Though it took a full decade before they finally, formally named their creative partnership, Kanye West and Kid Cudi have reigned over that same length of time as one of the most compelling duos in all of hip-hop. Kids See Ghosts, the name they chose for their pairing, which is also the name of their latest, seven track album, is just the latest step forward in an alliance that has shaped the sound of the entire genre going back to the release of Kanye’s polarizing, but hugely influential fourth album 808s & Heartbreak, advanced with Cudi’s Man On The Moon series, and kept alive through a smattering of different creative hook-ups through pretty much all of Kanye’s releases since then. It’s no wonder that of the three albums that Yeezy has unveiled from his Wyoming sessions that Kids See Ghosts is the most cohesive and well-executed.
Cudi and Ye met for the first time inside of a Virgin Megastore — for those born after 1995, this is an extinct brick and mortar record retailer — back in 2006 while the former was still looking to break out into the music field and the latter was riding high on the success of his multi-platinum album Late Registration. “I was looking at CDs, saw the gleam of a Jesus piece in the right side of my eye, looked up, and it was Kanye West,” he recalled to Spin. Cudi introduced himself and offered to share some of his music with Kanye, but he wasn’t interested at the time. For whatever reason, despite the rejection, he remained fixed about working with Yeezy. “I said, ‘We’ll be working together one day soon.’”
Cudi’s premonition came true in 2008 shortly after dropping his career-making single, the syrupy “Day ‘N’ Nite.” Kanye took notice, and ultimately signed him as one of the first acts to his label GOOD Music, then invited him out to Hawaii to help him assemble the music for Jay-Z’s upcoming album The Blueprint 3. It was evident from the jump that the two men had an undeniable chemistry in the studio, to the point that Kanye decided to keep some of the material that was meant for Jay’s record for his own upcoming project.
“When we did ‘Heartless,’ [Kanye] just stopped and said, ‘No,” Cudi said recalled back in 2014. “I was like, ‘No what?’ He was like, ‘No way. This is my record.’ I was like, ‘Come on man. Can we just finish the guy’s album man?’ He was like, ‘Nope. I’m doing an album.‘”
After the maximalist “throw everything including the kitchen sink” aesthetic of his last record Graduation, and with the devastating loss of his mother still fresh on his mind, Kanye was ready for a sonic swerve into darker and more contemplative vibe, and Cudi, with his minor-key hums was the perfect avatar to help him see that vision through. Two of the most soul-sucking tracks on the album “Welcome To Heartbreak,” and “Heartless” came from their shared creativity, with Kanye pouring out all of his pain and loneliness, especially on the former song — “chased the good life my whole life long / Look back on my life and my life gone / Where did I go wrong?” — over a simple drum and bass pattern while Cudi crooned the dizzying chorus.
It took quite a long time for the public and the critical elite to catch onto to the direction the two men were pursuing, but after a few years, and especially in the wake of the success Drake enjoyed by leaning into that ponder-your-entire-existence-while-wiped-out-at-three-in-the-morning aesthetic, 808s has emerged as one of the most influential albums of the 21st century. It was only the beginning.