Kanye West has had a busy summer thus far, releasing three albums in three weeks. DAYTONA, a seven-track Pusha T album produced by West, and ye both presented their own set of problems: The music on DAYTONA was overshadowed by headlines about the controversial use of a photo of the late Whitney Houston’s bathroom and Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” diss track that called out Drake for being an absent father, a track that was not featured on the album. Meanwhile, ye’s recent release was met with great criticism, both for its unambitious barebone beats and questionable lyricism.
West finds his groove on the Kid Cudi collab KIDS SEE GHOSTS as the duo backs up fleshy verses with imaginative beats. The seven-track album opens with Kid Cudi’s hollowed-out voice echoing “I can still feel the love” on “Feel the Love,” a track that descends into the madness of West’s new interesting vocal style with a chorus that features the rapper chanting “Gat-gat, gat, ga-gat-ga-ga-gat” over a chest-pounding drum beat. It is almost comical to imagine West giving a live performance of the track, which could easily end up sounding more like an off-brand recreation of the infamous “gra-ta-ta” vine rather than the product of a well-established rapper’s genius.
Despite early blemishes, the album takes off with the explosive beat of “Fire,” which melds a militaristic tambourine sound with deep drum hits and intermingling flute. The intense build gives way to an a cappella ending where Kid Cudi croons “Heaven lift me up,” before a soft distorted electric guitar riff drowns out the rapper’s humming. “Fire” is authentically Kid Cudi and allows the rapper’s rock-infused hip-hop to overpower West’s tendencies toward electronic beats.
The duo follows up explosive drum beats with a pulsing bass-heavy track titled “4th Dimension.” The old-timey sound of a sample of Louis Prima’s jovial “What Will Santa Claus Say” sets an eerie tone for the hit. West and Cudi keep the song’s “Oh, oh, oh” refrain to produce a primal rallying call between the two verses. An evil laugh interlude creates a sinister opening for Cudi’s verse, which contains a line alluding to both the album’s title and the Offset and Metro Boomin collaboration “Ric Flair Drip”: “Kids see ghosts off the ropes, Ric Flair on your bitch.”
Grandiose vocals and a menacing rock beat collide to create the prominent track “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2).” In the first chorus, West makes an allusion to his controversial song “Lift Yourself” with the ad lib “scoop!”—“Lift Yourself” contains the ever-enigmatic “poopy-di-scoop” verse. Ty Dolla $ign also features on the track, weaving his voice in with the other two to create a magnetic montage. Singer Anthony Hamilton joins Ty Dolla $ign to deliver the piercing final prolonged lyric “I feel freeee” on the track.
“Reborn” finds a sound ironically reminiscent of Cudi’s earlier work: Enunciated moans drown out the steady piano and electronic drum digs as Cudi sings of perseverance with the lyric “Ain’t no stress on me Lord, I’m movin’ forward.”
Cudi and West certainly find themselves in the future on the following title track. A gyrating electronic beat carries the song through Cudi’s moaning refrains and West’s verse, which eclipses that of Cudi in both delivery and length. The veteran rapper seems to address criticism of his recent work on the track with the line: “Thought I’d be clever enough to give up while I’m ahead.”
“Cudi Montage” endows the short album with a melancholic conclusion. Kurt Cobain’s acoustic guitar riff from “Burn The Rain,” a song from the 2015 release Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, provides the a rustic juxtaposition to West’s electronic reworking. Cudi’s unique vocal range provides the heavenly “woah, woah” repetition during the track, but West provides the final verse for the album. West’s lyrics drip cynicism as he comments on mass incarceration: “All growin’ up in environment / Where doin’ crime the requirement / They send us off to prison for retirement.” West’s final line “Hopefully Alice Johnson will inspire men” comes at an almost too perfect time: Johnson is the woman Kim Kardashian went to the White House to ask Donald Trump to pardon for her drug trafficking sentence this week.
While West and Cudi present a strong collaboration on KIDS SEE GHOSTS, listeners are left to question whether West can play nice with others—his verses overpower those of Kid Cudi on many of the tracks. Kid Cudi counters with his rock roots but fails to outshine the controversy and cynicism of West.
Featured Image by G.O.O.D Music