Album Review : KIDS SEE GHOSTS (2018)
Last Friday was the third stop of Yeezy season, with the release of KIDS SEE GHOSTS (yes, in caps), Kanye West's collaboration with his long-time protégé Kid Cudi. It was a genuinely exciting moment, because nobody knew what to expect of a pairing that could go so well/so wrong together. And KIDS SEE GHOSTS didn't exactly disappoint. It left a lot of people slack-jawed and scratching their heads, wondering what the fuck they've just listened to, but one thing made consensus: it wasn't a bad album. So, let's try to understand what kind of chicanery Yeezy hit us with.
The first thing to hit you in the face with KIDS SEE GHOSTS is that it eludes definition. It's not exactly hip-hop, it's not exactly rock either even if it borrows numerous elements in its structure, it sure as hell ain't pop, so what is it? It's a trippy, makeshift collage that a murderer's row of all-star producers ranging from West and Cudi to Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and André 3000 have put together. What makes it so interesting is that it has a vibe, a general feeling more than it has a recognizable genre. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a musical odyssey into the subconscious of troubled men trying to sublimate their inner demons. It's the best way I can describe it.
Feel the Love, the first songs on KIDS SEE GHOSTS, is a good example of why it's so effective. The first verse has Kid Cudi howling "I can still feel the love" over a Pusha T guest spot, which sets up this deep done of melancholy that is undercut by a marching chorus where Kanye and Cudi go: Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. The lyrics don't matter as much as the feeling of Cudi's ghastly "I can feel the love" being under attack by forces unknown: haters, depression, mental illness, etc. The strength of KIDS SEE GHOSTS is not straightforwardly in the lyrics. It's an assault on the listener's imagination. It creates a paradigm that hits you on a subconscious level. You recognize the emotions without Kanye and Cudi having to name them.
Among other high moments on the album: the grungy guitar samples mixed with the soulful hums on Fire. The song was short and sweet at 2:21, but the simple and efficient beat mixed with Kid Cudi's redemptive chorus give it a special, haunting quality. 4th Dimension is more of a straightforward Kanye West song, but I'd put it on his greatest hits without a second thought. Once again, it's the Louis Prima sample undercut with demon laughter gives it this otherworldly edge that lyrics couldn't really achieve on their own. Many peope have contributed to this album, but there's a cleverness to its beatmaking that is entirely Kanye's. Dude just has a knack for making new soundscapes come to life.
Freeee, the sequel to Ye's Ghost Town, is probably the most ambitious song on the album, drawing inspiration from arena rock acts such as Led Zeppelin. It's almost a rock song. I like Reborn and Kids See Ghosts (the song) a little less. They serve their purpose, but don't have the same fuel-efficiency as the others and end up sounding complacent. KIDS SEE GHOSTS finished strong, though with Cudi Montage, which uses a Kurt Cobain sample, an idea that encapsulates the ghastly and weird feeling of the album very well. It's hip-hop alright, but it's unlike anything you've ever heard before.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is an achievement in beatmaking. The best minds in the business have worked at creating such a powerful and cohesive soundscape for this album, so Kanye can't take all the credit, but it takes an incredible amount of balls to release something so different. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a a ghatstly, elegiac work of fusion hip-hop that is incredibly difficult to forget. Some of its songs will jump at you aggressively, but it's the jaggedness and the melancholia that will stick with you and keep you coming back to it. It's creative and luxuriant like everything Kanye West touches, yet slickly underplayed. I hope there is more to come from that fruitful pairing.