By Thomas Johnson, June 13 2018 —
On the uncharacteristically slapdash ye, Kanye West mused, “Screamed so loud, got no lungs. Hurt so bad, I go numb.” Eight years before, on his career-defining Man On The Moon II, Kid Cudi similarly murmured, “Life is like that. Beat me up and I’ll fight it right back.” It often seems the spectre of depression will never truly be in the two artists’ rearview.
Cudi and West have long been duelling fulcrums in hip-hop’s knotty conversation about mental health. The former’s struggles with depression and anxiety led to a paling limelight and increasingly dim critical reception, while the latter’s battles catapulted him to ubiquity and in the second half of his career commandeered the critical discourse of his music. Kids See Ghosts won’t be a career-defining record for either Cudi or Kanye. But despite its brevity and given the intimate subject matter, it may rank among their most cherished.
You could make the argument that Cudi has never sounded more comfortable than he does among Kids See Ghosts’s familiar production, and his reinvigoration is evident by his assertive bravado. His humming is warm and bass-heavy as ever, and while he’s never been a technically deft MC, he raps with a nimbleness that has eluded him since his earliest albums.
As for West, Kids See Ghosts seems to act as the catharsis that was supposed to be ye. He reminds us why we found him so endearing as a round-faced, Ralph Lauren wunderkind and why it often feels like we need to keep rooting for him, despite how hard he makes it. On “Reborn,” the centrepiece of Kids See Ghost’s slow-burning redemption, Kanye addresses the public conversation about his mental state: “I was off the meds, I was called insane / What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame.”
Kids See Ghosts was first teased in 2016, around the time both members experienced the darkest moments of their respective careers. By year’s end, both would receive psychiatric care. Neither has had a smooth ride since. But Kids See Ghosts is about neither the journey nor the destination, but the opportunity for both. As Cudi coos on “Reborn,” “Peace is something that starts with me.”