When I interviewed Danny Brown earlier this year, the piercingly accurate Detroit rapper expressed a surprising fandom for the much sloppier Kid Cudi. He rationalized it as such: “The thing is about Cudi is that he writes from almost a rock singer point of view. I don’t want to call it that but it’s almost white-boy rap. Like how Linkin Park raps.” This makes sense. Where more traditional rappers go for cutting braggadocio or writerly precision, Cudi operates in a slow and pandering emotional bleed. So it seemed like a logical progression when Cudi announced his new rock side group, 2 Be Continuum (a name that could very well have been cribbed from a 1993 P.M. Dawn song title). “Perfect is the Word” is the first leak from the project and it’s, well, a messy affair.
That’s to be expected though. The recent history of rappers-turned-rockers is a rocky one, full of embarrassments and, at best, fascinating trainwrecks. Apart from the whole race reversal of cool-culture politics that noted scholars the Shop Boyz wrote their graduate thesis on (e.g. “Party Like a Rock Star“), rappers are almost uniformly striking in their ability to get rocking wrong. They operate in broad gestures and cliches and rock chain wallets and wave around guitars, but you never get the idea that any of these dudes have ever actually listened to rock music.
When Lil Wayne did it with Rebirth in 2010, that meant dreadfully overdone drum machine-driven pop punk and Blink-182-isms; for Cudi, it’s just aspiring psychedelia. It’s like someone wrote a short description of psychedelic rock on a Post-it note, or told them about N.E.R.D.’s In Search Of… and then Cudi and Dot tried to make just that, without ever actually hearing the music. That outsider-ness works in Cudi’s favor, to a degree. But Cudi being Cudi negates any of that progress. He splits the difference between his traditional bellowed moan and something that resembles a bad sketch comedy impression of a tortured rock singer. It’s hard to imagine anyone on earth enjoying it as anything more than a curiosity. But maybe Cudi is banking on his audience of stoners, college kids and college stoners being indiscriminate enough to not notice the difference between ambition and execution. Or maybe he’s hoping that they, too, have never heard an actual rock song in their life.
[Listen to “Perfect is the Word”at The Masked Gorilla.]