Album Review: Kanye West and Kid Cudi - Kids See Ghosts

If you loved me so much, then why’d you let me go?

It may be a minor detail, and perhaps I’m reading entirely too much into it, but I think there is a reason that the first thing you hear on Kids See Ghosts is Kid Cudi bellowing “I can still feel the love.”

The third in a projected series of five weekly releases, ‘hand produced’1 by Kanye West, and following the maddeningly unfocused and disappointing ye, there’s a lot riding on Kids See Ghost, his collaborative effort with Kid Cudi—the rapper and singer born Scott Mescudi.

Though the two had a fruitful partnership nearly a decade ago—Mescudi contributed heavily to West’s 808s and Heartbreak, the pair had a falling out around five years ago. Following Mescudi’s departure from G.O.O.D Music, he was still featured, albeit briefly, on the song “Guilt Trip,” from West’s Yeezus, much to his surprise and chagrin—belting out the line, “If you loved me so much, then why’d you let me go?,” to which many found the irony.

A number of years later, Mescudi went after West (among others) on Twitter, and West responded in an on-stage diatribe during his ill-fated Saint Pablo tour, by saying he ‘birthed’ Mescudi, adding he felt hurt and disrespected by the attack, but a few days later, apologized during another performance, and, at the now infamous final date on the Saint Pablo tour, in Sacramento, performed “Waves” with Mescudi, before ending the show after 30 minutes.

Nearly a year later, at the end of 2017, Mescudi returned the favor, bringing West on stage in Chicago, where the two performed “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” together; it was West’s first live appearance in almost a year, and for both artists, it was a sign of, not so much ‘better times,’ but more productive and focused times.

Mescudi and West coming together for Kids See Ghosts is fitting—not only because they have been longtime collaborators and are presumably friends, but because they have both struggled, very publicly, with mental illness. In 2013, Mescudi opened up about his reservations over using prescription anti-depressants, and in 2016, checked himself in to rehab for depression and suicidal thoughts; West famously fell apart on stage that night in Sacramento, was hospitalized shortly there after, and struggled with a secret opioid addiction.

In a genre that is not one to embrace talking about your feelings, or if you are struggling, West and Mescudi have done so, and come out on the other side—not unscathed, but still standing, and if the give and take between the two of them on Kids See Ghosts is any indication, supporting each other as peers along the way.

Like ye and Pusha-T’s Daytona before it, Kids See Ghosts is a slim, seven track endeavor, and like Daytona and ye before it, it’s incredibly lean, arriving at roughly 24 minutes in length.

But unlike ye, Kids See Ghosts is, for better or for worse, a more interesting album to listen to; or at the very least, a more palatable album, leading one to believe that when assembling the tracks for both this, and ye, West saved not the ‘best’ beats for this project, but at least the more thought provoking musically—across the seven tracks, he’s audacious enough here to sample both Louis Prima one minute, and then Kurt Cobain the next.

And the album’s opening track, “Feel The Love” is one for the ages—the swirling synths may not be impressive at first, but just wait until Pusha-T is wrapping up his jaunty guest verse, a little more than a minute into the song—as West arrives and begins scatting gun shot sounds over explosive, absolutely rumbling and gigantic sounding drums.

In a bit of a juxtaposition, while an album like Daytona clipped along rather quickly, wrapping up before you knew it, leaving you wanting more, Kids See Ghosts moves a little slower, and a little more deliberately. It’s not nearly as urgent or immediate of a listen—and surprisingly, it simmers; it’s paced in such a way that it gradually slows itself down by the final track, “Cudi Montage.” But in comparison to the breakneck speed of Daytona and the catastrophic mess that was ye, this is very, very welcome.

While “Feel The Love” serves as more of a de facto intro to the album—Pusha-T’s verse is, really, the only verse to the song, because Mescudi yelling about still feeling the love, and West scatting gunshot sounds are not, you know, verses, the first proper ‘song’ is “Fire,” though it, too, unfolds through a non-traditional song structure of verses, back to back, and what amounts to a refrain arriving at the end. The song itself is built around, of all things, the novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by Napoleon XIV; the song concludes after less than two minutes, and you’re left with this haunting, distended, off-kilter guitar strum, that slowly, for like, 30 seconds, brings you down into the next song.

The aforementioned Louis Prima sample arrives in “4th Dimension,” taking “What Will Santa Claus Say?” and inserts it into a a skittering, oscillating beat while West raps about sex—but only slightly awkwardly—doing it more for the punchlines than anything else, before the beat drops out momentarily as Mescudi’s verse, which is exponentially more serious in its tone.

As Kids See Ghosts hits the halfway point, the duo head straight into a rollicking, ‘rock’ oriented sound, on “Freeee,” or “Ghost Town Pt. 2”—allegedly, the song “Ghost Town,” found on ye was originally slated for this album before being moved elsewhere. Sampling dialog from Marcus Garvey and “Stark” by Mr. Chop, Mescudi and West, alongside G.O.O.D Music crooner Ty Dolla $ign, sound so jubilant that, even though this isn’t, like, the best song of the bunch, you can’t help but become completely wrapped up in the atmosphere they’ve created.

Entering into its final three tracks, Kids See Ghosts doesn’t become pensive, per se, but it does frontload itself with its most energetic material; the last three songs dramatically change the pacing, not bringing the album to a crawl, but definitely giving you time to catch your breath following the first half.

“Reborn,” at first, was not one of my favorite songs on the album; it’s based around an infectious hook that, during my initial listens, I found irritating—Mescudi sings, “I’m so I’m so re-born,” and there was just something in his phrasing that bothered me, but my reservations about the song disappeared once I really listened to West’s verse—“Very rarely do you catch me out,” he begins. “Y’all done ‘specially invited guest’’d me out. Y’all be tellin’ jokes that’s gon’ stress me out—as soon as I walk in, I’m like, ‘Let’s be out.’” Very rarely do I completely identify with a lyric from a rap song—but when I heard this, my thought was “I understand this completely.”

The titular track follows, skittering and glitchy, turning the vibe of the album even more inward and introspective—the most somber of the bunch, it features vocals from Mos Def, or Yasiin Bey, as he is known to go by these days, and then the album concludes with “Cudi Montage,” a song built around a cut up sample of acoustic guitar from “Burn The Rain,” a song performed by Kurt Cobain, taken from the documentary, Montage of Heck. While West’s verses discuss violence in the inner city and a brief nod to the idea of prison reform, Mescudi’s, similarly to what he talks about on “Kids See Ghosts,” is his spiritualty, and need for god to shine a light on him.

By the time “Cudi Montage” concludes, you’re actually left wanting more—I had a similar reaction to Daytona after it reached its end. Seven songs, it would seem, at least in this case, is enough to not overstay your welcome, and enough to keep a listener interested even after the record is over.

In the week following its release, Kids See Ghosts has been better received than ye, and there are a number of reasons for that; the production value is obviously better, but also, save for a few minor cringes, West’s lyrical contributions are exponentially better. Sure, it’s still a very ‘of the times’ record, but he opts to dance around the issues people have with his current state of mind, rather than discussing them head on in a way that will not age well at all. It’s a smart move on his part—who is to say how kind time will be Kids See Ghosts but at least it will make it to the end of this year without sounding terribly dated.

I have no idea if West and Mescudi will continue exploring this partnership—billing themselves as Kids See Ghosts, similarly to how Jay-Z and West dubbed themselves The Throne in 2011. But for right now, this is a compelling snapshot of two artists who have seen their share of personal turmoil, attempted to come to terms with it all, and tried their best to funnel it through art.

1- Unless I am remembering this incorrectly, I believe West tweeted he was ‘hand producing’ five records (Pusha-T, his own, Kids See Ghosts, Nas, and Teyana Taylor); however, the production credits (on Wikipedia) for Kids See Ghosts list additional names, and some of the songs don’t even list West as a producer.  

Kids See Ghosts is out now right as a digital download via G.O.O.D Music. The CD and vinyl releases arrive in August.