so whatever”. As the lifting buzz of the song dims, Common returns once again with a soliloquy to valiantly end the theatrical performance, as well as the album.
The impact of this mutinous release on the rap game remains to be seen. Whether or not Kid CuDi managed to alter the way hip hop artists operate in the next millennium will not be realized for months, however; when one looks at the risks Kid CuDi took in creating this album, one cannot help but hope he has challenged fellow artists to reexamine the music that they are making and what the definition of “hip hop” is in the year 2009.
Review score: 10 out of 10