Just a week after Kanye West’s highly-personal album Ye, the third in GOOD Music’s “Surgical Summer” series has dropped, and it has made a big impact in a short time. For Daytona, the attention ended up being focused around the beef between Pusha T and Drake, rather than the quality of the album. Ye also seemed to be drowned in the mire of outside attention given Kanye’s recent controversies. It also did not help that it was largely seen as an underwhelming project for someone like Kanye West (some have even called it his worst album). On the other hand, Kids See Ghosts has managed to garner attention around itself as a great album, even without the stories and controversies around the others. The album has captured a huge audience very quickly, with many claiming it is the best project of the series thus far, by far. And it is not hard to hear why. Kids See Ghosts, an album by the Kanye West and Kid Cudi collaboration which goes by the same name, sounds like the most fun either have had making music. The music sometimes just sounds like all the collaborators are playing around with the crazy ideas. I can just imagine Kanye in the studio during the recording of album opener “Feel the Love” saying “hey, lemme try something” before he bursts off in his machine-gun rattle that brings to mind some of the more dynamic entries of M.I.A.’s career.
In fact, it is worth mentioning how much this album channels a psychedelic texture and timbre, making all the songs sound thick while not being so over-the-top that it takes away from each track’s individual strengths. Perhaps appropriately, this psychedelic high reaches its pinnacle on the track “4th Dimension” as a warped sample from Louis Prima’s “What Will Santa Claus Say?” both makes the track weird and exactly what it needs to be as it goes back and forth from goofy, vulgar jokes to references to people being hung from trees. Really, this is an example of an album that starts perfectly with a moment that lets the listen know what kind of craziness to expect (Kanye West’s a capella gun sounds in “Feel the Love”), delivers on it in full without forgetting to keep it fun and even meaningful (the follow-up to Ye’s “Ghost Town” in “Freeee” is beautiful but still fits in with the overall aesthetic), and grows only seems to grow in quality as it goes on (the penultimate track, “Kids See Ghosts,” is my personal favorite and an incredible addition to the long-standing tradition of “children see what adults cannot” in creative works).
Furthermore, Kids See Ghosts is the dictionary definition of “all killer, no filler” but also “bigger than itself.” If Daytona by Pusha T had one flaw, it was that there was not as much depth beneath his flowing lyrics as there could have been, though the music was so engrossing to listen to that it only bothered me in hindsight. If Ye’s problems were boiled down to one thing, it was that it just didn’t work as album despite how powerful several of the individual tracks were (“I Thought About Killing You” will likely be one of my favorite’s for the entire year, and “Ghost Town” is amazing as well), which made listening to it as a complete album be a less than stellar experience. I bring this up because Kids See Ghosts suffers from none of these problems. “Feel the Love” is an appropriately jarring opening track. “Fire” has a dynamic blues guitar riff paired with humming in the background that gives the track a cool, western feel. “4th Dimension” is an example of excellent sample use that is perfectly supported by what the artists rap over the top of it. “Freee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” pulls off the uplifting angle with palpable fun thanks to amazing vocals out of Kid Cudi and Ty Dolla $ign. “Reborn” follows up its predecessor with similar optimism delivered with full conviction. “Kids See Ghosts” contains weird synths in the background, unconventional and personal lyrics, but delivers them with enough restraint that all the oddities manage to still fit the smooth, pleasant experience it attempts to be. And, finally, “Cudi Montage” builds an emotional closer around the brilliant idea of sampling “Burn the Rain” by Kurt Cobain, a choice that by itself lends more weight to the song and even fits in with the album’s images of children, freedom, and ghosts.
I do want to make sure that I mention, though, that Kids See Ghosts was a bit of a grower for me. I did not see what was so good about it on my first listen, but on the second found it much more compelling. By the third, I was practically glowing at how much sheer enjoyment I had from start to finish. However, I do not know that this experience is universal, since, for others, I have noticed that it has been a bit more immediate. Either way, I ended up loving it most out of the three Kanye-related projects of 2018 that I have heard so far, and I will be pleasantly surprised if any rap album surpasses it this year.