Kid Cudi has always felt like an unwilling protégé of Kanye West; for as much as his mentor values instant gratification (to the point that he’ll bus out every influencer in the L.A. rap media space to a listening session for a project he literally only finished minutes prior), Cudi has honorably maintained a tunnel vision for the fringe, often to a fault.
As impactful as his seminal work was, Cudi’s output since 2010’s Man on The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager has been spotty at best, indecipherable at worst. While the concurrent five releases genuinely attempted to build on the mythology of the “Man on The Moon” mantra, the Ohio native’s scatterbrain artistry merely perplexed even his core fans.
But in the wake of his mentor’s 41st birthday and aftermath of Ye’s hollow ravings, the collaborative Kids See Ghosts is the much-needed comeback arc not only for Cudi but for those who have chosen to stand by Yeezy during these turbulent times. The sonic narratives first introduced at the offset of their relationship are finally seen to a wholly satisfying close with the features and guest producers reading like a who’s who of the Good Music Family: there’s a singular rap verse from Pusha T to kick things off; Yasiin Bey grabs a hypnotic hook on the titular track; Mr. Hudson’s on the outro; and everyone from Mike Dean to Plain Pat find their way onto the boards. Healing the wounded is often a group effort, and as a group, these artists successfully manage to jumpstart the process of building up our battered soul.
In a post-Sandy Hook society, where each week’s episode of The Bachelorette is prefaced with a new school shooting, the world feels sick and the kids are seeing ghosts. And while Cudi and Ye don’t feign to have all the answers, they do confidently boast the mantras that have guided them thus far: “Heaven lift me up”; “Stay strong”; “Keep movin’ forward.” Following the apocalyptic intro, where the world literally threatens to collapse around Cudi’s inexplicable adherence to love, the following six tracks take special care in rebuilding our battered psyche.
Cudi’s naturally warm intonation has only wisened with time and his once-estranged self-doubt has gracefully transformed into something more somber and soulful. On “Reborn,” the album’s moving centerpiece, Cudi simply makes you feel as warm and vulnerable and seen as the best of his early work. Perhaps sensing the importance of this re-introduction for the Kid Named Cudi, there’s also an exactness with which Kanye carves out his verses, making for his most militant and focused turnout in ages. Careful not to waste a syllable, Ye uses the entirety of his airtime to wax poetic on the cyclic and inextricable nature of mental health, gun violence and the prison industrial complex. “They send us off to prison for retirement/Hopefully Alice Johnson will inspire men,” he raps on the rattling, Kurt Cobain inspired-closer, “Cudi Montage.”
The chemistry between Cudi and Ye feels battle tested. With Cudi playing the role once occupied by his own ego, Kanye’s music sounds freer than ever before. Together, these two studio wzrds have managed to produce something that is equal parts raw, honest, touching, spooky and ethereal.
We’re going to need more than seven tracks next time.