There is a calmness to the debut album from Kids Sees Ghosts, the new collaboration between Kanye West and Cleveland, Ohio, rapper Kid Cudi. The former artist will take the lion’s share of the headlines around the project, given that it’s the third release he’s been deeply involved with this month – there was, of course, Kanye’s solo record, ‘ye’, and the Pusha T album ‘Daytona’, which he produced – but, actually, this is Cudi’s album through and through.
It’s characterised by the ethereal, low-key beats and off-kilter, barely in-tune singing that have been Cudi’s trademark since his emotional 2008 mixtape ‘A Kid Named Cudi’ influenced Kanye’s introspective and ice-cold ‘808s & Heartbreak’, which in turn influenced the likes of Drake and The Weeknd. This is the sound of Kanye and Cudi catching up with themselves. They have helped to shape a world in which rappers can lay bare their vulnerabilities and address issues such as mental health – a world that gave us Vic Mensa’s 2017 debut and saw Jay-Z return with ‘4.44’, a bald mea culpa that wilfully exposed his fragile masculinity – and here they unite to issue an almost uniquely meditative, self-accepting album.
The stand-out moment of ‘Kids See Ghosts’ occurs just past the mid-way point of the finale track, ‘Cudi Montage’. There’s a call-and-response between the lyrics “Lord shine your light on me” and backing vocals that implore, “Stay strong”, while a calming wash of synth ebbs away in the background. Another stand-out forms the chorus of ‘Freee (Ghost Town Pt.2’), which recycles a moment from the ‘ye’ track ‘Ghost Town’. On the original, emo rapper 070 Shake belts out the line “And nothing hurts any more / I feel kind of free” in the manner of a vintage soul singer; there is jubilant release. Here it sounds defiant: “Guess what, baby? I feel freeee!” Elsewhere on the album, lyrics allude to “pain” and being “lost”. The message is clear: it’s okay to not feel okay.
A seven-track album (it’s Kanye’s current obsession; both ‘ye’ and ‘Daytona’ ran to the same length) can hardly help but feel slight, though the brevity actually suits this collaborative record. It sounds, suitably, ghostly and supernatural – a brief glimpse into another world. On ‘Reborn’ – which rides a brilliant, brittle, staccato beat – the duo instructs us to “keep moving forward”. This, though, is the sound of two artists looking back over the vast distance they’ve travelled so far.