You may not want to like it, but ye is an engaging look into Kanye's current psyche.
It was a much, MUCH simpler time when Kanye West‘s biggest controversy – of which there have been many – was disrupting Taylor Swift‘s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. In recent months, the narcissistic rapper has endorsed President Donald Trump for his “dragon energy”, brazenly donned the MAGA cap himself and, most astonishingly, voiced his opinions on 400 years of slavery being a “choice.” West has predictably alienated a significant chunk of his fan base with these remarks and yet, because of how idiosyncratic (/unstable) the man has proved to be as a celebrity and artist, the temptation to listen to his latest project remains irresistible.
On first inspection, West’s eighth studio album ye seems remarkably slapdash. The cover art, an admittedly beautiful still of an idyllic mountain landscape, was taken by West on the way to the listening party for the record – just hours before its actual release. There’s only seven tracks on the album, overall sitting at under twenty-five minutes in length – this as part of a five-week summer roll-out of seven-track albums by Kanye’s label GOOD Music, which was kick-started by Pusha T‘s stellar DAYTONA. With repeat listens however, ye reveals itself as a concise, introspective portrait of an artist in flux. It lacks the ‘event’ quality of his previous releases – especially being a far cry from his epic magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – but in its slightness it acts as a very specific, urgent expression of where West is in this exact moment of his life, addressing his family, struggles with mental illness (‘I hate being Bi-Polar, it’s awesome,’ scribbled on the cover) and, only partially, the uproar he’s created in the media. The closest ye gets to referencing Trump is a knowing line on ‘All Mine’: “I could have Naomi Campbell, and still might want me a Stormy Daniels.”
The opening track, ‘I Thought About Killing You’, conveys the conflict West has between the different aspects of his personality – which serves as a through line on the album. His monologue is frank, disturbing, and sets an essentially ominous tone for what’s to follow. The production on ye is a fluid, surprisingly cohesive mix of sounds from previous records: most prominently, the electronica of 808s & Heartbreak and the industrial hip-hop of Yeezus. ‘Yikes’ in particular feels very Yeezus – it’s a rousing, pounding, self-congratulatory anthem where West goes hard. But he also has a sensitive side. ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ centres on his marriage with Kim Kardashian, punctuated by an angelic hook from PARTYNEXTDOOR, and ‘No Mistakes’ is unabashedly romantic. The standout though, by quite some way, is ‘Ghost Town’. It’s peak Kanye. Implementing his trademark old-school sampling and a killer electric guitar, West shares the track with guest features from Kid Cudi and newcomer 070 Shake. 070 Shake’s outro is eerie and hauntingly beautiful, singing “I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed; and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” It’s sonic bliss, the best two minutes on the entire record.
‘Violent Crimes’ closes ye and, whilst a perfectly satisfying composition, it signals the frustrating immaturity of Kanye’s values. The track concerns West’s daughter North, and how Kanye has only started to appreciate women as anything other than sexual objects since her birth. Rooted in patriarchal thought, it’s West being as honest as always – but it becomes a bit creepy, overbearing, as he preemptively enforces what his daughter should and shouldn’t do in the future (“Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates; just play piano and stick to karate”). It leaves perhaps the perfect note for which to conclude ye: Kanye West may be a bit of an ass, even a dangerous individual in his heedless blustering, but he can still make great music.
ye is available now via GOOD Music.