Kanye West pulls double duty this summer with solo album Ye and joint album with Kid Cudi Kids See Ghosts.
Kanye West, if nothing else, is a huge advocate for isolation. He’s cultivated a strong following from successfully existing on a separate plain from reality – Kanye being Kanye. So naturally, when he chucked deuces to today’s world of daily dumpster fires to record his album(s) in Wyoming in seclusion, he was going to miss a few things. Fast forward to his resurfacing: he announces his impressive slate of upcoming albums, wonders where the love is for President Trump, theorizes out loud how slavery was a choice on TMZ, confesses to getting liposuction, and tweets his remarkably basic Wikipedia rabbit holes, all under the guise of being a “free thinker.” There was practically no screening process for his reentry into reality – he went straight from soundlessly floating out on the edge of the universe to becoming the noisy center of it. People swore off Kanye for his endorsement of Trump and his total misreading of slavery, claiming they weren’t interested in what this new Kanye had in store for us musically. But that’s the Internet for you.
We should all know by now Kanye’s never one to filter his thoughts from private to public (yes, time’s have changed under Trump but so would someone like Kanye in tandem; It’s not all going to be pretty.) He just needs a readjustment period, as do we. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to cool off from the new Kanye’s dumpster fire hot takes, let’s take a closer look at his first offering of his self-imposed isolation, Ye.
Ye, which was probably the last to be completed of the five albums Kanye has in store for us this summer (for what it’s worth he’s 3/3 so far on making his dates), is easily the most incoherent. The album feels rushed even down to the cover art Kanye claims he photographed on his way to the listening party. West supporters will probably claim it to be another stroke of genius but it comes off as the ramblings of someone in the middle of a manic episode trying their hardest to convince you – and more importantly himself – that everything is fine. It’s too contrived. Ye is an audio representation of the meme with the cartoon mouse sitting at the table in a room on fire saying “I’m fine, I’m totally okay with this.” At points it’s harder to tell if he’s trying to convince the listener or himself he’s alright. It desperately misses that authentic Kanye bravado and confidence that made a lot of fans of his earlier work, which is unfortunate given his critical acclaim for his production and guest verse off the Pusha T album Daytona. It’s not that his well-publicized mental health issues detract from his music – it’s that he doesn’t seem to have a handle on how to coherently identify it. Perhaps that’s not his fault though.
Having said that, as with his previous eight projects, the production value is still there. Kanye picked up right where he left off with The Life of Pablo, attacking every track with a team of producers led by Mike Dean. Even though a lot of these don’t sound like hip-hop beats (or beats you should ever rap over) they’re still crisp. The second track “Yikes” is a perfect example of everything you want out of a Kanye song: Haunting synths over powerful drums with an altered 70’s soul sample. Classic Kanye, right? But then he’s gotta fuck it up by defending Russell Simmons’s many rape allegations and talking about how his bi-polar disorder is his super power. He follows this up on the next track “All Mine” by reminding us we all come from cum, rhyming that with outcome and income. Isolation sure is a helluva drug. I need a bit more nuance from a Kanye album. The best thing about Ye is it’s only 7 tracks.
Kanye wasn’t done though. He followed up Ye with a joint album with Kid Cudi, Kids See Ghosts. From the moment this album starts with Cudi’s signature croon, “I can still feel the love,” the listener is immediately immersed in Kanye and Cudi’s world. The first thing that jumps out at you is just how haunting the beats are, delivering you to a world most rappers wouldn’t dare let you inside. Kanye and Cudi collaborated with longtime cohorts Plain Pat and Dot da Genius on four out of the seven tracks. These guys really bring the best out of Cudi for whatever reason. You’d never think a person humming/moaning over eight tracks would sound so meaningful until you get to the end of “Cudi Montage.” Then you’re damn near in tears. This is also the happiest I’ve heard Kid Cudi since, well, ever. He’s had very well documented bouts with depression and suicidal thoughts and I for one am happy to see that he’s found his happy medium coping with his condition.
A big theme that connects both these albums – and 99% of all Kid Cudi music – is depression. This big difference with Kids See Ghosts is that it’s not trying to convince you all is well. There’s a lot more acceptance with mental health issues, which is refreshing compared to trying to keep them buried beneath too much bravado. Cudi is pretty much saying, “Hey this is my shitty mental health situation but fuck it, I’m gonna keep trucking – we don’t have time to be giving up”. There’s a lot to be said for this type of self-realization instead of constantly trying to fight it like West does on Ye. Kanye’s solo outing offers confusion while his joint effort with Cudi offers acceptance and hope, ensuring that life with depression is still a fulfilling one. As Cudi passionately repeats over and over again at the end of “Reborn”, “I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward.”
Cudi has spent his time in the darkness and still feels the love around him, while Kanye steals himself from the world in desperate search for it. While we’ve all benefitted musically from Kanye being Kanye, perhaps times have changed enough for him to realize that he doesn’t need to search alone. The key? More friends like John Legend and Cudi, less like Alex Jones.