The common theme I’ve been gathering from these back to back Kanye produced releases is that I want more. The same vein runs through KIDS SEE GHOSTS, an eclectic combination of Kid Cudi’s emotional stoner vibe and Kanye West’s rough, industrial production. After listening to all seven tracks back to back on my commute to work, I only wished the album lasted longer.
When West announced the collab album, I immediately knew we were in for something special. The pair’s chemistry is evident throughout their discography, and the dichotomy between their musical personalities, one harmonic and pretty, and the other rough around the edges but honest, is always a treat. What KIDS SEE GHOSTS really showcases is two minds creating art in an incredibly raw form, a form that can only be cultivated from immense pain and stress.
Both of the members of the group have gone through their fair share of it.
Between Cudi’s own check-in to rehab for depression and suicidal urges during the rollout for his last project, and West’s mental breakdown in the middle of the Saint Pablo tour, they aren’t strangers to being their own greatest enemy. Despite these roadblocks, the pair hasn’t let any sort of mental illness act as a detriment to their art, instead using it to fuel their passion to create art. Both Cudi and West’s music have had similar thematic strings: no matter who you are and what you’re going through, you’re not alone.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is no exception. The seven track LP is a love letter to beating your inner demons, to overcoming the things that you think will keep you down forever. While people may have been expecting this to be the perfect album to sob to, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a celebration. This is a feel good album.
West’s meticulous yet minimalist production and sampling are at the best that it’s been since Yeezus. The drop on “4th Dimension” is easily the most satisfying beat drop in recent memory, flowing a Louis Prima Christmas song sample into one of the most infectious drum loops I’ve heard in a while.
The electronic hums in the opening track, “Feel the Love”, is simplistic but moving. Once Pusha T’s intro exits, West inserts his own vocals, a drum line of ad libs that, at first listen, are intense and off putting. After a couple listens, the scatting becomes intertwined with the beat in a way that shouldn’t be able to work. He once again uses the human voice as an instrument, rather than something that should be layered OVER the instrumental. An eerie breakdown follows, capped off by West screaming “Where the chorus?” Cudi answers immediately, singing the reverb driven hook.
West’s production highlights don’t end there. The instrumental on the title track, “Kids See Ghosts”, is a dreamy concoction made up of a wavering synth melody, driving hi-hats, punching kicks, and Cudi’s own hums. Everything is left to the imagination here, and over the dreamlike beat, two great verses from both Cudi and West.
West isn’t the only one who handles production on this record, though. There are some songs that don’t credit West at all, and are mainly handled by Cudi. Both “Reborn” and “Cudi Montage”’s production are done by Cudi and his collaborators, and feel rightfully so. “Reborn”’s production sounds like it’s right off Man on the Moon. From his humming to the basic piano melody in the instrumental, Cudi nails his own aesthetic, something that should be praised following his more experimental period of records over the past few years.
“Cudi Montage”’s use of a Kurt Cobain demo sample is implemented masterfully, and adds a gravitas to the song. This is something especially interesting, considering both West and Cudi have dealt with suicidal thoughts. Perhaps using the Cobain sample is a way of taking control of their own lives, instead of letting mental illness define it. The spacey vibes of the rest of the instrumental are gorgeous, and the message of “stay strong” that Cudi reiterates while West pleads the lord to shine a light on him is beautiful and pure. It’s a prayer with an instrumental track, and really is the most cathartic moment of the album.
Lyrically, the album has its ups and downs. While I love the vocal drum line that West creates on “Feel the Love”, I would’ve preferred an actual verse. The five minute long “Reborn” has Cudi repeat the phrase “keep movin’ forward” a staggering 67 times, which is worrisome when there are only seven tracks on the album. You can’t have a lot of filler like that.
That being said, when the verses start, they START. West’s flow and delivery on this album are on point and seemingly refined, something you couldn’t say about Ye. Cudi’s lyrical content is emotional and poignant, talking about his inner demons but staying optimistic. Lines like “I had my issues, ain’t that much I could do/But, peace is somethin’ that starts with me, with me/At times, wonder my purpose/Easy then to feel worthless/But, peace is somethin’ that starts with me (with me, with me)” are the exact kind of Cudi that I’ve been waiting for. It is a positive look at the ailments that might bring him down. His delivery, however, seems like he’s bored. His hook on “Feel the Love” is energetic, but when he dives into his verses, he lacks that same energy (the biggest offender being “Fire”). It might be an artistic choice based on the aesthetic of the album, but I would’ve liked to see more.
West’s verse on “Cudi Montage” is pure magic. His flow is strong and clean, and the lyrical content is important and moving. The star line is “Everybody want world peace/’Til your niece get shot in the dome-piece/Then you go and buy your own piece/Hopin’ it’ll help you find your own peace.” Its miles ahead of “I love your titties because they prove I can focus on two things at once”.
After my first listen of KIDS SEE GHOSTS, I found myself motivated. There really is something special about the album. It’s payoff, not only for the listeners, but for West and Cudi, who have gone through absolute hell to bring us this album.
This album is magic, and it proves that even at your lowest moments, nothing is impossible. In a world where self-worth seems to be at its lowest, that’s what we need.