Just two years ago, the hip hop community was taken aback after being informed of notable artists Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s struggle with mental health issues. As well-known figures who usually present themselves in a resilient and sometimes pompous light, their shared vulnerability was startling, but nonetheless welcomed. West and Cudi’s honesty created a space for conversation, and in doing so, aided efforts to end the stigma tightly associated with this invisible disability. While halfway through his album reveal for Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’, Cudi opened up over Facebook about his depression and suicidal urges which he was seeking help for in rehab. Just one month later, news of Kanye’s hospitalization for paranoia and depression surfaced every news channel. An outpouring of support was offered to both artists from fans, and others in the game including Chance the Rapper, and Fiasco who delivered a speech on the severe mental exhaustion performers face on a regular basis. Since 2016, the artists have taken antithetical approaches to their careers; Cudi has remained sequestered from the public while Kanye has stirred the pot with explicit support for Donald Trump, controversial remarks on slavery and most recently, his personal album release entitled ye.
Reminding us of the process that is mental illness, Kanye and Cudi collaborate on an album for the first time to release Kids See Ghosts- a cathartic, seven song record primarily centered on the pair’s ongoing health-related battles. Where Kanye triumphantly claims his bipolar disorder to be a “superpower” on album ye’s “Yikes,” Kids See Ghosts takes a more inward turn on the issue. As legends in their own right, the duo come together to create a fusion of emo rap unparalleled to anything of its kind.
The therapy session dives head first into Cudi chanting “I can still feel the love,” followed by a signature Pusha-T verse calling attention to his new album Daytona. The pulsating album intro entitled “Feel The Love” reflects the tumultuous relationship Kanye and Cudi have had over the course of several years. After Cudi left Kanye’s label GOOD music in 2013, the distancing culminated into a brief squabble where Cudi accused his mentor of only supporting him when convenient. With a bone to pick, Kanye claimed his protégé was undermining the role he played in the success of his career. Though the pair have had their fair share of beef, there is a sense of forgiveness implied in the lyrics, and in the choice to collaborate at all. The song is kicked up a notch with West’s aggressive grunts, resembling the sound of firing gun shots. In possibly alluding to the current state of violence in the world, the onomatopoeic blasts are contrasted by the positive reiteration of “love,” suggesting it holds more power over hate.
The album proceeds with “Fire”, an Andre 3000 produced track characterized by Cudi’s iconic hum, and continues with “4th Dimension”- a Louis Prima flip that is more of an echo to early day Ye. Many references are made towards religion and God in both tracks, suggesting their importance on both artists’ road to recovery. In the latter, Cudi makes reference to his turbulent past of drug use and depression in the lines “such a lost boy, caught up in the darkest I had.” The preceding track “Fire” discusses the pair’s failures and criticisms that have contributed to their unhappiness. In openly embracing the hate, the song feels like a sort self-accepting, therapeutic mantra.
The standout, and arguably the premise of the entire album, is the fifth and (significantly) longest song titled “Reborn.” The atmospheric track encompasses the overall theme of hardships and mental illnesses experienced by both men. Specifically, the repetitive hook, “I’m moving forward, keep moving forward,” reflects an attempt to let go of any harboring unhappiness Cudi and Kanye have been holding on to. As such, there is a sense of optimism revealed in this tune that balances out the more plaintive outlook taken by others on the album. Though “Freeee,” the sequel to “Ghost Town” (from ye), also voices a similar liberation from the past. The track is likely a continuation of the controversial statement West made regarding slavery being a choice. Above all, the album’s contrast of brokenness with feelings of rebirth and change are largely intentional. Following his release from rehab, Cudi claimed he felt “brand new”- an encounter that seems central to the heart of the album.
The record concludes with “Kids See Ghosts”, an animated track that deals with the topic of paranoia, and “Cudi Montage” which features an acoustic demo from Kurt Cobain called “Burn the Rain.” It is no coincidence that the Nirvana frontman who also dealt with mental illness was included on the album. For quite some time, discussion surrounding Cobain revolved around his rock star status, but recently his battle with bipolar disorder has been used to open up the conversation on mental illness. It seems fitting then that West and Cudi would credit his legacy in their album. Kids See Ghosts ends with a feeble murmur as an indication that the emotional turbulence has not not simply concluded. Though there is no fairy tale ending with mental illness, the album provides a creative articulation of the issue that does not dismiss its existence, but rather assumes authority over its presence.