In the mid-’90s RZA, leader of the Wu-Tang Clan and one of Kanye West’s biggest influences, produced five albums for Wu-Tang members by himself, an intense process where “I didn’t come outside, didn’t have too many girl relations, didn’t even enjoy the shit. I just stayed in the basement. Hours and hours and days and days. Turkey burgers and blunts”.
West presumably had this prolific spurt in mind when he decided to work on five albums at once, and Kids See Ghosts comes in the middle of a series that has already given us an exhilarating, essential Pusha T album and a patchy new release from the man himself.
Kid Cudi has struggled with indulgence in the past few years, and West’s preferred seven-track format gives the record a discipline that Cudi’s last album had very little of. The rock influence of his recent projects remains though, in the proggy beat of Fire, the Kurt Cobain guitar sample of Cudi Montage and the explosive backing of Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt 2). The latter is the album’s highlight, featuring a powerful hook (“Nothing hurts me anymore / guess what, baby? I feel freeee”) and delicious harmonies by Ty Dolla $ign.
West’s verses keep away from the Trump-related material that have been filling headlines, focusing instead on his mental state (Reborn) and vicious cycles of crime (Cudi Montage) or scatting in a performance that sounds like Lift Yourself meets Desiigner (Feel The Love). Cudi is an effective foil for this, singing and rapping lyrics that are mostly moody and introspective. Reborn shows him in a more indulgent mode, with the longest song of the album dominated by an overly repetitive hook, but he keeps those impulses in check for most of the record.
The guests are well-picked and serve their respective tracks in contrasting ways. Pusha T’s fiery lyrics place themselves firmly at the centre of Feel The Love’s loose structure, while Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, is a very unassuming presence in the album’s title track with enigmatic lines about “stability without stasis / spaces and places”. Mr Hudson’s voice brings a message of perseverance, with beautiful processing giving it an unhuman quality.
Cudi has been conceptually minded in his past releases, with his two Man On The Moon records broken into five acts each, but the brevity of Kids See Ghosts does not allow any real narrative to develop. Nor perhaps did West’s work ethic, as some productions from the now infamous Jackson’s Hole in Wyoming were presumably created first and assigned later. The most obvious example of this is 4th Dimension, as its heavy bass and swing sample could have worked equally well on Daytona, Ye, or even Nas’ upcoming album.
The hasty assembling of the album lends it a rawness that the others in this series (so far) share, and this occasionally results in songs that feel underdeveloped. Fire seems to stumble into a verse that ends before it really begins, and after one chorus it breaks into a completely unrelated outro. With production as nice as it is, the track deserved more, but such a scattershot approach seems to be West’s new modus operandi.
Kids See Ghosts overall is a good album, and leaves the listener with a much better impression than last week’s Ye and 2016’s Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’, though it can be a frustrating listen. One wonders how much better both projects could have been if the two had simply worked a little longer and focused a little more, but the vibes are there anyway.