“Kids see ghosts sometimes / Kids see ghosts sometimes / Kids see ghosts sometimes / Spirit (spirit, spirit, spirit) / Movin' around, just movin' around” —Yasiin Bey, “Kids See Ghosts”
Few things are as beautiful and nerve-wracking as experiencing an album and immediately feeling the need to write about it. I say “experiencing,” specifically, because certain records take root and develop lives outside of their tracklists. Listens take on new meaning. You’re unsure as to why, but play after play, and even when the actual music is a secondary thought to the world burgeoning around it by way of press and fan art, a resonant air rises to overtake you.
Focusing on each of the album’s compelling elements on and off wax led to dead ends and undercooked thoughts, which, if you write for a living, is the kiss of death. While I have wracked my brain daily since the album’s release on June 8, the record ballooned into a staple entity, haunting and nagging to the point that I had to make a conscious effort to not play the album. Uttering, “Alright, let me put on anything but KIDS SEE GHOSTS,” finally put the pieces together.
The album is so magnetic because, as its parts sum up, it becomes an all-consuming entity. The album is the spirit wafting through the hollows of monotonous and eventful days alike. Upon first pass, KIDS SEE GHOSTS had the aura of something special but lacked immediate bite. A ghastly wonderland, when the humming and raps came to a close, KIDS SEE GHOSTS felt more like an afterimage than a body of work to hold and live with.
Psychedelic rock influences be damned, the album’s teeth were there and gone with every Kanye West “grat,” but instant gratification is nothing in the face of an album planting seeds in the greater sphere of hip-hop culture.
Overnight, an impressive crop of inventive and arresting fan art for KIDS SEE GHOSTS flooded social media. My gut was right, of course, the album was resonant and moving, and seeing the outpouring of creative energy it summoned moved me to once again press play. Sparks were not flying per se, but the record was gaining traction. Think of the fan art as the Ouija board, and I the trepidatious listener hoping to move the planchette over to “yes” and sink into the caverns of the album.
It’s near-impossible to take in images of Kid Cudi and Kanye exhaling ghosts of themselves and of spirits moments away from devouring Kanye’s signature bear and Cudi’s moon-man persona, and not go digging for meaning. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a sonic treat without question, but the world cobbling together outside of the album proper is the hook. Which begs the question: does the album itself just not stack up? Of course not. The album is the fuel and the fire.
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“I'm so—I’m so reborn, I'm movin' forward / Keep movin’ forward, keep movin' forward / Ain't no stress on me Lord, I'm movin' forward / Keep movin' forward, keep movin' forward” —Kid Cudi, “Reborn”
Content-wise, KIDS SEE GHOSTS seems tailored for me. The record makes a conscious effort to do battle with and best personal demons, and coming from the mouths of two men who publicly struggle with mental illness, each beam of optimism on this record feels crucial. Like many who found “Reborn” to be a light, I found great catharsis and closure in hearing Kid Cudi moan and hum out the sum of his healing. Amidst the chaos, there is even solace in Kanye’s admissions of growth and painlessness on “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2).”
These moments of healing peppered throughout the album ranged from innocuous to cleansing, and because of that vast range, I struggled to find my footing. Leaving the album on repeat, I scrolled through countless reviews, Twitter takes, and personal essays, enrapt by the way these songs were being discussed as everything from lackluster attempts at relevancy to long-awaited returns to form, to well-to-do rap songs, to rap’s answer to all of society’s woes. Only a handful of acts could elicit such a non-consensus.
For each piece read, I opened two more, and all the while the record kept spinning. This storm of reaction and contradiction was an essential element for the mythos of the album. Ever the over-thinker, while I poured hours into a search for meaning over feeling, the album was quietly doing the legwork in the background, until KIDS SEE GHOSTS and the universe it so effortlessly spun became my unavoidable foreground.
The seven-track format is a key player here, too. It is all the easier to commit to a 20-minute album three times than a 60-minute album any number of times, no matter how good the music. The constant cycling and familiar warmth of Cudi’s hums give listeners the sense that they’ve heard this album before, that they know all the words intrinsically. Along with an experimental and hypnotic sonic odyssey, the format of KIDS SEE GHOSTS delivers the enveloping comfort of belonging. When you feel you’ve found your place in an album, there’s no impetus to shut it off.
Where comfort could easily breed a lull, KIDS SEE GHOSTS manages to evolve before our eyes. “Cudi Montage” bathes us in a cleansing lightness that informs subsequent listens. The howling creep of Pusha-T’s opening verse on “Feel the Love,” Kanye’s emphatic gun sounds, and Kid Cudi’s of-the-soil humming carries a new, spiritual air as the album feeds meaning and atmosphere into itself. Compound this upward of 50 times, and you’ve got yourself an earworm that hits the heart.
In 2018, no album is simply an album in the sense that playing the music no longer communicates the full atmosphere or message of the record. Album rollouts are getting more complex, disastrous, and engaging. Music videos and feature films have no known differentiators. The externals are now working in unison with the music better than ever, and with the accessibility of Tumblr and Instagram, fans can contribute to the world-building of their favorite albums en masse.
At the end of a 12-day search—eons in the current music climate—for KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ teeth, for the singular reason why the album stuck with me, the question, of course, became the answer. Any record that demands a double-take, that inspires a creative and sparks conversation, is a record with a mythos larger than itself. That’s the hook.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a potent reminder that sometimes you fall in love with an album, and other times you free fall into an album's universe.