Album Review: Kanye West & Kid Cudi - KIDS SEE GHOSTS | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Album Review: Kanye West & Kid Cudi – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

KIDS SEE GHOSTS , the joint project from Kanye West and Kid Cudi, is the psychedelic tour de force that both artists desperately needed, Music Editor Kieran Read argues

It’s a strange time for Kanye West, and that’s saying something for an individual who is legendarily acknowledged as an outlier. Following a year of silence, the artist recently returned to the centre of controversy with fury; worse than his countless feuds with presidents or national sweethearts, worse than wrestling paparazzi, worse than award show shenanigans. With a whirlwind of knee-jerk comments on slavery, MAGA, liposuction and dragon energy, Kanye would continually mount more and more pressure upon his unmatched musical artistry to redeem his reputation once again. With the world against him, West packed up his gear and secluded himself to the snowy mountains of Wyoming, a move verging on the musical cliché (reminiscent of his good friend Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, a contributor within this musical retreat). Here, he would attempt to reclaim his critical idolization through, in his own words, ‘chopping that thing that only I know how to do’.

With the world against him, West packed up his gear and secluded himself to the snowy mountains of Wyoming
So, Yeezy season is in full swing again; expanding upon his G.O.O.D Fridays series, Kanye has returned with a string of weekly seven-track albums, handling production for artists such as Pusha T, Nas and Teyana Taylor. ye, West’s own effort and eighth solo project, was not the clean-cut explanation many expected, nor the obvious victory he needed, however. Simultaneously one of his best commercial successes and biggest critical failures to date, whether the product actually outweighed the controversy still remains questionable. It’s nobly understated: whilst other album’s titles in this Wyoming-based tetralogy were entirely capitalised, ye is not; whilst West splashed $85k on a picture of Whitney Houston’s crack bathroom to cover Pusha T’s DAYTONA, he snapped a quick photo on his Iphone on the evening of release for his own. Musically glacial and raw, bouncing between ambient minimalism (‘All Mine’) and amped-out maximalism (‘Ghost Town’), the sound of ye is unfocused and unrefined; crafted in two weeks, following his instantly infamous TMZ interview, the cracks and seams are, perhaps intentionally, on show. With some time, many fans (myself included) are coming around to ye, though the creative omnipotence of West still feels threatened. To many he remains ‘cancelled’. All seemed wrong with the world.

Here are some big statements, then. KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye’s third Wyoming offering, a long-awaited joint effort between collaborator-turn-brother Kid Cudi arriving a week after ye, not only reaffirms the musical genius of Kanye West, but is one of the best projects he’s ever put his name to. On top of that, it’s the greatest synthesis of the only somewhat fulfilled musical promise of Kid Cudi, an artist who notoriously indulges and sprawls on his own albums, and also tops Pusha T’s gritty yet spotless, cocaine-coated DAYTONA as the best project from this Wyoming stint. Cudi and Ye’s many prior collaborative efforts predicate what this record could have been: West’s infinitely influential 808s & Heartbreak being the (arguable) brainchild of both artists, as well as all other later alliances proving to be consistent album highlights (‘Erase Me’, ‘Gorgeous’, ‘Waves’). None captured what we got here, though: a colourful, genre-melting swirl of hazy and humorous charm and kaleidoscopic excellence. If ye’s construction was jarring and unstable, KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ is a complete and slaved-over whole, a product of care and clear collaborative chemistry, a wonderfully bizarre merging of the duo’s strongest assets. Simply looking at the covers, the mountains of ye are cold and desolate where as the mountains of GHOSTS are a vibrant painting; if they resemble this creative retreat, then these albums are easily identifiable as two sides of the same coin. It is clear which one has greater outright artistic merit, however.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS feels less like a traditional rap record and more a psychedelic fever dream
Through a carnival-esque rotation of warped harmonies, maniacal drums, grungy riffs and ever-obscure samples (a Kurt Cobain demo, a Louis Prima pre-WWII Christmas song), interspersed with neat musical flourishes such as demonic laughter, woodwind solos and a handful of cleverly utilised guests (Pusha T, Ty Dolla $ign, Yasiin Bey, Andre 3000 production!!), KIDS SEE GHOSTS feels less like a traditional rap record and more a psychedelic fever dream. It’s greater akin to the slew of current indie/dream-pop bands like Tame Impala, or Danny Brown’s overdose simulation Atrocity Exhibition, or perhaps the hypnosis of Animal Collective and Panda Bear’s greatest works such as Person Pitch or Merriweather Post Pavilion. Like these projects, sonic textures and treated vocals are laced throughout, repeating and fading at will: ‘Reborn’ sees Cudi make a mantra of resilience (‘I’m so reborn / I keep moving forward’) for over five minutes with little interruption. Elsewhere, on opener 'Feel The Love', West de-stabilises tracks with a barrage of cartoonish noise, demanding and directing the structure in real-time (‘WHERE THE CHORUS?’). It’s fluidity is compelling, seamlessly bleeding between Cajun stomps (‘Fire’), tongue-in-cheek rock anthems (‘Freeee’) and eerie synth drips (‘Kids See Ghosts’), blurring the Eastern and Western, or normal and abnormal, or beautiful and abrasive, as if it were a child’s comic book. The ambitious architecture resembles a twisted distillation of Cudi’s eclectic discography (touching on almost all of his records, from Man On The Moon to Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven) into a diverse yet contained seven tracks, where it’s ephemerality only serves to further it’s wacky excellence and allure.

Such prior discography mining is not limited to production either: Cudi’s vocal flexibility finds it’s true artistic accomplice in West, who, once again, coaxes a career-spanning worth of greatness from his featured artist. His constant flitting between raps, hums and wails bear their greatest results yet here, not only forming the backbone of the tracks but consistently shifting their dynamics to keep them fresh. West himself miraculously taps into the essence of the fabled ‘old Kanye’, tackling beats with obscure, off-kilter flows (‘Kids See Ghosts’), off-the-wall hilariousness (‘4th Dimension’) and poignant topicality (‘Cudi Montage’). Not only does he come across as an endlessly entertaining exaggeration of himself here, but sounds witty, focused and clever; he is once again greater than what he creates, be it the music or the controversy. Though verses float in and out like objects caught in the flow of production, second to it even, what is said only serves to animate the project further. West and Cudi give some of the greatest performances of their careers here, and sound as if they’re having the time of their life doing so.

Both artists sound as if they once again have something to prove to the world, themselves and each other
This is perhaps the most profound aspect of such a knowingly inventive yet downright fun project: that the music embodies something deeply therapeutic for them both. Not just between artists, bear in mind, but two human beings looking for their own peace. If Watch The Throne, Kanye’s only prior collaborative effort with long-term partner Jay-Z, was a lavishly indulgent, yet technically unnecessary, product of their own legendary status and excessive lifestyles, then KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a project that West and Cudi made for genuine reason. If Throne’s raps are born from competitive one-upmanship, GHOSTS’ are born from a fusion of ideas and emotion. Both artists sound as if they once again have something to prove to the world, themselves and each other. This is no celebration, instead a reclaiming.

In 2016, during West’s ‘Saint Pablo Tour’, floating above the crowds, the pair embraced upon the raised stage for over a minute. They stumble about as if unstable, West is clearly in tears. Months before, Cudi had rehabilitated himself for depression and suicidal urges, weeks after Kanye would be forcibly hospitalized for exhaustion and psychosis, an ordeal that would culminate in a diagnosis of bipolar, a mental breakdown (or ‘breakthrough’ as he labels it) and opioid addiction. It is hard not to view KIDS SEE GHOSTS as the sonic equivalent of this embrace, of struggling, damaged friends seeking similar respite and finding comfort in one another, a fleeting moment. On The Life of Pablo’s ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1’, Kanye and Cudi yearned to ‘feel liberated’, though on GHOSTS they sound as if they’re unchained (‘I feel freeee’), hopefully searching (‘Keep moving forward’) and helplessly lost in cyclical pain (‘Lord shine your light and save me please’) all at once. As West has proven with recent antics, everything can come crashing down suddenly; the past is inescapable and the future is unsettled, kids will always see ghosts. The process of recovery, of true liberation, is messy. This project though, a beautifully intelligent and charming ode to this uphill battle, is not. Such an instantly gratifying album is a gift from both artists, and one that they seemingly needed as much as we did.

'KIDS SEE GHOSTS' is available now via G.O.O.D Music / Def Jam Recordings



Published

16th June 2018 at 9:00 am



Images from

Jaime Rivera and Kenny Sun



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