When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Lissie takes on Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit Of Happiness.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
According to his mother and former teachers, Scott Mescudi (a.k.a. Kid Cudi) was destined for success. As a youth, he impressed fellow Clevelanders with his unabashed vocal prowess and natural swagger, qualities that always seemed to distinguish him from his peers. But, it wasn’t always clear that Cudi would end up in music: In interviews, he jokes that his high-school friends knew him more as a comedian than anything else, and his first (and only) year at the University of Toledo was spent studying film. Once he relented to his dreams of musical stardom, however, it didn’t take long before nearly everyone knew of his talent and potential, a near-phenomenon accelerated by his ties to Kanye West and, more importantly, a production style that feels tailor-made for the Internet Age.
“Pursuit Of Happiness” accents this aesthetic most prominently, marrying the warm warble of Ratatat’s trademark buzzsaw punch with a narrative that describes Cudi’s mindset as he peers over the rim of success. For its part, Ratatat’s relation to the genre isn’t new—the New York duo remixed two albums’ worth of classic hip-hop tracks prior to working with him—but this was the first time its music had been heard on such a massive scale. Arguably, it’s one of the most interesting backing tracks in hip-hop history, a statement as much as a simple production choice, one that, again, significantly distinguishes Cudi from his peers, whose sampling choices tend to be a bit more obvious. Critical response to his 2009 debut, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, was mixed, but there’s undoubtedly a groundbreaking quality enmeshed in Cudi’s unorthodox tastes and approach, which philosophically recall that of his iconoclastic mentor in West.
If you’ve read into Lissie’s background at all, you know her choosing to cover Cudi makes almost perfect sense. Both artists were reared in the Midwest (she’s from Rock Island, Ill.) and, as the song suggests, are resting on the cusp of fulfilling their long-held ambitions. Even more than that, the relatively short nature of their career arcs suggest that neither Lissie or Cudi have embraced brown nosing as tactic for success. Both seem to have an underlying punk-rock ethos, an unwillingness to bow down the gods of the industry each desperately wants to engage on a life-altering scale. Indeed, Lissie sounds just as empowered as Cudi when she sings:
“People told me slow my road, I’m screaming out, ‘Fuck that’
Imma do just what I want, lookin’ ahead, no turnin’ back
If I fall, if I die, know I lived it to the fullest
If I fall, if I die, know I lived and missed some bullets”
Even if it wasn’t believable, though, Lissie’s cover is great on sheer musical terms. Her strong, finessed vocals are pitch-perfect, and the organic instrumentation is a resounding counterpoint to Cudi’s electronic original. Between the smooth wash of the delayed guitar, the spot-on, one-man rhythm section and her seductive intensity, Lissie and her band managed to make “Pursuit Of Happiness” very much their own, sparking in me an intrigue to hear her debut, Catching A Tiger, in the process.
Cast your vote wisely.