Ye is Kanye West’s eighth studio album and his shortest. It is the second installment of a scheduled quintet of seven song albums on which he serves as producer. Pusha-T’s magnum opus DAYTONA arrived last week, with Nas, Teyana Taylor and a Kanye-Kid Cudi collaboration still on the way. A lot of people are scratching their heads at each of the LPs only being sitcom length. Many may find this to be disastrous, but the beauty of it is we are getting thirty-five Kanye-produced records in a five-week span. Some feel that West is far removed from his glory days of being hailed as hip hop’s top innovator in music, but one thing many forget is that West has always considered himself a futurist—always looking to push new boundaries and reinvent himself. Some of music’s greatest artists have made careers off constantly recreating their sounds and looks. David Bowie, Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson, all pushed the envelope and had their projects shrouded in controversy. Proudly donning a Trump-autographed MAGA hat, saying slavery seemed like a choice, all a month before this album is beyond coincidental, but I think by now it’s obvious this is far from a stunt. In an effort to share his vision for the album, West chartered flights for 150 or so influencers to join him for a private, outdoor listening event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, alongside picturesque views complete with a campfire.
Since YEEZUS, it seems that Kanye has been taking the less is more approach. During an interview with radio host Big Boy, West stated that after the TMZ fiasco, he reworked the entire album. Not implying that the album was a rush job, but I think it’s safe to say his attention to detail isn’t as concentrated as it’s been in the past, such as on Late Registration or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The album kicks off with the eerie yet clever “I Thought About Killing You.” On it, Kanye speaks to his multiple personalities, starting off with Kanye saying to himself, “I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you, so…” He rambles on in spoken word over a slow build up, into a sped-up sample from PAN’s 2017 Mono No Aware ambient compilation. On tempo-shifting standout “YIKES,” Ye raps “Yeezy Yeezy trolling OD, ha! /Turn TMZ to Smack DVD, ha!” borrowing rapper Juvenile’s signature flow. Closing out the track taking ownership of his bi-polar disorder; “That’s my bipolar shit! / That’s my super power! / Ain’t no disability! / I’m a superhero!” To paint an even clearer picture of his mental state, West used an iPhone photo of Jackson Hole landscape with “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome” scribbled on it for the album cover. “Ghost Town,” another highlight, is a loaded track with vocals from John Legend, emo-rap up-and-comer 070 Shake (recent G.O.O.D. music signee), and Kid Cudi. West takes a backseat to the trio as he gargles off some half-assed thoughts. 070 holds her own, singing, “I put my hand on the stove, to see if I still bleed/And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” “All Mine” finds West delivering some of his cheesiest verses and one-liners to date. I just want to lower Kanye’s vocals and enjoy the chorus by Ty Dolla $ign & Jeremih. On “No Mistakes” we get our closest to the “old Kanye.” A clever vocal sample from Slick Rick blended with Uncle Charlie Wilson’s mellifluous voice and Kanye’s tongue-in-cheek humor.
This project is one huge contradiction. Full of equal parts self-loathing and narcissism, Kanye is pushing new bounds but I’m not sure if it is in the right direction. Saying that this album sucks is a reach, however calling it the worst in Kanye’s illustrious catalog is absolutely justifiable. Like Prince’s Around the World in a Day and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, will we look back saying “damn what the fuck was he thinking?!” or “wow he was really ahead of his time with that album.” This project was more like a therapy session for himself finding some type of liberation. In an interview with Charlamagne Tha God, Kanye said he doesn’t go to a therapist for his issues. On his sophomore album, Late Registration, he unknowingly foreshadowed events in his present life on the track “Bring Me Down,” rapping, “And I’mma look in the mirror if I need some help/ Y’all don’t speak from the heart, y’all frontin’/ Everybody feel a way about K but at least y’all feel something.” Years from now when you look back on this period in Kanye’s career, you’ll remember how you felt when Ye dropped.