Updated: Dec 26, 2018
The notion of a seven track album from one of the world’s most unpredictable and fascinating artists left me with many questions. Primarily, how could Kanye West, in the wake of the disastrous The Life of Pablo rollout, even contain himself to releasing seven songs? The initial track listing for Pablo (called ‘Swish’ at the time) only contained 10 songs. After finishing touches were put on the project, it had an entirely new name, and 20 total songs. Assuming he could even stick to seven songs, would we get a cohesive project? Could Kanye deliver a complete package with only a 20 minute run time? Only time could tell. So when the first of June came around, and ye dropped (messy release and all), my questions were answered. Where Kanye misstepped lyrically (see "All Mine"), he delivered sonically, fusing his earlier styles of production with modern trap elements, beautiful synth lines, 808’s, and his classic utilization of the human voice. Nonetheless, my expectations for June 8th’s collaborative effort with Kid Cudi were tempered. ye revealed that Kanye’s heart is no longer in rapping.
As Kanye West releases tend to do, Kids See Ghosts completely shattered my expectations. Not only does the album lend more from psychedelic infused rock than it does from Hip-Hop, but Kanye’s rapping is as sharp as it’s been in years. Aside from his gun noise barrage on "Feel the Love," Kanye delivers focused, clever verses, sounding youthful, and even exuberant at times. Kanye seems to be having fun for the first time in a very long time. His verse on "Cudi Montage," detailing an endless cycle of violence in his hometown of Chicago, is his most passionate since way before the Pablo era (save his first verse on "Real Friends"). Somehow, the MAGA hat wearing, Calabasas living, Kanye West sounds genuine, and concerned. The man whose most recent press runs included comments about voluntary slavery, did not seem out of touch with a reality he seemingly left behind with the bear on the College Dropout cover. On "Cudi Montage," Kanye seems real once again. Kanye, for lack of a better expression, sounds like the old Kanye. And his realness is what made us all love him in the first place. As he said himself, his transparency and relatability made him a “family member” of modern pop culture, and that's something that may never cease to ring true. While Kanye may have recorded this verse in a studio in Jackson Hole, eating melon and prosciutto, he delivers a verse that leads us to believe that maybe, just maybe, he is not completely out of touch with reality. While a small sliver of a larger piece of work, this verse in particular transported me back to 2013, after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released, when I was convinced that no one else in the world could accomplish what he was doing with his music. Watching Kanye at the VMA's, clad in red from head to toe, emphatically playing the opening chords to "Runaway" on his famed MPC machine, no one could have told me otherwise. Kanye's passion on Kids See Ghost is reminiscent of a fond time in my life, a time when Kanye was truly in a league of his own, and his contemporary artists mere mortals in his presence.
Mr. West aside, Kids See Ghost is sonically a Cudi album (though of course Kanye handles the bulk of the production). The beats are catered towards Cudi’s flows, and he dominates most of the tracks, singing choruses, humming, and encouraging all of us to "keep moving forward." Cudi’s achilles heel has typically been his inability to execute a theme, and stick to a sound. His inability has translated into abysmal LP’s like Satellite Flight or more recently Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven. Cudi's projects often lack direction, thematic focus, and consistent production. On Kids See Ghosts, Cudi nails all three of these targets. While he has attempted to make rock songs for over half his career, none quite hit the mark like his efforts on Kids See Ghosts. His lyrics are strong throughout the project, with stellar refrains ("Reborn," "Cudi Montage") also littered throughout. Something about the styles of the two artists bring out redeeming qualities in one another, with Cudi’s vocal performance giving room for Kanye’s beats to shine, and Cudi’s humming adding another dimension to Kanye’s rap verses.
The complementing styles of mentor and mentee result in a project that I can not stay away from. I am consistently drawn back to these seven songs, and even force myself to play other records at times. There is something intangible about the attractive qualities of this mini-album, which I still can’t put my finger on after weeks of sitting with the it. Hearing both artists struggle with finding redemption in their music is wondrous, and something that ye lacked greatly. Where ye was Kanye acknowledging some of his shortcomings, KSG is him finding peace within himself, and with his public persona. Cudi too, finds solace in his music on this project. From his hopes to find heaven on the album’s title track, to declaring himself “Reborn,” Cudi seems to have found some answers to issues he has consistently struggled with throughout his career.
While my initial worry about the lack of substance that Kanye delivered with ye seemed to be warranted, Kids See Ghosts delivers beyond expectations. It goes to prove that putting in more than a few weeks worth of work equates to excellent music. On Kids See Ghosts, Kanye and Cudi seem to begin to find peace. And when delivered over Kanye production, that, is a beautiful thing.
Best Songs: "Cudi Montage," "Feel the Love," "Reborn," "4th Dimension" "Fire"
Worst Songs: "Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)"
9 out of 10 Finches