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Kids See Ghosts gives Kid Cudi and Kanye West fans a chance for a fresh start

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Kids See Ghosts album art by Takashi Murakami

Ten years ago, I can remember sitting around the halls of my high school, listening to the gossip and the sports arguments. Oddly enough, the accompanying images engrained in my mind from that time have more to do with the introduction of the iPod Touch and the iPhone than schoolwork. More than simply a new advancement in technology, these new Apple products signaled something else: a change in the way humans interact with music. With the introduction of these handheld devices, music came to the forefront of many Americans, as well as others throughout the world. While the original iPods started the revolution, it took the devices with HD screens to break through to the rest of the population. If you were lucky enough to own one at the time, then you know how easy it made listening to music. Rather than downloading and burning music to a CD or buying it on iTunes and physically connecting your iPod to your computer, we could buy, download, and share music anywhere to anyone. The resulting cultural movement knocked down dominoes for a decade, leading us to the music-infused life we live today. Today, we have greater access to music than we have ever had, bar none.

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One of the first albums I ever purchased and downloaded onto my iPod touch, perhaps the very first, was Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon.As it turns out, the Kid’s debut album happened to change my life more so than any other album in the history of Hip-Hop.

Growing up during the mid-to-late 2000s was a constant flurry of new music coupled with technological advances that seem simple now. The touch screen phone, the increase of data storage at low prices, and even the ability to customize ringtones on our Motorola Razrs were viewed as more important than politics and pop culture at the time. We became simply amazed at the new ways that our life form could interact with technology. This directly led to a reemergence of music into the mainstream. The new technology allowed us to listen to and expose ourselves to a higher volume of music while helping people find music they would otherwise never hear in their daily life.

I firmly believe that music will always be a positive influence on humans, as it helps us to make sense of and process the world we see and experience. Kid Cudi was that influence on me. Man on the Moon gave me the awareness I needed to have an honest conversation with myself. The conversation guided me through the early years of college, and gave me some sort of direction in the midst of probably the busiest time of our lives, the end of high school.

He changed the way I viewed life, but also how I interacted with my own consciousness. He allowed me to have an open conversation with myself about the reality of my emotions, rather than simply try to avoid them. I think it’s safe to say that each of you have felt this way about at least one artist in your music listening career. One is all it takes though, as I found out quickly.

The greatest attribute that first album had was it created hope. Cudi built hope for me and you — for our friends and our families. He taught us that every single one of us deals with life differently, and we all have our own struggles. But as humans, we can come together to recognize these mental differences, and perhaps take some positives from them. I wonder if Kid Cudi ever thought he would affect the lives of so many young people.

Hope is a powerful motivator. Perhaps the greatest encouragement tool we have. Look at religion. All of it is based on hope. A hope for something greater or for something more. Humans need hope. They need it to distract them from reality. They need it to calm their nerves. They need it to survive.

Snapping back to reality, we find ourselves in a vastly different world than we lived in all those years ago. The media seems to report on only bad acts, and everyone gets offended by words. This isn’t us. As Americans, our differences are what bond us together. It is trite to say, but if it’s true, it’s true.

As I find myself analyzing my own thoughts and the world around me more than ever, it’s only appropriate that Kid Cudi release a new album. It was time to hear from him again.

Kids See Ghosts, the newest album from GOOD music, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi, marched onto the scene early Friday morning by way of a live stream event. West, Cudi, friends, family, and others gathered around a bonfire to share the experience.

Kid Cudi and Kanye West have both been struggling with depression and anxiety over the last several years. Cudi has battled with these two emotional high-jackers throughout most of his life. His music has always been about recognizing these issues, talking about them, and then finding hope for the future.

Kids See Ghosts is the sequel to the story of the Man on the Moon.In this case, the sequel combines the previous epics rather than add to them. The story of Kids See Ghosts is the story of us. It’s an album about where we all are now. Years after our first battles with growing up and becoming adults, we find ourselves in a world vastly different from the one we inhabited a decade ago. We’re constantly having to reevaluate our priorities, our direction, our ambition, and our health. Music provides the spark our brains need to connect thoughts to emotions. This album marks not only a reawakening of sorts, but signals a new direction in our lives. This direction is built on hope as well as human interaction and empathy. No longer are we held captive by fear and uncertainty. No, West and Cudi make it clear that we are taking back control of our lives and creating new and beautiful works. Out with the hate, in with the love.

The journey Kids See Ghosts takes listeners on starts with a sound fans are all too familiar with: vocals sent from the stars. “Feel the Love” slowly builds on an eerie beat that has Kid Cudi belting out ‘Feel the Love’. Contrasting the vocals, Pusha T spews out lines about forgetting the haters and being proud of what we accomplish. The beat builds into an electronic-esque breakdown that jumpstarts an ad-libbed string of sounds from Kanye. This is where I thought the song would fit perfectly in one of Kanye’s other albums, Yeezus. The first time I listened through, I’ll admit I was thrown off by the intenseness of the song, but after additional listens, it fits. Kid Cudi, from the start, was comfortable in his element showing his fans he ‘felt the love’. While the song ends with an uplifting melody, I felt a sense of calmness, like I was experiencing the first chapter of a book.

A beautifully positioned transition leads us into another dark beat, “Fire”, but this one has a consistency to it. Kanye hops on the song explaining that no one truly knows what he has went through recently, and then Cudi drops in teasing the haters and demanding more from them. A simple, but somber guitar riff ends the shortest song on the album.

“4thDimension” begins with a sample from a 1936 song called “What Will Santa Claus Say?” by Louis Prima. In line with Kanye’s historical production tendencies, the sample creates a dynamic contrast between the old style singing and the new-style rapping Kanye goes in with. Accompanied by the sampled harmonization from Louis Prima, Kanye’s lyrics touch on a new ‘dimension’ and the future. Cudi pops in on the track with a head-banging rap that ends with Cudder mentioning Ric Flair and encouraging us all to go for our dreams. I have found these themes to be peppered throughout the album. Kanye and Cudi set out to create an album to tell their story. They use “4thDimension” as a metaphor for this fresh start.

After the previous upbeat tracks, we journey into “Freeee, Ghost Town pt. 2”, which takes its’ style and inspiration form WZRD, the rock project Kid Cudi attempted afterMan on the Moon. Sporting a choir-like chorus to back up Kid Cudi’s ‘I feel free’ outbursts, the song focuses in on our new-found awareness. The realization that we have overcame and now feel free brings out the best in Ty Dollar Sign as he backs up Kanye and Cudi’s sentiments.

At this point, the album goes from an intriguing artistic story to certified album of the year candidate, in the Hip-Hop genre. “Reborn” is the resurrection of Kid Cudi and the style that we all fell in love with a decade ago. Kid Cudi takes us back in time to the emotions we felt all those years ago. He pushes us to confront our old selves and reevaluate where we are today. Yet again, hope is the main motif, as Cudi and Kanye both focus on their struggles and moving forward. A lighthearted beat helps Cudi’s trance-inducing vocals take form. As Cudi mentions the absence of stress and chants to ‘keep moving forward’, Kanye eloquently and honestly raps about what his life has been like recently. From being the special guest over and over, to him staying in and avoiding people, the King of production gives us a piece of his soul. As if this wasn’t enough to get you moving, Kid Cudi comes in with a hook that could save the devil himself. While mentioning the issues he’s been through he says that ‘peace starts with me’, which is something we can all learn from. If you aren’t happy with yourself, you can’t be happy around others. Cudi finished off the lines with ‘at times wonder my purpose/easy then to feel worthless’, perhaps the most honest insight we have into Kid Cudi. The line rings true for me and many others I’m sure. How many nights have you stayed up late thinking about your place in this world? I know I have spent many nights dwelling on the questions which have no readily available answers. It’s only natural for humans to wonder about where they fit in the grand scheme of things. We must take that drive for purpose and create our own. Our purpose is to simply live.

“Reborn” will be the song that stands the test of time from this album. The combination of new Cudi with new Kanye is something special, and the emotions I feel from “Reborn” prove that claim.

A quirky, ethereal, but uplifting beat marks the beginning of the title track, “Kids See Ghosts”. Kid Cudi follows the album’s theme by telling the story of the ghosts that we all see. Not the physical ghosts, but all the thoughts we carry with us. Cudi takes control of his thoughts by telling them to stop moving, and transitions into the experience of ‘seeing the ghosts’ late at night. All of the problems and thoughts that trouble us late at night not only stick with us, but change us. This song is about realizing that we have the power to control where our thoughts take us. In one of Kanye’s better verses of late, his flow wins listeners over to end the title track.

The final track on Kids See Ghosts, “Cudi Montage”, is a massive commentary on the reality of life, but specifically violence and crime in black culture. We begin with a unique Kurt Cobain guitar riff from “Burn the Rain” teamed with a Cudi verse about darkness and reaching out of it. Quickly, he transitions back to his angelic vocals asking to be saved. Meanwhile, in the background, we hear ‘stay strong, save me Lord’ over and over. Then Kanye drops in with one of his greatest raps ever. The combination of his honest take on the culture of crime in black neighborhoods and music behind it creates a sobering experience for the listener. With Cudi’s spiritual hums providing a baseline for the track, Ye shows us what the reality of our world is. As he pays homage to Nas with his line about someone’s niece, Yeezus brings the album to a close with ‘Maybe Alice Johnson will inspire men”, a hopeful line in reference to the broken prison system and the woman Kim Kardashian championed for to receive clemency following a non-violent drug offense. The entire song brings a tough perspective to the forefront of our thoughts. Whether white or black, I think we can all agree that the duo has a solid grasp on our current cultural landscape. As the music fades and softens, I am left pondering the future and how we can make it better. Also, the extent to which music can truly change how we interact with the world around us.

With any new album, there will be skeptics. Kid Cudi and Kanye West certainly have them. However, it’s Kid Cudi that gets the brunt of these attacks because of the lack of consistency in his music. We can’t blame an artist for attempting projects that have significance to them, but we can criticize then. Cudi has dealt with his fair share of critics, myself included. I think Cudi was simply searching for his niche. His happiness.

Even though Kanye tends to be self-absorbed, he was the perfect artist to bring Cudi back to the music. Through high level production and his own artistic ability, Kanye marked the re-arrival of Yeezus and Cudder. While I would have liked to hear more rap from Cudi, I don’t have an inclination to throw stones.

Kids See Ghosts tells Kanye and Cudi’s story while maintaining enough musical prowess to go down as another anthem. It’s the anthem for all of us who lay awake at night.

We will have to see what comes later this year, but Kids See Ghosts is an immediate contender for Hip-Hop/Rap album of the year. I think the meaning behind it deserves to be recognized.

I say take the music at face value, but realize there is an overarching storyline that needs to be heard. Use what you can from the album, and don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not alone. We’re in this together.

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