“The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest. Today I seriously thought about killing you.” Perhaps the most subtly dramatic lines Kanye West has ever opened an album with? Either way, they immediately draw you into what proves to be an intense, 24-minute character study of one of the most fascinating provocateurs in entertainment, and perfectly encapsulate the central thoughts of its artist in ye, our seventh-favourite album of 2018 and Kanye West’s most intensely haunting and raw record to date.
Part of the five-week ‘Wyoming sessions’ recorded over the summer and produced by West (which also included fellow albums in our Top 50 Daytona and Kids See Ghosts), ye sees the highly divisive figure take centre stage and interrogate his state of mind and the controversy he caused following his tumultuous return to the public light in early 2018. It’s short (I’ve heard longer EPs) and stripped back (those expecting the grandiose production and lavish running time of records like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will be disappointed), but that simply serves to place Kanye West’s mind and thought processes under a microscope – to fascinating effect.
Each song in the seven-long tracklist progresses in a natural order, the confessional overview of mental health issues discussed in the opener ‘I Thought About Killing You’ leading naturally into West’s struggles with addiction to overcome depression in ‘Yikes’, and the liberation of fame and power that West expresses in ‘Ghost Town’ transitioning to the contrasting responsibility he feels for his daughter and his family in album-closer ‘Violent Crimes’. Throughout, we are guided through Kanye West’s headspace, not once taking an abrupt change in pace or direction. Everything deemed important by West is covered, from his fear of getting “Me-Too’d” in ‘Yikes’ to his wife Kim Kardashian “screamin’, say we ’bout to lose it all” following his appalling “‘Slavery a choice'” comments in ‘Wouldn’t Leave’, making for a refreshing change of pace from his normally grandiose, larger-than-life persona presented through his records.
But here’s the real kicker: it works. The production is never so bold as to take away from the lyricism, serving only to enhance the emotion – be it depression, fear or rage – covered in each track. It’s all just right, perfectly setting the scene for whatever aspect of Kanye that Kanye is about to describe to us next. This all comes to a head on ‘Ghost Town’, a liberating banger of a track portraying the feeling of invincibility that comes with fame – but also the way that fame can (and seemingly has, to West) erode your emotions and mental state leading to a feeling of numbness and isolation. It’s all perfectly carried by 070 Shake’s uncredited verse at the end, as she hauntingly echoes “We’re still the kids we used to be, yeah, yeah / I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free” over and over as the instrumentation slowly becomes more and more erratic and West is revealed as the broken, volatile man he is.
In our original review, Joe Williams described how with repeat listens, “ye reveals itself as a concise, introspective portrait of an artist in flux,” and I still agree with his statement. Although simply a snapshot of Kanye West as he was in May 2018 when he recorded the album, it remains a fascinating look into his psyche and a terrifically powerful discussion of fame, mental health and responsibility, even if not everything is covered in the album’s slight runtime that we would like (for all his rapping about how his past controversies affected him and his family, we still know little about exactly why he said the things he did or why his political leanings are the way they are). ye may not be the grand, bombastic album that many may have been hoping for, and fails to redeem Kanye West from his past controversies, but it contains some damn good music, and reveals that – though they may be surrounded by dark and erratic thoughts – Kanye West can still have some rather beautiful thoughts as well.
ye was released on 1st June via GOOD Music.