Part three of Kanye West’s saga is here! After the excellent Ye produced DAYTONA – which is certainly in contention for album of the year – and last week’s ye, which we said “Triumphs in its beats and lyrics and, while short, is consistent and enticing”, Kanye is back with his old protege, Kid Cudi. No doubt better than ye, this is a project that packs its 23-minute runtime with as much energy, creativity and exciting ideas as a full-length project.
Most of this comes from the chemistry between West and Cudi. The pair have worked together since West’s underrated 808s & Heartbreaks back in 2008 where Cudi brought anguish to West’s melodic synth pop on the likes of ‘Welcome to Heartbreak’ and ‘Say You Will’. The team name here, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, is effective as Kanye and Cudi stack ideas on top of ideas, working together incredibly effectively and passionately, with as much creativity as possible, to the point that it feels instinctive, as if they no longer think about the other’s musical movement.
Opening with the glorious ‘Feel the Love’, which could be the greatest song of the Ye trilogy so far, it’s an angry beast that recalls the ten-minute behemoth ‘Runaway’ from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Unleashed with sinister keys, and a manic impression of a gun from West, its main highlight comes from man of the moment Pusha T, who provides a typically biting verse. If there’s one thing that we’ve learnt from these West projects, it’s that Pusha T, up until now, has not received the credit he deserves. He’s an evocative, talented rapper than brings gravitas and a seriousness to his surroundings.
‘Reborn’, the lowkey number that sees both Cudi and West solemnly acknowledge their mistakes, finds West at his most apologetic thus far in this cycle. While West raps: “I was off the chain, I was often drained / I was off the meds, I was called insane / What an awesome thing, engulfed in shame / I want all the rain, I want all the pain / I want all the smoke, I want all the blame.” Cudi’s repetitive refrain of: “Keep movin’ forward” acknowledges the choice you face when you’re at a low. If everything Kanye has done before this was designed to provoke and infuriate audiences, KIDS SEE GHOSTS, at times, seems to be created to relate to West. It’s his most personal of the trilogy so far and, with ‘Reborn’ in particular, it’s a genuine emotional move that showcases the duo’s vulnerability.
On album closer ‘Cudi Montage’, which samples Kurt Cobain’s ‘Burn the Rain’, West lays out the cyclical brutality of violence (“Everybody want world peace until your niece gets shot in the dome piece.”) and the pain of loss (“Auntie crying on the concrete”) before signing off with a shout-out to Alice Johnson, the African American grandmother who has served over two decades in prison for a non-violent drug charge who Kim Kardashian West recently – and successfully – lobbied for release. It’s the Kanye of old here, rather than the pointlessly provocative, tabloid spinning caricature he’d like people to believe he is. In many ways, this is a spiritual successor to West’s 808s which showcased him at his most vulnerable and it’s a breath of fresh air.
If anything, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is not only an example that Kid Cudi is an incredibly clever rapper who deploys melancholia better than anyone, but it’s a sign that the Kanye of old is still out there somewhere; the artist that condemned our capitalist society on ‘Spaceship’, tore down the media industry with ‘Monster’, and called out George W. Bush on live TV is still a force to be reckoned with. There’s no doubt that Kanye’s still got it in the production department, but KIDS SEE GHOSTS is proof that he, and Cudi, still have the lyrical capabilities to make some real change.