We’ve only just reached the halfway mark of 2018 and, true to form, the self proclaimed “greatest rock star on the planet” has already spent a considerable amount of time in the public eye. Kanye West polarised his fanbase when he declared his support for President Donald Trump, evoking heated debate over all forms of media.
But this is a music website, not politics, so I’ll leave it at that, not least because so much has already been said from both sides.
As for Kanye West the musician, his eighth studio album, ‘Ye’ has followed suit in splitting opinions among his fanbase. An album so minimalistic that it only clocks in at twenty three minutes, and with album art in the form of a photo which, according to Kim Kardashian, was snapped by Kanye half an hour before the album’s launch party. Some thought it was a masterstroke from one of the great boundary pushers of our time. Others feel that given they waited three years for it, a little more could have been delivered.
Just one week later and Yeezy has put another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it album out. This time, he’s teamed up with protege and fellow Midwest rapper, Kid Cudi. Kanye has produced a number of Cudi’s albums, and likewise, Cudi has featured in a few of Kanye’s songs. Now they have teamed up to make music as joint lead artists.
Like ‘Ye’, ‘Kids See Ghosts’ is also a mere seven songs long. But that’s more than long enough for the listener to fully immerse themselves in the mood of the album. It has emerged in the midst of an era in which hip-hop has been shedding its classical macho image and artists are penning more introspective lyrics. Kendrick Lamar has spoken openly about his issues with depression on songs such as ‘u.’ Last year, Jay-Z banished his signature bravado when writing ‘4:44’, an album heavy in self examination and remorse.
‘Kids See Ghosts’ is a continuation of this trend. The tone is eerie and downbeat, the sound is stripped back and void of the grandeur that put Kanye’s music on the map, and the lyrics feature Kanye and Cudi laying their cards down on the table, talking to each other and the listener about their previous mistakes. However, a few of these songs carry an optimistic flip side. ‘Reborn’, in between the melancholy piano and synth string sections, has Cudi singing the main hook: I’m so reborn/Keep movin’ forward. ‘Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)’, which is a slow and powerful number, this time with Kanye on chorus singing duties, talks about the idea of freeing ones self from the expectations society places on you. It’s an album that regretfully acknowledges the past, but pridefully looks to the future.
Louis Prima’s ‘What Will Santa Do?’ is sampled at the start of ‘4th Dimension’, before brilliantly segueing into a dark, low end driven number, with creepy high pitched laughs punctuating the vibe. Cudi’s deadpan delivery is very much well suited to this one. ‘Fire’ features a beat which almost sounds similar to a psychedelia song from the 1960s, tambourine and all, with a marching militancy. The song is opened with Kanye proclaiming that I done proved myself/Back on that rulin’ myself. The title track is the closest the record has to a danceable song, with a funky drumbeat, but it still perpetuates that downtrodden sound. ‘Cudi Montage’ closes ‘Kids See Ghosts’ with a more classic Kanye sound, complete with auto tuned vocals, synth strings and hand clappy drumbeats.
This collaboration is a far cry from the grandiose energy of ‘Watch The Throne’ with Jay-Z. The production is raw, the latest in a succession of Kanye stripping back his sound further and further from the heights of magnum opus ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’ First and foremost he is an experimentalist, and now he’s covered the big sounds, he is focusing on smaller things. While Kanye and Cudi bounce off each other brilliantly, it does feel like this is nothing more than a side project. Two guys just getting together and having fun but not really intending on making a game changer. And on a personal level, I’m very much more a fan of hip-hop that is loud and energetic.
This record is definitely not what could be called an acquired taste however, as the songs are accessible. They don’t drag and linger, and are always to the point. The lyrical content, in future years, could be viewed as a relic from a period of self conscious, self aware rappers.
Rating outta ten: A solid six