Kanye West and Kid Cudi have a mentor-mentee relationship, so close that their musical bond has resulted in many contributions to each other’s projects – and even created some of hip-hop’s best collaborations in recent years with “Welcome to Heartbreak,” “Make Her Say,” “Erase Me,” and “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1.” Their career trajectories frequently divert far from each other, but today, they reunite for Kids See Ghosts, a joint album that maximizes their chemistry to deliver on all hallmarks of the G.O.O.D. Music sound.
Kids See Ghosts debuted Thursday night (June 7) through an exclusive listening for media, celebrities, and fans at a mock ghost town located in Santa Clarita, Calif. that was similar to the intimacy of Project Wyoming (the event where West debuted his album Ye) last week. The new album arrives at a time when West continues to dominate headlines, whether you like it or not. Last month, he was heavily criticized for saying 400 years of slavery was a choice, wearing an autographed MAGA hat with veteran music executives Lyor Cohen and Lucian Grainge, and calling President Donald Trump one of his good friends because they share “dragon energy.” Kanye was also a target in Drake vs. Pusha-T’s feud, ending their beef in favor of loving everyone. And throughout it all, Kanye has kept his promise with his album announcements: Pusha-T, the guinea pig of the seven song experiment, released DAYTONA on May 25, and Kanye put out his eighth studio album Ye on June 1. Albums by Nas (June 15) and Teyana Taylor (June 22) are still slated for later this month.
Kids See Ghosts features Pusha-T, Ty Dolla $ign, Louis Prima (his song “What Will Santa Claus Say?” is sampled on “4th Dimension”), and Yasiin Bey, whose show-stealing appearance on “Kids See Ghosts” rivals 070 Shake’s incredible vocals on “Ghost Town.” The production consists of Kanye’s inner circle: Mike Dean, Plain Pat, Dot Da Genius, Jeff Bhasker, Noah Goldstein, Andrew Dawson, Boogz, evan mast, and a surprise producer credit, André 3000 on “Fire.”
It’s very noticeable that Kanye spent more time on perfecting this album than his own, complementing Cudi’s contributions with verses that are focused and nuanced – his Kanye-isms are not for clickbait headlines, but hold substance and meaning. As for Cudi, his choruses and signature hums are elevated thanks to the guidance of Kanye, where chant-ready phrases like “I can still feel the love!” (“4th Dimension”) and “I am so reborn, I’m moving forward” (“Reborn”) will instantly get stuck in your head after a few listens. The album ranks above Ye and will resonate with core fans because it’ll remind them of their former spirits: 2010 flows from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-era Kanye, and the return of Mr. Rager before he went alternative rock.
While Kanye has been particularly open about his mental health on Ye, saying his bipolar is a superpower, on Kids See Ghosts, he addresses his anxiety in social environments as well as fame on “Reborn.” “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,” he raps. On “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2),” scoopity-poop Kanye makes a cameo – albeit briefly – as a metaphor for feeling liberated to say whatever is on your mind, exercising his “free thought” philosophy again. “You should quit your job to this!” he states. On these songs, Cudi, who checked into rehab in 2016 to seek help for depression and suicidal urges, sounds like he’s in a better mental space than before, sending out positive messages for people who need to get through pain because he admits that he doesn’t feel it anymore.
Billboard published a piece titled “What a Kanye West-Kid Cudi Joint Album Means to Hip-Hop” and argued that Cudi needed a boost after his albums consistently received lukewarm responses by critics. It’s too early to tell at this moment if Kids See Ghosts is the golden record for Cudi’s catalog. It’ll certainly be respected for how the songs aren’t a collection of scattered ideas, but full thoughts with real messages of finding the light in the darkness. It just further proves that these two bring the best out of each other.
On album highlight “Cudi Montage,” which features a sample of Kurt Cobain’s “Burn the Rain,” Cudi sings a soaring hook about God’s power to heal through love. Perhaps the most surprising lyric here is Kanye realizing the effects of police brutality, incarceration, and mass shootings on the black community – topics he’s rarely talked about in his new material – rapping, “Both sides lose somebody, somebody dies, somebody goes to jail.” It’s a moment of reflection that makes you wonder how socially conscious he would have been if he kept his original Ye album before scrapping it after the TMZ debacle.
Knowing Kanye’s propensity for his album rollouts (remember The Life of Pablo?), fans can expect that he’ll continue adjusting Kids See Ghosts until it meets his satisfaction. The album released on his 41st birthday, hitting all streaming services on (Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify) Friday, but was uploaded with mislabeled titles and credits in the wrong order. This afternoon, Def Jam Records released an official tracklist, in sequenced order, to correct the error. Both Kanye and Cudi have not addressed the snafu on social media yet, and maybe they don’t have to: the kids already got their dream album from two of hip-hop’s greatest innovators of our generation.