KIDS SEE GHOSTS: 9.3/10
For the 2018 batch of albums from his G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music Label, Kanye West holed himself up in Wyoming with a large group of label mates and collaborators. He planned to release the five albums he made there one at a time, one each week. West’s solo album “Ye” was expected to be his gorgeous meditation on mental health and healing, and the culmination of his work in Wyoming. But “Ye” came out unimpressive and unengaged, and “KIDS SEE GHOSTS,” West’s collaborative album with alternative-rap pioneer Kid Cudi, took up that role instead.
Photo courtesy of HipHopDX.
Cudi, whom West discovered and has worked with for years, checked himself into rehab in order to improve his mental health following the release of his incredibly dark album “Passion, Pain, and Demon Slayin’” in 2016. Cudi emerged a healed man, and his change is clear. When he sings “I’m so—I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward” on “Reborn,” he clearly means it. Starting with his opening hook on “Feel the Love,” Cudi sounds far more inspired than he has in the last four or five years. His singing is emotional and well-executed, his rapping focused and meaningful. Themes of rebirth dominate, and reborn Kid Cudi is there to deliver them. “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” is Cudi’s best work in years, and would be even without West’s contributions.
Yet West’s work is equally incredible on this album. He repeatedly delivers verses that are well-thought-out and have meaning and emotion. West talks about how he feels, something which is almost entirely absent on “Ye.” On “KIDS SEE GHOSTS,” West sounds determined to communicate his thoughts and feelings to his audience. He has little interest in provocation or drawing attention. In essence, West manages to stop being Kanye West, and starts being an artist communicating his story of struggling with bipolar disorder. When he says “I done proved to myself, back on that ruling myself” in “Fire,” he seems to have regained his self-control after the disastrous events of the past several months.
If West’s production on “Ye” failed to meet the near-impossible standard he set on classic albums like “Graduation” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” his work on “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” adds a new and different classic to that pantheon. Each song is ornate, and every detail has been attended to with the utmost care. West creates beautiful musical landscapes that perfectly convey the newfound hope and optimism after long dark periods of struggle. From the minimalist guitar and stomping drum of “Fire,” to the anthemic chants and backwards Louis Prima sample on “4th Dimension,” to the sparse acoustic guitar on “Cudi Montage,” West’s production adds to the lyrical message and gives Cudi the perfect environment to deliver the hook, and makes it easy for both rappers to rap at their best. When West sings, “I don’t feel pain anymore, guess what, babe, I feel free,” or Cudi sings, “Nothing hurts me anymore … I feel free,” over ringing drums and electric guitar, it is clear that they mean it and revel in their newfound hope, freedom and happiness.
On “Reborn,” Cudi delivers a truly beautiful hook, and West follows that up with arguably his best verse this side of “Yeezus” (West’s 2013 album). Everything is poignant, purposeful and well-executed.
The problem is, the album, like all those in West’s latest slew of G.O.O.D. Music releases, only has seven songs. It is so rich, deep and emotional, the listener can only feel disappointed when it comes to a close after just 24 minutes. When West finally steps out of his persona and into his emotions, he leaves all too soon, giving the listener only a short but heartfelt glimpse into his new soul. “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” beautifully pairs some of West’s best production with his and Cudi’s most inspired work in years.