September 17, 2009

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Sach O could out smoke this guy.

Kid CuDi is a hipster.

That’s not a diss: Midwestern kid feels alienated and misunderstood in Ohio, moves to New York, works shitty jobs in trendy stores, discovers electro, falls in with the right crowd and somehow lands a career making music for other tasteless, badly dressed wannabe artists. Is that not the subculture’s collective dream short of a trust fund and herpes? CuDi’s whole narrative (and he’s all about the narrative) can be told without even mentioning rap music, which is probably why there’s so little of it on Man on the Moon. G.O.O.D Music aren’t trying to sell you a rapper, they’re promoting a black, male, Lady Gaga with self-esteem issues.

That alone isn’t the problem. If anything, Kanye West already proved that this very concept could somehow work on 808’s and Heartbreak, which CuDi contributed to. The difference is that Kanye had three smash hits and years of experience under his belt before attempting a vanity project of this scale. CuDi has a mixtape with a sort-of-dope single whose house remix went viral. Yes folks, it seems we’ve traded in bloated, repetitive southern gangsta rap for even more bloated, pretentious crooning over synthesizers. I take back all previous enthusiasm for Hip-Hop’s future and will now assume the fetal position clutching my copy of Illmatic.

You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when an album’s intro features production better suited to George Michaels and spoken word narration by Common. Unfortunately things get no better once the rapping starts: combining a navel-gazing worldview better suited to Pete Wentz and a flow aping Weezy at his laziest (if most melodic), CuDi makes a naked play at a TRL audience fed on the worst crap Viacom has to offer. No chorus is too anthemic, no emotion too naked, no keyboard preset too slick and no experience too small to be made into an epic moment in THE LIFE OF CuDi. Like a stoner in a dance club, he sounds uncomfortable as fuck pouring his heart out over too-cool-for-school synth-pop, an artist treading the most ironic of territory blissfully unaware of the concept of a pose. Beyond that, he’s adopted both Kanye’s insecurities (he whines a lot) and ego (“Cudder Anthem,” “CuDi Theme Music” and “CuDi Zone” are 3 unrelated tracks) making for an excruciating listen for anyone whose development wasn’t arrested in their tweens.

Still, Man on the Moon isn’t without it’s moments: Sky Might Fall sounds like what the album should-have-been in 3 minutes: a simple, melancholic, Kanye-produced pop song that feels cut from the aforementioned 808 project. Later, CuDi drops the electro sheen for his best Bone Thugs impression on the soulful “Hyyerr,” the sole reminder of his Cleveland roots. Better yet, closer “Up Up and Away” merges the best of both those high points and the results are sunny, ebullient and mercifully unpretentious, even if the results come dangerously close to car-commercial territory.

And that’s the saddest thing about this album: you want to root for CuDi but he sabotages himself at every turn whether it’s through noodly non-rap, beats that would make later-day Jungle Brothers cringe or lyrics seemingly stolen from a Rhymesayers opening act’s moleskin rhymebook. The kid feels completely lost in the middle of his own album, swallowed up by bad ideas and a bizarre need to become rap’s Terrence Trent D’Arby. He’s that slightly nerdy stoner kid in high school who suddenly discovers Vice magazine and tries to switch his style up but can’t quite pull it off. Hopefully next go around, he gets it together because he’s not untalented, just trying way too hard at all the wrong things.

As I said, a hipster.

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