On April 25, 2018, Kanye West tweeted this:
Free thinkers don't fear retaliation for your thoughts. The traditional thinkers are only using thoughts and words but they are in a mental prison. You are free. You've already won. Feel energized. Move in love not fear. Be afraid of nothing.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
At first look, this may seem like just some new age babble. After all, what is a free thinker?
However, when you examine what has happened in Kanye’s life over the past year or so, this statement, as inundated as it sounds, makes some sense. His mental state was in absolute shambles after his wife, Kim, was robbed in Paris in October 2016. Add that with the stress and exhaustion he was experiencing during the Saint Pablo Tour, and you’ve got a cavalcade of issues. It would make anybody want to curl up into the fetal position. For Kanye though, it was a lot more devastating.
As Kanye explained in an interview with Charlamagne:
“ I didn’t have me. I didn’t have my confidence. And so that superpower could never … like, if I was, like, homeless, any situation, you could take everything, you could Black Mirror me, you could put shit on the media and say, “Ye f*cked a goat,” da-da-da, all this type of sh*t, and you will not take my confidence away …”
Kanye West had lost his confidence. It’s almost impossible to think about the two being separated, but it was far from a fallacy. As we found out on ye, the thoughts of suicide were prevalent and that he felt as if he was in “the sunken place”. That’s why when he talks about being “free”, it does reign true. Still, Kanye doesn’t make life easy for himself.
An album like Kids See Ghosts, Kanye’s collaboration with fellow rapper Kid Cudi, makes sense when you put all of what happened to Kanye (and Cudi, for that matter) into context. This is an album about freedom and in a way, it feels like the album that both artists have been wanting to make for years.
Similarly to Daytona and ye, Kids See Ghosts is only seven tracks long and clocking in only 24 minutes. This format is risky, albeit effective if done correctly. It can be hard for an even the most capable artists to establish a presence and make poignant statements on an album that short. However, Kanye and Cudi get it done, and they do it in extraordinary fashion by exploring the deepest and darkest parts of their individual psyches.
Kanye and Cudi have always brought the best out of each other and Kids See Ghosts is no exception. This album is razor sharp from start to finish with the two playing off each other better than they ever have previously. The opener, “Feel the Love”, sees Cudi chanting out “I CAN STILL FEEL THE LOVE”, repeatedly alongside Kanye’s onomatopoeia of guns shooting. The beat on this track is very reminiscent of “Black Skinhead” off of Kanye’s 2013 album Yeezus.
Then we go to “Fire”, a song where the two artists discuss their failures and how people tend to harp on them instead of moving on with their own lives. Cudi makes references to the days where he would pray to God that all of his pain would go away, but instead, he had to persevere. He also says that “this is the package you ordered”, which reminded me of “Handle with Care” off his 2015 album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven.
On “Free” (or Ghost Town pt. 2), Kanye and Cudi really bring out this idea of mental freedom. Along with an excellent Ty Dolla Sign feature, They triumphantly proclaim over this absolutely booming beat that they are, *ahem*, “FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE”. This song is easily my favorite and you can’t help put on a smile when you hear them chant this. Sure, it may sound goofy, but the insane vocal layering and the way that their voices boom as they shout it is down-right incredible. It’s a wonderful and powerful statement that puts emphasis on the idea of being free, both physically and mentally.
After that, we have “Reborn”, which features one of the best verses Kanye has written this decade. It’s so unexpectedly raw and personal, that you almost don’t know how to react at first. The verse is a statement about Kanye’s dealings with anxiety and his recent antics on social media. He also talks about how even he gets ashamed of himself sometimes, which harkens back to his verse on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” off of Graduation.
Cudi comes in shortly after and finishes the track out with a powerful verse on acquiring peace. He says, “Peace is somethin’ that starts with me, with me. At times, wonder my purpose, easy then to feel worthless. But, peace is somethin’ that starts with me (with me, with me). Had so much on my mind, I didn’t know where to go. I’ve come a long way from them hauntin’ me”
As someone who has dealt with both depression and anxiety, the themes of “Reborn” resonated with me very easily. It’s a statement and honestly tear-inducing to hear Cudi sing about how he’s “moving forward. As a fan of his, seeing him go on this dark and treacherous journey and to finally see the light on the other side is nothing short of incredible.
The album wraps up with the self-titled track and “Cudi Montage”. The former is a lowkey cut and has a feature from the legendary Yasiin Bey, fka Mos Def. The latter sees Kanye sampling Kurt Cobain’s “Burn the Rain” and it fits Cudi’s lyrics about wanting to be saved from the pain he is feeling.
Overall, I think Kids See Ghost is a landmark release for both Kanye and Cudi. It takes the best qualities of both artists, the dense and expansive production of Kanye, and the relatability and dreamlike melodies of Kid Cudi. Its shows both artists balancing between vulnerable with the pressures of fame and the personal demons that both artists face. The result is a project that feels timeless and one that I’ll be listening to for the foreseeable future.