I’m so exhausted. The last four years each had a Kendrick Lamar release. Drake put out More Life like, yesterday, and there’s another on the way. When Kanye teased new music earlier this year, I moaned like I’d gotten a letter for jury duty. Details emerged about there being not one, but five Kanye-related releases. Just when we had a chance to feel out the independent rap game, we get thrown back into the fire. There’s no breaks in hip hop right now.
I’m part of the problem, here. Daytona and ye arrived, each of which are sprawling and cumbersome, but aggressively difficult to put down. Although there’s many up-and-comers I’m curious to delve into, I’m shelving all of it this summer so I can get the most out of Kanye. My headphones are fully booked.
Then, Kids See Ghosts arrived this past Friday. I gather into a listening room with some friends and we take in its 23 minutes without distraction. Our first takeaway is that Kid Cudi, who’s always been a better singer than Kanye, is on the top of his game. The beat on '4th Dimension' is classic Man on the Moon shit, with Kanye as youthful as ever. Cudi stays in his feelings, taking the lion’s share of the emotional baggage so there’s little left for Kanye. It’s a refreshing balance.
This interplay between them makes KSG the most exuberant and creative-sounding project these two have put out in years. It isn’t a concern if they’re better than their recent projects. All that’s really important is that this record takes risks without spazzing the news; and that we get to coolly rearrange the way we usually listen to a G.O.O.D. Music release.
You wouldn’t guess this is the case while Pusha T cameos the album’s intro verse on 'Feel The Love.' But, the bars end quickly and Kanye enters with a vocal solo, treating the microphone like a snare drum in a furious future scat. This moment makes the following choruses from Cudi sound angelic in the wake of Ye’s manic vocalizations. Beats straight out the Yeezus sessions play out the track’s final moments, and the head-scratchers are only beginning.
Kids See Ghosts, although the exact length of the other Wyoming releases, is by far the longest and stuffiest. 'Feel The Love' and 'Cudi Montage' are both Pandora’s Boxes, successfully stacking soulful vocals and distorted guitar samples. The fact that bars show up in these songs at all is the cherry on top. The Life of Pablo’s lyric book would have killed the highs on 'Cudi Montage,' but Kanye instead spits his most grounded verse of 2018: 'All growin up in the environment/where doing crime is the requirement/they send us off to prison for retirement.' After this rapid-fire lamentation, we’re left with gorgeously layered Cudi and Ty Dolla $ign hooks that buzz in your head long after the song ends; as if Cudi’s line 'Both sides lose someone/somebody die, somebody go to jail' weren’t a potent enough lyric to give the project resonance.
There are dancehall moments as well on 'Freeee,' a track that acts as the album’s centerpiece and the sequel to ye standout 'Ghost Town.' Here, the themes of invincibility are a celebration; the extra 'eee' sounds in the title dragging out through reverb heaven. Though the album teases bits of pain throughout its psychedelic set of Flaming Lips-inspired pop pastiche, 'Freeee' feels incongruent to more foreboding tracks like 'Reborn.' This is also a good thing. As evidenced by the cackling vocals mid-’4th Dimension,’ KSG is a fun house of sound, lucidity, and exploration. Neither of these rappers have been able to touch anything simplistic in a long time, and the record comes across as them trying brevity out after an extended break despite the scattershot sounds.
Unpacked individually, there’s a lot to love about each track and a laundry list of potential inspirations. Like Pablo and its ability to literally and figuratively change its meaning, KSG will morph as time wears on. The cover art is evidence: Bright blues and oranges coalesce around childlike ghosts, like little battles Cudi and Kanye have to overcome before witnessing the sun rise. “Ain’t no stress on me, Lord/I’m moving forward,” says Cudi on “Reborn,” only hinting at the painful moments that Kanye details in the verse.
I should have seen it coming that short album lengths were a red herring for Kanye West. There was little chance the Wyoming series was going to be anything less than miles deep even at Daytona’s suggestion that things be more watertight. Regardless, I’m very happy to be enjoying the record so much so early in its existence, an anomaly in Kanye/Cudi world not seen since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Man On The Moon. I’ve exchanged my jaded outlook on rap with one completely distracted over Kids See Ghosts’ puzzling set of tunes. I could continue apologizing to the indie rappers not getting love at the moment, but I’ve got some listening to do first.