Hip-hop may be having a pre-life crisis. Consult the Urban Dictionary if you need to, but the art form isn’t really near the middle of its life. The supermouths are still big and the avant-garde still like looking in the mirror but there’s a small uncertainty about where to go next. It could be a general flinch before the next creative shock or it might be actual impasse.
Kid Cudi is largely a product of hipster rap, though not to the degree of say, The Knux. Working with MGMT won’t dispel that particular haze. In other words to say Cudi’s the future of hip-hop would be anathema to even the more diffident purists. (It’s worth noting that Jay-Z finally stopped mixing his messages on proximity to hipsterism; Empire Of The Sun are on Blueprint 3 and you don’t get more hipster than that lot. Also, he and Grizzly Bear have something weird going on.)
For now Cudi personifies the current hip-hop lull by making his first proper album, Man On The Moon: The End of the Day, pretty nearly a leisure suite. It’s deeply strange how often emcees, to use a term that’s probably lost all meaning, try to turn themselves into lounge lizards. It’d be easy to blame 808s & Heartbreak but it’s more than ad hoc, ergo propter hoc; Jay-Z’s wanted to be Sinatra forever. All you hear anymore are echoing keyboards, varying degrees of melancholia over fluttering atmospherics, Drake superimposed over Lykke Li. More panties are flying than bullets. Man On The Moon is no exception. For long stretches, beat one doesn’t crack.
Cudi’s as confused as we are. “I control my own life/ Charles was never in charge,” he spits on “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” Well okay, but then he’s “thinkin’ bout what I should be twitterin” on “Simple As,” which he begins by reciting “abc/123” over and over like some demented child. If he really knows what he’s on about shouldn’t he get off the Internet and write a decent rhyme? At this point he might say: “I’m no loser/ I’ll see you in hell,” (from “Heart Of A Lion”) but it’d just be petulance.
As a singles record Man On The Moon perks up. “Day N Nite” last year came as close to universality as a song can anymore; Crookers turned it into a club hydra but it’s also totally surreal and beautiful. (Check Jori Hulkkonen’s remix for further study). “Make Her Say” arranges itself around one of the more sarcastically efficient samples of the year, Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” It’s basically a shared goof by Cudi, Common and Kanye, the last of whom rhymes “osmosis” with “Moses” and doesn’t care that we know better (as usual). The drums drop in with a detuned thunk and Cudi at least seems to be having fun.
“Enter Galactic,” meanwhile, isn’t a single but is the cheeriest song here, for all its curtness: “get ready/ pop it/ let’s go/ enter galactic.” “Up Up & Away” locates a similar popcentrism with N.E.R.D.-style fake guitars, jittery strings, and a kind of rakish resignation: “in the end they’ll judge me anyway/ so whatever.” An Aaron Sorkin character he’s not.
Not to get punny, but a final symptom of Man On The Moon is a distinct kind of weightlessness. It speaks to whatever ails current hip-hop, however slightly. Listenable even in its lapses, there’s still a dreary element of non-surprise that doesn’t really reward. Credit Cudi for attention to texture, but the sense of general mulling is all too familiar.
Drake – So Far Gone
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
Trey Songz – Ready
Video: “Day `n Nite”