No one may be more responsible for introducing a dark mood to mainstream hip-hop than Kanye West and Kid Cudi.
No one may be more responsible for introducing a dark mood to mainstream hip-hop than Kanye West and Kid Cudi, who have increasingly adopted a visual and sonic aesthetic that can verge on goth or industrial. But apart from a few tracks, they never fully consummated their creative partnership–until now. What do you get when you pair two of hip-hop’s biggest misanthropes? Surprisingly, you get something far more positive and energized than you might expect from the increasingly alienating West and the formerly disheartened but newly revitalized Cudi.
The rap supergroup Kids See Ghosts is one of several recent Kanye-related projects, including Pusha T’s excellent Daytona, West’s polarizing ye, and the (so far) less-than-enthusiastically received Nasir by Nas. All of these feature West’s production). In this context, it can be argued that Kids See Ghosts is, after Daytona, the second best of these West releases.
For one, West and Cudi have always paired well together, starting with 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak and continuing on to Yeezus and The Life of Pablo, with periods of separation and strife in between. Kids See Ghosts finds the two as ominous, exuberant and defiant as ever; this is an entirely satisfying, if not game-changing reunion.
At the level of MCing, the album feels more like a West-produced Cudi album than a true collaboration, though West makes his vocal presence felt, whether trading screams and growls with Cudi on the Pusha T-assisted opener “Feel the Love” or in relatively quick verses throughout. But overall, his is a mostly supporting role. The real phantasm whose spirit hovers above the album is Cudi, and nowhere more than on “Reborn,” the central cri de coeur on an album full of doubt, redemption, self-questioning and faith. The track finds its peer in the haunting, Cobain-sampling closer prayer “Cudi Montage.”
In addition to the army of engineers, producers, and cowriters, guests on the album include Ty Dolla $ign on “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” and Yaslin Bey” on the title track. Even more so, however, the real guests are the artists Kanye so ably samples throughout, from the sample of Cobain playing acoustic guitar on the closer or Louis Prima on “4th Dimension” (whose beat is reminiscent of West’s “Power”) and even Marcus Garvey on “Freeee.” These, too, are our spectral guides along the road of the album, which charts the spiritual rebirth of its central protagonist, Cudi, who navigates the circles of hell with the help of the Virgil-like West, whose verses are more confrontational than reflective compared to Cudi’s.
In keeping with the recent litany of West-related albums, Kids See Ghosts features only seven tracks on the album, though it does—like Daytona—have a satisfying fullness. The album confirms West’s talent as a producer, but it doesn’t tell us anything new about him. However, it tells us a great deal about Kid Cudi, marking a kind of renaissance for an artist whose credit is still due.