“Reborn”: Kids See Ghosts’s Self-Titled Debut Navigates the Internal Journey of Mental Health

Mohith Subbarao
beats and thoughts
Published in
8 min readNov 10, 2019

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The idea of being reborn is fundamental to almost all major religions. In Christianity, one is reborn and starts a new life once they repent for their sins and profess a life for Jesus Christ. In Hinduism, people are literally reincarnated after they die, an experience known as Samsara — the cycle of life and death; this cycle repeats until one reaches Moksha, eternal salvation and peace with God. In Buddhism, people reach the enlightened state of Nirvana and are internally reborn after years or decades of dedicated meditation. Even for the non-religious, this idea of starting anew is profoundly encouraging, especially in times of prolonged darkness and hopelessness. Kanye West and Kid Cudi dive into this idea headfirst on “Reborn”, off their collaborative album Kids See Ghosts, a psychedelic, emotional, and spiritually uplifting anthem that chronicles the turbulence of mental illness and the rebirth that comes from finally rising out of that black hole.

Kanye and Kid Cudi lived in that black hole for a long time before 2018’s Kids See Ghosts.

2016 in particular was a trying time for both of these artists and friends. Kid Cudi admitted himself into rehab for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts — he posted a letter to Facebook sharing that he had not felt okay for a long time. In the same year, Kanye West was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalized for paranoia and hallucinations. Their friendship itself experienced tensions during this period as Kanye and Cudi exchanged criticisms at each other before quickly reconciling after a few weeks.

Within months, they had both disappeared from the spotlight.

After almost 2 years without much of a peep, they re-emerged and reunited as a collaborative supergroup Kids See Ghosts. Their self-titled debut shocked the world with its psychedelic rock and grunge influence along with its soul-baring lyrics about mental illness. After years of musical ups and downs, this album was heralded as a resounding and much-needed return to form for both artists.

Of the seven air-tight tracks, “Reborn” served as their unequivocal testimony for the spiritual trek from unrelenting pain to a glimmer of peace.

The song opens with haunting piano keys, an understated drum beat, and an atmospheric and psychedelic backing instrumentation. Kid Cudi brings this production to life with iconic and mind-blowing humming that is somehow both pain-ridden in its solemness yet deeply endearing in its tenderness. This song immediately feels immensely anthemic and otherworldly, as the vocals and instrumentation zap you into spiritual connection with the universal experience of every being that has ever had a chance to let out a passing breath on this planet.

With this mystical and magical mood set, Kid Cudi sings his heart out with his newfound and hard-earned mantra.

“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’s rich, warm, and slightly distorted vocals are entrenched with this complex mix of emotional exhaustion and optimistic perseverance. Cudi’s singing is drenched with character — a sense of someone withered and shocked by the amount of pain and sadness they have had to trudge through but somehow still hopeful of a life where the sun still comes out.

This mantra of “keep moving forward” becomes the thesis for the song and the album as a whole. While it is so naturally human to dwell on the past or wallow in our current pain, the only thing we can do is to keep moving forward. When we try to remember the statement that “this too shall pass”, we can have even the tiniest morsel of faith in putting one step in front of each other, again, again, and again. Enough “agains” and we may eventually find a sliver of light.

After another beautiful section of Kid Cudi’s humming that allows both the track and the listener to breathe calmly and fully, Kanye West bursts onto the track with a harrowing and heart-wrenching rap verse.

“I was off the chain, I was often drained / I was off the meds, I was called insane / What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame / I want all the rain, I want all the pain / I want all the smoke, I want all the blame”

With a laser-focused verse enriched with uncompromising honesty, Kanye discusses the pressures of dealing with his mental illness on the world stage — on twitter, in interviews, and throughout his art. By having the messiness of his mental illness documented and judged, Kanye admits that he often feels showered in pain. Instead of cowering, he instead embraces all the pain that comes, moving forward without fear into the darkness that is enveloping him. Yet these somewhat tongue-in-cheek lines reveal a deeper layer of concern, as humans can withstand only so much agony before they breakdown. While it is encouraging to hear Kanye embrace the track’s mantra, we can only hope that as we move forward, the unrelenting circumstances around us begin to soften.

Kid Cudi similarly peels back the layers of his mental health.

“I had my issues, ain’t that much I could do / Peace is somethin’ that starts with me (with me) / At times, wonder my purpose / Easy than to feel worthless / But, peace is somethin’ that starts with me (with me, with me)”

With a much gentler and more melodious delivery, Kid Cudi begins to accept the long-held philosophy that despite all our dreams of external rewards and validation, true peace of mind happens from within.

In our capitalistic and materialistic society, we are advertised that happiness and fulfillment comes from the external — good grades, great college, successful job. These accomplishments are not bad in it of itself, but problems arise when we find these external rewards synonymous with our own self-worth. Nothing external will ever completely fulfill us once and for all, and if we expect that to happen, we can end up more despondent and less happy than before we acquired that external goal.

These two verses ground us in the deep trenches of pain these artists have suffered through so as to never make the undeniable optimism of the chorus naive or condescending. By letting us into their hearts and minds, we realize they have the same fundamental problems we have — problems of belonging, of peace, and of purpose.

After Kid Cudi and Kanye West bravely put their mental illnesses front and center, the beat begins to slow down. The harsh piano keys soften. Choppy disc scratches begin to appear that act as musical buffers in Kid Cudi’s bridge — one that cycles between harrowing questions and hopeful answers.

“(Movin’ forward, movin’ forward, movin’ forward) / Movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward / Something was wrong (Keep movin’ forward) / Couldn’t hold on, why? (Keep movin’ forward) / So long (Keep movin’ forward) / Sit here in this storm (Keep movin’ forward) / Time goes on (Keep movin’ forward) / Really couldn’t find my way out (Keep movin’ forward) / Of the storm (Keep movin’ forward) / Which way do I go?”

With a delivery that is a soul-stirring blend of singing and rapping, Kid Cudi wrestles with himself throughout these lines about his difficulty in finding the light at the end of the tunnel after a lifetime of struggle. The beauty of this song is in its attempt to navigate life’s striking balance between darkness and light, and the bridge encapsulates that theme perfectly.

When we are drowning in pain, shame, sadness, and fear, this dark mindscape can become our new home. Enough time sleeping in those four walls and we can become scared to actually come out of the darkness. As we experience our own mental stockholm syndrome, we may wonder if we will ever get out of this storm.

And then we remember our mantra.

“I’m so — I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward (which way do I go?) / Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward (which way do I go?) / Ain’t no stress on me Lord, I’m movin’ forward (which way do I go?)”

The questions, confusions, and uncertainty that overwhelm Cudi in the bridge of the song slowly but surely start to fade to the background. The dark clouds begin to part as the main instrumentation rises back in all its glory in the final iteration of the chorus.

These dark clouds really did part for Kid Cudi and Kanye West, and this song was meant to be an honest and uplifting reflection of this transformation. In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Kid Cudi recounted this internal change.

“I was in a really bad place, and at the time, I felt like I was letting a lot of people down. It was really hard for me to even write that letter, but I needed to be honest with the kids. I needed to. I couldn’t live a lie. I couldn’t pretend to be happy…It was great when Kanye wanted to use [‘Reborn’], because it was perfect for both — we are both reborn after what we went through. I couldn’t have made a song like ‘Reborn’ until now, because I didn’t feel reborn yet.”

By revealing their deepest lows and working towards growth, Kids See Ghosts was able to discover that transformation was possible.

This anthemic call to action is the guiding force that elevates this epic of a song. It is a call that reminds us that everything we need in life is within us. This seemingly simple but excruciatingly difficult call to action is the core journey that the major religions and philosophies point to, one that is within. It’s a journey that implicitly states our external goals are secondary to the internal journey.

A simple mantra won’t cure us from our pain, but it can be the first step in moving us forward in a positive direction. We dust our shoulders off and begin to take the steps to find that inner peace. We go to therapy. We quit our vices. We nurture relationships. We reconnect with our interests. We explore spirituality. We prioritize our wellbeing. We let others apologize for their mistakes and we forgive them. We apologize for our own mistakes and learn to forgive ourselves too. And we do this process again. And again. And again.

And again.

Then one day we take stock of all the steps we have made. We look back and realize that we no longer recognize who we once were, as if we are now living in an alternate reality to the one we always knew. Our mental, physical, and emotional state bears no resemblance to what used to feel like a fixed norm. We are at first profoundly confused and even disturbingly unnerved by our lack of familiarity with our past self.

And then it dawns on us.

We’re reborn.

Photo Credit: Apple Music

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