Updated: Dec 26, 2018
You would be hard pressed to find an album opening as jarring as the one on ye. Upon my initial listening, I thought Kanye was rapping about murdering Kim Kardashian, his wife of the last four years. The eerie screams layered behind Kanye’s vocals did little to appease my angst. Watching Kim and Kanye parade through the crowd at Kanye’s release party, with “I Thought About Killing You” as the backing track was unsettling, even downright disturbing. Kanye is (presumably) rapping about killing his wife while they stride through a group of fashion insiders, a who's who of the Soundcloud rap world, and Kardashian associates? What is going on? Why is Kim standing by his side through this? (“Wouldn’t Leave” explains her loyalty through some half-baked press runs, but not murder threats). Is this not very unnerving for all those in attendance? As with many of Kanye’s public appearances, I had a lot of questions.
After more listens, contextualizing the song using the writing on the album cover (“I hate being bipolar, its awesome”), and Kanye’s realization of his superhuman abilities, gifted to him by his disorder, I understood the song to be about Kanye killing off his public persona. The song became almost instantly darker than I understood it to be previously. ye is Kanye West at his most vulnerable, revealing the bullet holes in his image for the world to see. As he rapped about on Pusha T’s “What Would Meek Do,” Kanye is done hiding his scars. And yet, ye might be Kanye’s weakest project to date. This isn’t saying much, as Kanye has four rap classics to his name, according to most, (I would argue for five). Much of the music sounds like leftovers from The Life of Pablo sessions. If not comparable by some of the cringeworthy lyrics, much of the production sounds very similar to Pablo. “Yikes” could have easily fit in on the Pablo tracklist, along with “No Mistakes” and "Wouldn't Leave." While sonically, Kanye has not evolved as much between albums as he has in the past, namely between My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, ye is still quite enjoyable, and has an incredible amount of replay value at just under 30 minutes. Because Kanye has set the bar so high with pervious releases, and usually plays the role of an innovator, or musical pioneer, ye fails to push boundaries.
While this boundary pushing is something I have come to expect from Kanye West, this critique is admittedly unfair, as I don’t expect an artist like Drake to challenge creative expectations on every album. Even though I hold Kanye’s creative ability in high regard, the Calabasas neighbors are widely considered to be at the top of the rap game, and I feel my expectations for the two should correspond with the positions they've earned. While I’ll likely praise Drake for making enjoyable music on his upcoming release, I’m more likely to critique Kanye for making music with an equal level of enjoyability, which is what I’m doing here.
Nonetheless, many of the shortcomings on ye exist side by side with the strengths of the album. Or as Kanye says on "I Thought About Killing You," "the most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest." Failure is one with success. High peaks and low valleys are pictured in the same scenic landscape. One of ye’s biggest weaknesses is that it leaves the listener with a thirst for more music, and more topics covered. Seven songs is just simply not enough run time after the turbulence Kanye caused in the weeks leading up to the release. Kanye’s line on “Wouldn’t Leave” about mentioning slavery on the TMZ show is not enough to reconcile his mindless vocalizations of incomprehensible free thought. Although I may be giving Kanye the benefit of the doubt in believing that his intentions were not to harm thousands of Americans, and that he may be speaking about a “mindset of being enslaved,” Kanye clearly sees no difference between “free thinking” and nonsensical rambling. More than that, he continuously neglects his position as a figurehead in pop culture, and as a role model to many. Luckily enough, paying attention to his actions since the Taylor Swift incident have dissuaded me from looking to Kanye for political views and exemplary behavior. While I wish Kanye would discontinue embarking on tangential rants that often result in the pain of fans, this is something I have come to expect from him, and I will continue to take his views with a grain of salt, considering that these opinions are usually publicized around the release of an album. In Kanye’s mind, all promotion is good promotion, and he might not be wrong. Upon the release of ye, all seven tracks hit the Billboard Top 100, and he secured his eighth number one album. While I’ve attempted to separate Kanye’s music from his actions, I’ve found it nearly impossible to accomplish. Kanye has always been one in the same with his music. “Runaway” is a little less impactful without knowing the ins and outs of Kanye’s relationship with Amber Rose. “New Slaves” loses a little impact when you fail to consider Kanye’s struggles with racism in the fashion world. Point being, Kanye’s creative output can not exist as a separate entity from his character. It just can’t.
Weirdly enough, ye can actually draw strength from brevity. I can listen to the album three times in just over an hour, allowing me to dissect each track, enjoying all the musical highs and lows. Comparatively speaking, I could listen to the Migos’s Culture II three times in a whopping six hours (or on repeat on a flight from San Francisco to Boston). The idea of this enormous task makes me tired just thinking about it. ye leaves me wanting more music, while simultaneously appreciating the length for its replay value. Kanye’s seven song experiment works well here, as there are no filler tracks on the record. Failure, is one with success.
Although Kanye has never been considered one of the best lyricists of all time, his performance has never been as poor as it is on ye. I constantly question what my reaction to Big Sean would be if he rapped half the things Kanye raps on this album. The jokes would never stop. And yet again, I begin to question my standards for Kanye. This time, it’s the opposite of my conundrum while comparing Drake and ‘Ye. This time I feel myself giving Kanye a pass for how corny his lyrics can be, because of his immortal status.
Luckily, throughout the project, Kanye brings stellar production to each track, dabbling in sounds from many different eras. Especially on “Yikes” (with help from Pierre Bourne and Apex Martin), Kanye continues to impress with his ability to adapt to current trends, while putting his own twist on them. “Hospital band a hundred bands, (expletive) a watch” is somehow the hardest line on the project, and simultaneously the most hilarious, with Kanye poking fun at current trends in Hip-Hop, like spending egregious amounts of money on jewelry.
Nonetheless, when Kanye has his stumbles, I wonder how his contemporaries have become more graceful with while Kanye’s lyrical abilities continue to regress. Jay Z’s most recent LP, 4:44, runs laps around ye in terms of thoughtfulness and lyrical prowess. Kanye’s lyrical missteps are only somewhat excusable, as result of his production, but sting nonetheless when becoming nostalgic about his rhyming skills of the last decade. Thinking about Kanye and Jay comparatively leaves me almost laughing at the idea of a Watch the Throne II at this point in both artists careers. Ye and Jay once nimbly traded bars on “Otis” with ease, naturally flowing off one another for three straight minutes. Now what would we get? Back and forth bars about "free thinking" on one end, and sage advice about investing money on the other? Comical.
Tangents aside, Kanye delivered the worst lyrical performance of his life on this project. And somehow, it’s not close to bad. If that’s not a testament to Kanye’s production skills, and his artist placement (Ty Dolla Sign sounds amazing all over this project) then I’m not sure what is. On ye, what Kanye lacks in lyrical excellence, he makes up for with production. What he lacks with only seven tracks, he makes up for with great replay value. While I’m more than happy with the outcome, I can’t help but wonder what the album would have been before he completely scrapped it after the TMZ incident. Part of me knows it would be better than ye. The other part of me knows that we should never hear it. It wouldn’t be authentic Kanye, and it would’ve been far from current. While I do wish we could get an album that was the product of more than a year of recording, I know that for his own good, Kanye needed this album to be in “real time”. He he needed it to be his current truth. If Kids See Ghosts is Kanye rekindling with his long lost sanity, ye is a compilation of the therapy sessions that got him there. We couldn’t have one without the other. And while I may be disappointed with the lack of cohesion in ye, I’m more than happy to hear it as a bridge to the freedom that comes with KSG, one of the strongest projects of the year.
Best Songs: "Yikes," "Ghost Town," "No Mistake"
Worst Songs: "Violent Crimes"
7 out of 10 Finches