The story behind the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover

The story behind the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover

How Takashi Murakami transformed his painting Manji-Fuji into the perfect album cover for Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s joint project, KIDS SEE GHOSTS.

5 min read


The year is 2018. Beyoncé gave us Beychella. Meghan Markle married Prince Harry. Donald Trump became the first US President to meet a North Korean leader. NFT market giant, OpenSea was in its infancy. The world was waiting in anticipation for the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Along comes KIDS SEE GHOSTS – a brand new musical duo composed of Kid Cudi and Kanye West – with their eponymous debut album.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS animated show preview on YouTube, 2020

KIDS SEE GHOSTS was the third release from Kanye West’s Wyoming Sessions, following on the heels of the controversial album ye. On both ye and KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye opens up about his recent bipolar diagnosis. Teaming up with longtime collaborator and friend, Kid Cudi (the two have since had a public falling out) resulted in a more balanced perspective than that offered in ye. A Pitchfork review describes it as “an album about brokenness—thoughts fragmented, relationships ended, societal ties cut.” While Kanye was reckoning with his own mental health publicly, this was Cudi’s first album since going to rehab for depression. He had written to fans via Facebook in October 2016.

I am not at peace. I haven't been since you've known me. If I didn't come here, I would’ve done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life. Theres a ragin violent storm inside of my heart at all times.

The album was released on Friday, June 8, 2018, in Los Angeles through Wicked Awesome Records and GOOD Music, and distributed by Def Jam Recordings.

In a triumphant return, Kid Cudi hums and prays “on this road I find/these scars I left behind/heaven lift me up” over the marching beat of “Fire”.

Who designed the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover?

Capturing this feeling of freedom in isolation on the album cover was the task of world-famous Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami.

This was not the first time Kanye’s and Murakami’s paths had crossed. Murakami had previously designed the cover of Kanye’s third studio album, Graduation (2007), as well as animating the music video for the single “Good Life”.

Takashi Murakami's album cover art for Kanye West's Graduation, 2007

Times Nature, Takashi Murakami & Virgil Abloh, 2018

Kid Cudi wearing 18k gold Murakami-approved ‘Kiki’ chain designed by Ben Baller

Who is Takashi Murakami?

He might be a visual artist, but Takashi Murakami has made his mark on both the music and fashion industries too. Drake is among his collectors, he even name-drops him on Meek Mill’s Going Bad, boasting “lotta Murakami in the hallway.” Murakami had also worked with Louis Vuitton on a now iconic collaboration that reimagined the LV monogram. In short, he’s a household name and his commercial success is partly due to his ability to read and reinterpret mass media and culture. The KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover features artwork by Takashi Murakami who collaborated with ‘Ye on his Graduation cover alongside creating the animation for his “Good Morning” music video.

Murakami coined the term ‘superflat’ to describe his and some of his contemporaries’ aesthetic approach. Although it might be identified with Western pop art, Murakami’s theory of the Superflat style draws a connection from the two-dimensional imagery of the Edo period Japanese art to Japanese popular culture today. Anime and manga are major influences on his work particularly in his use of recurring characters. Murakami’s incorporation of both classical art and popular culture also flattens any distinction between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” art.

Although he is most famous for his flower works, Manji-Fuji (2000) is a quintessentially Murakami work. Inspired by Hokusai’s series, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, the great mountain looms in the background. It anchors the painting with the weight of its historical and religious significance in Japanese culture. Although it is a colour laser print, Murakami mimics the woodblock print style known as ukiyo-e. However, perched on a tree we find two of Murakami’s oval characters – one on top of the other, faces expressive and covered in eyes. The stark difference in colour makes the characters the focal point, while the symbol of old Japan fades into obscurity.

Takashi Murakami, Kid Cudi, and Virgil Abloh at Gagosian LA in 2016

Inspiration for KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover, Manji-Fuji, Takashi Murakami, 2001

What is the meaning behind the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover?

For the KIDS SEE GHOSTS album cover, acclaimed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami reimagined Manji-Fuji – imbuing it with new meaning nearly eighteen years later. The background comes alive with washes of pinks and blues that suggest a sunset, or perhaps a sunrise. This ambiguity is intentional and reflects the sonic mood of the album – where beginnings and endings blur.

The album cover transposes the original painting to another planet – one where the same rules of gravity don’t apply. The oval characters are unmoored and have floated towards the left of the cover. Two new characters have also appeared – a ghost balanced on top of what looks like a floating serpent cloud. They all look out of the cover, confronting the onlooker straight on – the intense stares challenge you to join them. If the Kanji script is anything to go by, join them in the “chaos”.

Mental illness can be terrifying and isolating to experience, but the album remains intensely hopeful with lyrics encouraging listeners to “keep moving forward.” KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a rich atmospheric exploration of what lies on the other side – “feelin' I'm out of my past life/died and came back twice/now I'm freeee.”

Kids See Ghosts vinyl playing in the Make-Ready studio

Go Deeper

A Man Named Scott (2021) is a documentary following the musical career of Kid Cudi.

Read the full Pitchfork review of KIDS SEE GHOSTS.

Keep up with the world of Takashi Murakami on Instagram and Twitter.



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