The journey back from the sunken place of unchecked mental illness is long, uncertain, and unmapped. The path is littered with lost souls and all progress can be rescinded in a moment. The effort to remain present and forward-facing can cost the strongest man his entire reserve of will and power.
On KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye West and Kid Cudi come together for their first official joint project, and each brings his own version of this sunken journey.
Importantly, very importantly, they lie to either side of the most pivotal and crucial (and only concrete) phase: the transition from sunken to risen. To use a classic visualization, the sunken is still in the forest, unable to see a way out, dwarfed by trees, pursued by predators, untouched by light and sun. The risen are not yet out of the forest, but they’ve ascended high enough to begin to plot a plausible path out, and to feel the warm regenerative rays of the sun.
“Risen” Vs. “Sunken”: The Journey Out of Mental Illness
Cudi’s performance on “Reborn” is an excellent example of the “Risen” category. It may sound simple, with bars like “Keep movin’ forward”, but the sentiment and instruction in “I had my issues, ain’t that much I could do / Peace is somethin’ that starts with me” is indicative of the self-awareness required for a suffererer to begin to rise above the forest floor and gain perspective and understanding of their condition.
How Did Cudi Become Risen?
Cudi’s journey dates back all the way to age 13. Since, he battled depression and anxiety, culminating in a hospitalization in October 2016, after he checked himself in for “depression and suicidal urges”. He said “My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it”, before saying “I deserve to be at peace”.
Kanye’s verse on “Reborn” is sunken. He describes everyday tasks as really challenging (“very rarely do you catch me out”), confirms the loss of his once-teflon ego (“Y’all been tellin’ jokes that’s gon’ stress me out”) and even stares into the void of his mental anguish (“I want all the rain, I want all the pain”). He offers no solution or plan for recovery, and no real insight into why or how he came to be in such a mindstate. This is sunken; not yet able to see a clear path, or gain understanding.
How Did Kanye Become Sunken?
Just 2 months after Kid Cudi (October 2016), Kanye was taken to hospital too (December 2016), due to “temporary psychosis”. He was released soon after, but withdrew from public scrutiny for months. The lack of mental health content in his back catalogue could suggest this is his first experience with an acute health problem of this nature. His 2016 solo album The Life of Pablo backs this up: Only 6.7% of Ye’s bars on the record reference mental health, although 100% of them are from the “sunken” place. Kanye’s 2018 solo album ye is 18% mental health, and again, 100% sunken.
Kanye and Cudi’s Mental Health on KIDS SEE GHOSTS
This tracks the nature of every mental health reference on the album:
These numbers look skewed, but they almost perfectly align with the percentage of bars Cudi and Kanye each contributed to the project:
% of Bars Contributed to KSG:
Kanye – 38.5%
Cudi – 61.5%
One of the most intriguing collaborative dynamics in 2018 is the stark lack of interplay between Cudi and Kanye on KSG, especially given their fruitful and close creative relationship. Often on KSG their verses and contributions barely touch on any shared topic (“Fire”, “4th Dimension”, “Reborn”, “Kids See Ghosts”, “Cudi Montage”), and their voices rarely blend into one another in harmony. On the opening track, Cudi croons about seeing love through the fire and fog, whilst Kanye adds a dystopian tinge, violently repeating “brrrraaat”. At no point do they really connect, even on “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”, on which the refrain “I feel free” is repeated by both rappers. Cudi’s feels confident, strong, even immovable, whilst Kanye’s sounds almost manic, possibly linking with his bars about bipolar being a superpower at the end of solo track “Yikes”.
It makes for an enthralling and telling listen. Humans are all unique, and for Cudi and Kanye to retreat to their bubbles to write their verses about a shared topic independently of each other is almost life-affirming. If no two people are the same, why should Kanye and Cudi be in perfect harmony on KSG?
Here are the numbers proving this disconnect.
Kanye Vs. Kid Cudi: Sunken Vs. Risen on KSG
Based on the content of Kanye’s album ye, these numbers are unsurprising. Kanye’s “Risen” bars all come on “Freee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”, and they’re not clear-cut; as mentioned above, they may be referring to his outro on “yikes” about bipolar being a superpower.
The bulk of Kid Cudi’s “Sunken” bars come on final track “Cudi Montage”. His verse is depicts a person trapped below an immovable force, seeking external help for a crushing internal pressure. The “montage” in the title suggests Cudi has doubled back to a previous mindset, one he spends 108 bars on KSG challenging and changing, alone.
Alone is how Cudi overcame his demons. On “Reborn” he answers the verse on “Cudi Montage”, rapping “I had my issues, ain’t that much I could do / Peace is something that starts with me”. On his 2016 album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ this thought is central to the internal struggle between sunken and risen, there is no other entity or tangible thing responsible for this journey. If it exists in your mind, it will be beaten in your mind.
This is why Kanye and Cudi being so discordant on this record is jarring, but indicative of the frustration with the recovery process of a mental illness. If Cudi has the tools, the knowledge, the wisdom, and the life experience, and he is delivering it (108 bars of “risen”, which is only 3 bars less than Kanye delivers on the entirety of KSG), why does Kanye not connect with this? Why are their contributions so self-contained?
Again, Cudi says it best on “Reborn”: “Peace is something that starts with me”. It’s Kanye’s journey, just as it was Cudi’s journey. No-one can drag you along this path, if they could, they’d be the most sought-after people in the world. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in America in 2016, and the lost quality of life mental illness propagates is immense and immeasurable. The most bitter pill to swallow is: others can give you the tools, and some knowledge and awareness, but ultimately you are the only person capable of and responsible for recovery.
This is why the difference between “Sunken” and “Risen” is so critical. Awareness of a mental health issue begins the journey to recovery, but it is by no means “half the battle”. On the ground, in the forest, fighting ghosts, predators, unseen demons, a human can get lost in this battle for years, decades, even a lifetime. Every centimetre they rise above this brings more vision, more clarity, and more regenerative rays of sun. These are essential, and can be built on, just as Cudi has done so drastically in the past 2 years.
Let’s hope Kanye can rise too.