June of 2018 might see Kanye West’s music endeavors becoming as polarizing as the man himself. As he continues to executively (and sometimes directly) produce various G.O.O.D. Music projects, he has the internet lamenting aspects of each, all the while Pusha T made Drake look questionable for the first time in his career and saw ye become his 8th number one album on the Billboard charts. The third project to be produced and released by Kanye West is the long-awaited collaboration with Kid Cudi, a man that’s been viewed both as West’s protégé and contemporary (sometimes even antagonist). KIDS SEE GHOSTS a more fleshed-out, cathartic version of ye that finds Cudi playing something of an angel to some of Kanye West’s inner demons.
That seems like an odd notion on the surface, especially considering the history of mental health both men have experienced in the last few years. Much will be made of such things in most other reviews of this album, but suffice it to say, both artists seem to have arrived at a more resolved and peaceful place in both of their life journeys. “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2),” starts with Kanye West saying “I don’t feel pain anymore/Guess what baby? I feel free.” On “Fire,” West raps, “I done proved to myself, back on that rulin’ myself.” On “4th Dimension,” Cudi raps, “The put the beams on, get your, get your dream on/But you don’t hear me though, drama: we let it go.” This isn’t necessarily the typical “f*** the world” attitude that can be seen on many hip-hop records, but rather a pair of men that influenced a generation of artists to bare their minds, souls, and troubles to the world arriving at a better place after all of the turmoil.
Indeed, KIDS SEE GHOSTS sonically finds Kanye and Cudi catching up and passing a wave of artists who were profoundly influenced by West’s 808’s & Heartbreak. The music sometimes feels disjointed and often intense, but the constant sampling and prayers offered up by Kanye on songs like “Cudi Montage” signify a sense of resolution that both men have found after all this time. And while neither has ever been the type to hold feelings or ideas in reserve, the album length seems to benefit both here more so than Kanye’s solo project. It’s true that a few aspects are a little distracting, like when both yell gunshot sound effects on “Feel The Love,” or when Kanye raps about accidental anal sex, but they also signify Kanye being himself again, basking in that grey area between creative power and absurdity. Indeed, he’s always seemed most comfortable standing atop the musical Grand Canyon at night, looking down into the abyss.
Lyrically, most of the catharsis comes from Cudi talking about leaving behind his scars, having heaven lift him up. “Pain in my eyes, in the time I find, I’m stronger than I ever was/Here we go again, God, shine your love on me, save me, please.” While it’s true that Life of Pablo was heavily influenced by gospel music, it’s also true that Kanye has not quite displayed any sense of justification in the eyes of his creator. It is interesting, and at times refreshing, to see Kid Cudi of all artists sing on a song called “Reborn” that talks about moving forward and having no stress. Add that to the ethereal title track featuring vocals from Yasiin Bey and Anthony Hamilton, and the project is, at the very least, an achievement for Cudi in that regard.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a stronger outing than ye, one that is sure to receive more critical acclaim. Whether it can supplant its predecessor atop the charts remains to be seen. Many thought that ye was a sign that this month of music wasn’t going to be as noteworthy as Kanye was making it out to be, but this album goes a long way to proving him correct. This might have upped the stakes and pressure on a Nas album higher than any other besides Illmatic.