After Kid Cudi released his 2015 album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, he immediately took to Twitter to blast the marketing rep that had been in charge of integrating the album into the iTunes catalog. The album had been listed as Hip Hop, most likely to advertise smoothly along with the rest of his releases, but Cudi saw the album as definitively alternative. In reality, the album wasn’t the greatest, but that’s not an epithet iTunes readily allows to describe genre.
What Cudi was trying to do was more noble; expand into uncharted waters beyond his typical classification of genre, yes, for his fans but more so, for himself. That’s why he had ventured into a foreign soundscape to begin with; throwing himself head first into dramatically stripped down indie-rock renditions and singsongy stabs at folk. But for all of its unbridled ambition, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven is all too inundated with lo-fi strumming and (literal) Beavis and Butt-Head grumblings. At 26 tracks in length, it feels like an under-produced effort that drags its feet until the rubber treading is well worn-out. When compared to his collaborative 2012 release with Dot da Genius, WZRD, the direction of his 2015 alternative attempt isn’t actually all that surprising. But when juxtaposed with Billboard smothering hits from his debut like “Day ‘n’ Nite” and “Pursuit of Happiness,” the difference couldn’t be more stark.
And in the mind of Kid Cudi, that’s precisely the point. He’s an artist that grows visibly bored with fame and drugs, so it’s logical he’d start to strip off additional layers of polish that awarded him such pronounced acclaim to begin with. While diehard Cudi fans identify deeply with his personal tribulations and willingly support new iterations of his music, traditional fans that lean more towards radio-pop and and traditional Hip Hop will continue to feel estranged from projects like Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. At its best, the album actually does hit a few high-water marks, showcasing an endearing level of sentiment with a memorable hook or two. The title track, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” is the standout, slowly waxing and waning over synths and familiar boom bap drums to create an indisputably heartfelt and anthemic nod to the twists and turns of life. An impassioned Cudi croons:
“Oh if I crash, oh if I crash/ Or if I land, no matter the case/ I’m all smiles, I’m all smiles/ I’ve traveled for miles, miles and miles/ For the love in the core, love in the core…”
But the high-points don’t last all that long. At its worst, the album actually includes rehearsal demos of tracks that already sounded a lot like rehearsal demos to begin with. This leads to a strange abyss of fledgling B-sides that by and large, test a listener’s endurance instead of rewarding them for listening in the first place.
All of this being said, most of us still stick around with Cudi because we know that deep down, beyond the intentional discord, Cudi is an artist of genius, even if routinely tortured and malcontent.
To affirm our faith in Cudder, we’ve compiled some of the tracks that best display the remarkable range of his artistry. Some of these tracks are singles, some are remixes plucked from unofficial mixtapes that haven’t ever seen a formal release. They all display a profoundly versatile artist, one who ultimately does have the potential to bend and break genre according to the whim of his latest project:
(1) Santigold ft. KiD CuDi – Find A Way (Remix)
This synth-laden approach to Santigold’s “Find A Way” finds Cudi rapping over a beat by Switch and Sinden, simultaneously capturing the infectious rhythm of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” but infused with an electronic ethos. Cudi’s contribution is short and sweet, perfectly showcasing how good Cudi can sound over something that’s both bassy and brooding.
(2) Highs N’ Lows
“Highs N’ Lows” was recorded in those humble years before Cudi found the limelight. The track is recorded over Bob Dylan’s original “Lay Lady Lay” and is one of our earliest examples of Cudi’s melancholy made accessible with a pop-friendly hook. His persistent standing as “lonely stoner” has earned him legions of fans and this track helped to set the stage well before Cudi hit the airwaves.
(3) Memories ft. David Guetta
The star-studded collaborative effort, “Memories” with David Guetta is perhaps Cudi’s most successful international dance effort. The party-centric hook rides out over thumping bass that’s engineered to move the masses, leading the song to chart in practically two dozen countries. Play this song back to back with “Edge Of The Earth/Post Mortem Boredom” and try to argue that Cudi’s not the most versatile rapper working today.
(4) All Talk ft. LCD Soundsystem, Chip Tha Ripper & Christian Bale
With LCD Soundsystem reunited at last and headlining Coachella, James Murphy’s supergroup is attracting enormous attention as the world’s most sought after act. “All Talk” finds Kid Cudi rapping seamlessly over their 2010 smash “Dance Yrself Clean” and exhibiting a flawless marriage between Cudi and just the right amount of synthesizer.
(5) Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven
The aforementioned title track from Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven is generally the most successful example of Cudi’s commitment to breaking down strictly linear conceptions about his work. A few repeated lines create a skeletal yet precise melody that whisks you far away into the warm embrace of the perfect lullaby. It’s enough to suggest that maybe genre needs Cudi more than Cudi needs genre after all.
Visuals by Richie Williamson