This self-titled release marks the first collaboration project from hip hop’s biggest contemporary influencers, Kid Cudi and Kanye West, who have dubbed themselves Kids See Ghosts. This moniker and album title, as well as the album art, which was the work of Takashi Murakami (who has previously worked with Ye on Graduation) is perfect for this project. Indeed, they truly encapsulate what we get from the album – something surreal, colourful, sonically captivating, psychedelic, child-like, magical; bittersweet in places and eerie in others.
We are kept in this crazy Super Smash Bros. meets Attack on Titan world throughout the project with vocal and production moments that range from unavoidably explicit to subtle yet effective. Kanye delivers expressive machine gun imitations complimented by powerful drum pounding on ‘Feel The Love’. Cudi delivers spiritual, delicate wailing on ‘Reborn’ (I should add, the signature Cudder moan is more palatable on this album than it has been in years). The pair deliver, with the help of Ty Dolla Sign, gigantic and layered evaporating cries of “I feel freeee” on the aptly titled ‘Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)’. The production delivers easy to miss whizzing whistles and triumphant screams on ‘Fire’ and similarly subtle but pretty, high pitched string shivers on ‘Kids See Ghosts’. We literally hear a childish evil cackle mid-way through ‘4th Dimension’. It is obvious that a lot of effort was put into maintaining the aesthetic of the album and it has certainly paid off.
In 2016, Kid Cudi and Kanye both went through a low point with their mental health, with Kid Cudi checking himself into rehab on account of depression and suicidal urges (as explained in the emotional statement he released at the time) and Kanye having to bring his Saint Pablo tour to an early close when he was hospitalised for psychosis. Mental health has always been a very prominent theme in Kid Cudi’s music, and Kanye’s albums from 808s and Heartbreaks onward have each had a fair deal to say on the matter. Ye, released only a week before this one, honed in on that theme. However, where that album explored his mental health condition in a fairly rushed and often limited manner, Kids See Ghosts for the most part provides a more complete, focused and sincere account, coming closer to the standard set by Cudi’s Man on the Moon. The project is nevertheless decidedly triumphant and optimistic when exploring such issues which is clear from the onset with Cudi’s powerful and reverberating exclamation of “I can still feel the love” on ‘Feel The Love’ which the song builds around. Indeed, while it is probably Kanye who steered this project to stylistic and aesthetic excellence, it is Cudi who keeps the breakdown-conquering theme of the project potent and effective, and in this way the pair complement one another nicely. That is to say, where Kanye’s bars and delivery are undeniably flashier and more impressive than Cudi’s, Cudi generally delivers the more emotive moments with lines such as “I guess I’m just sick of running / All this time searching hard for something / I can hear the angels coming”.
True, it is difficult not to wish for both the high-quality bars and thematic focus from both halves of Kids See Ghosts, just to make the album slightly more coherent. Even the first verse on the album, a Pusha T feature, though fiery and braggadocious, doesn’t really have much to do with Cudi “feel(ing) the love”. Similarly, Mos Def’s spoken-word type thing at the end of ‘Kids See Ghosts’ about “civilization without society” (still not quite sure what that means) seems fairly random. However, when all the aspects of this album come together, it makes for near flawless songs. ‘4th Dimension’ is one of these – a 30s Christmas song is sampled ingeniously as Kanye delivers a crude ‘Hell Of A Life’-style verse about a chaotic hook up which he compares to a “new dimension”. Cudi’s verse is similarly dark and suggestive with a confident delivery but he brings his verse back down to earth with the lines “Tell the cougar get up off me, no, my soul ain’t for sale / All the evils in the world, they keeping on me for real”.
‘Reborn’ is a beautiful ballad of progression and self-improvement, my favourite song of the album. Cudi sings a heartfelt chorus of “I’m so – I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward… / Ain’t no stress on me Lord, I’m movin’ forward” over a calming, angelic beat comprising of simple keys, progressive drums, glimmering synths, and the aforementioned remedial moans. Both Kanye and Kid Cudi deliver their most personal and intimate verses of the album. “I was off the meds, I was called insane / What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame / I want all the rain, I want all the pain” Kanye raps, laying himself bare and admitting that the pain in his life has become numbing to the point of addictive (a sentiment particularly echoed on both parts of ‘Ghost Town’). Cudi’s verse is just as emotional, though he makes sure to remind us “peace is something that starts with me”. The song ends with a gorgeous beat switch up as the chorus comes back in over soothing synths and close drums.
It would be amiss for me not to mention ‘Cudi Montage’, the last track on the album. A Kurt Cobain sample and a fast-paced Cudi flow guides the track forward as the beat builds for a grand chorus. The beat then strips back down to the sample for what is surely Kanye’s most conscious verse in a very long time. He raps about the cycle of violence seen in impoverished neighbourhoods in America and the routine loss of men to imprisonment in such environments. I wonder what his buddy Trump thinks. The song ends with a majestic outro as Mr. Hudson, Kid Cudi and Kanye’s vocals blend together. “Lord shine your light on me, save me, please” Kanye implores.
I do hope Kid Cudi and Kanye West are “saved” from their spiritual and mental suffering. One thing that clearly needs no saving though is their ability to make music. Here’s to hoping Kids See Ghosts is not a one-time stint.
Kids See Ghosts
Artist: Kids See Ghosts. Label: G.O.O.D. Music; Def Jam. Top Tracks: 4th Dimension; Reborn; Cudi Montage. For Fans Of: WZRD; Raury; Lil Uzi; Gorillaz. 24 minutes