Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS is both unapologetic and melodramatic, both raging and reflective: In short, it’s everything fans wanted. Competitive spirit drove West’s last collaborative effort, Watch the Throne with his mentor Jay-Z, but on this album, there is nothing but love. It’s a spiritual successor to a previously planned collaborative supergroup between Cudi, West and Pharrell Williams called “Child Rebel Soldier.” And though Williams is not credited in KIDS SEE GHOSTS, his influence is clear in the rhythmic focus of some songs.
Both Cudi and West play to their strengths. The former brings his signature alt-rock guitar and humming; the latter, Yeezus-era synths and Late Registration-era verses for an album that is both nostalgic and modern. In the past, West has often used Cudi’s voice to add warmth and emotion to his song; here, Cudi and his personal struggles take center stage. Loneliness is a theme; so is God. At the crossroads of these two themes is an album for the end times. On it, Cudi and West reassert their relevance with vulnerable cuts brimming with emotional sincerity.
For West, vulnerability takes the form of his manic aggression. That violent energy permeates the album, providing stark contrast to Cudi’s sad-boy caricature. This split is most pronounced on opener “Feel The Love.” Cudi’s pleaful desperation on the hook is palpable, accentuated by West’s sputtering, snarling scat. The spirit of the piece recalls West’s own “Black Skinhead,” while the instrumental interlude reminds of “On Sight.” Both nods suggest a deeper meaning: that to find peace, both artists must restrain the hedonism that constituted West’s “Yeezus” persona. Pusha T also makes an appearance, providing the third instance on a West album in which the opening verse is a guest artist’s. Here, he describes the debauchery to which West’s vocal riffing only alludes.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is also, as its title suggests, spine-chillingly spooky. The guitar samples invoke images of the Old West, and the odd synths and vocal chops scattered throughout echo early Gorillaz. The second track “Fire,” if not for what sounds like laser gunshots in the background, feels like a folk song, with its humming and tambourine pattern, punctuated occasionally by a cry of pain. Then, “4th Dimension” flips a Depression-era Christmas carol into an insidious banger. An otherworldly laugh midway through the song makes the track seem all the more unhinged. Though Cudi sounds rather robotic and uncomfortable on his verse here, West is entirely in his boastful element. Both tracks feel like modern work songs, approximating the characteristic call-and-response format in their refrains.
“4th Dimension” is only the beginning — throughout the album, West delivers his best lyrics in recent memory. On KIDS SEE GHOSTS, West flexes his lyrical prowess alongside a hook from Yasiin Bey, with whom he previously collaborated on The College Dropout. “Mr. West,” West’s persona from his first three albums, is certainly awake.
Between “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” and “Reborn,” there are two sequels on this album. The former more clearly ties “Ghost Town,” one of the best cuts from Ye, to West’s recent comments on “free thought.” The song has the same maximalism that makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy such an essential album. “Reborn,” while not explicitly a sequel, is clearly inspired by Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” both thematically and musically. Just like that song, “Reborn” dares to acknowledge the potholes along the road to success. This is the song for those who made memes about wanting an album of “just Kid Cudi humming for seven tracks.”
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is not the back-to-back power pop anthems that some were expecting from a Cudi-West collaboration, but the risks the duo took make for a well-rounded album on which each song is a cohesive musical idea. Hip-hop is often concerned with who is its current king, but, as Cudi asks, “What’s a crown to the clouds”?