To really understand the flaws that I perceive Hands On The Wheel to have, we have to examine what makes Pursuit of Happiness, the song it samples, so great. The original, which was created by Kid Cudi with the help of two electric rock duo’s, MGMT and Ratatat, is a lonely, self aware confession that describes the spiral of addiction, while disguised as a party anthem. With a traditional structure and a catchy chorus that invites listeners to sing a long, the song conceals lyrics that is effectively Kid Cudi monologuing his struggles with depression, and his failed attempts to self medicate. It’s a truly powerful song, especially within the context of Kid Cudi recognising his depression and admitting himself into rehab in late 2016, and if you haven’t listened to it, you should rectify that, immediately.
Now, imagine this nuanced, profound song, but without the irony; that’s what Hands on the Wheel by ScHoolboy Q is. Remember when I said that the deep meaning of Pursuit of Happiness was hidden by it’s attractive, party anthem appearance? Hands on the Wheel is just a party anthem, and disregards all the message that the sample holds. Maybe it would be excusable as if it was a mere sample of Lissie’s cover of Pursuit of Happiness, but it takes it further than that, as it is closer to a reimagining of the song, including similar lyrics (even referencing the original) and maintaining the same electronic beat throughout. Cudi adopts a rebellious attitude in his first verse on the track, but contradicts it and explains how it’s an unsustainable way to live in the following verses and chorus. Hands on the Wheel lyrically adopts the same self oriented stance as the first verse of its predecessor, but has a total lack of self awareness, that’s frustrating to listen to.
A$AP Rocky has made an appearance on multiple Q tracks over the years, including Hands on the Wheel, and while technically his caedance and flow are impressive, his lyrics on his verse manage to be even more oblivious than Q’s. Effectively it’s a shopping list of drugs which is finished off with Rocky saying that it’s his own pursuit of happiness.
It’s not an awful song, and if I hadn’t heard of Pursuit of Happiness prior to listening to it I would probably really enjoy it. Don’t think that I’m against covers and reimagings of any song, no matter how challenging it may be. Lissie’s live version of Kid Cudi’s track is a great example of how an artist can successfully change genres and still respect the emotion and intent of the original. Even more than that, I’m also not opposed to songs that are pure party bangers; they absolutely have their place. My problem with Hands on the Wheel is it’s obnoxious lack of understanding of the original song’s purpose, to such a degree that it almost feels like Q and Rocky didn’t understand Pursuit of Happiness for more than what’s displayed at face value. Regardless, I’d love to know what you think on this admittedly outdated, controversial topic, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this article.