If you thought Kanye West was controversial back in 2005, when he asserted on national television that ‘George Bush does not care about black people’, think again. West’s recent claims make this decision seem about as contentious as his proclamation that he makes ‘awesome decisions in bike stores!!!’, and his newfound status as unpopular opinion-haver has resulted in some pretty amusing cognitive dissonance. The professional sound-describers over at Pitchfork did their best to surmount this, eschewing analysis even more than usual to call Ye ‘thoroughly, inexhaustibly boring’ while ascribing the record a 7⁄10 rating.
West is arguably even more conflicted than many of his followers, pondering his detachment from widely-held societal views on Ye’s opening track (I Thought About Killing You). Unfortunately, he soon substitutes exposition for repetition, and the stilted spoken parts which attempt to expound some of the more interesting ideas fall flat, before an unsurprisingly discursive rap ensues. This lack of focus pervades into other tracks - No Mistakes features a chorus about Kanye’s love for his wife alongside a verse about pretty much everything else, which are joined together over a tame, pedestrian beat. I’m not saying that Kanye contributed his best beats to Pusha-T’s vastly superior Daytona, but if you carefully peruse the subtext of this sentence, you may find that this is what I’m implying.
In fairness, West does occasionally narrow his lyrical scope. On All Mine, he follows Ant Clemons’ risible chorus by letting his listeners know that he ‘can focus on two things are once’, even if he admits these things are his wife’s breasts. Wouldn’t Leave is a sweet homage to said wife, in which the simplicity of West’s rapping complements the sentiment he successfully conveys, while the track is bolstered by equally developed musical ideas. However, although Violent Crimes is a somewhat incisive reflection on West’s changing views towards women, the track is plagued by a horrible introduction courtesy of 070 Shake. If Kanye truly is ‘the greatest living rock star’, you’d think he’d have taught his latest protege how to track in the studio without her calling to mind a hypothetically drunken Jimmy Page sloppily overdubbing Whole Lotta Love.
Ye gives us another glimpse into Kanye West’s incomparable mind. In amongst the bland, half-baked music and surface-level lyrics, determined fans may find something of value, but listener discretion is advised.
Individual Rating: 1.5 / 5
Picks: Wouldn’t Leave, Ghost Town
When Kanye released Ye vs. the People, a gritty live debate on song between himself and TI that delved into his reasons for backing Donald Trump, many groaned, rolled their eyes, and braced themselves for an album of confused right-wing political points and edgy quips. It was surprising, then, that Ye – the record that dropped last Friday – is actually emotional, sensitive, and thoroughly non-political.
The opening track, I Thought of Killing You, is a dark and brooding number in which Mr West discusses how he sometimes “thinks really bad things”, including murder and suicide. It is the most vulnerable and personal we have perhaps ever heard Kanye be in his career, and offers us the first insight into the wild world he inhabits. The album quickly speeds up and re-energises by the second track, Yikes, which is in many ways a Kanye West meltdown represented in sonic form. All Mine is a more low-key banger, but is carried by newcomer Valee’s high pitched tones and charisma.
On Wouldn’t Leave, we find some answers as to just what was going on in that crazed TMZ interview. Kanye recounts that after a controversial couple of weeks, his wife Kim Kardashian was calling “screaming that we’re about to lose it all”. Meanwhile, No Mistakes sees Kanye at his most soulful since the days of The College Dropout and Late Registration. But the real highlight of the record is Ghost Town, a progressive and experimental track that combines soaring guitars with hooks from Kid Cudi and 070 Shake. We are reminded once again of just how brilliant a combination Ye and Cudi are, and are given a tantalising first taste of what to expect on their upcoming collaborative album.
As it seems every popstar-turned-father feels the need to do, Kanye delves into how his daughters have changed his life on final song Violent Crimes. West raps that he “now sees women as something to nurture, not something to conquer”, and although the story of a womaniser finding new love and respect for girls once he has a daughter of his own is not new, it is certainly refreshing to hear Kanye put his own spin on this old trope.
Ye is an album that many won’t appreciate or even fully understand. The headlines today might call this record “boring” or “underwhelming”, but like much of Kanye’s work, it will be better loved in 5 or 10 years, once the dust has settled.
Individual Rating: 4⁄5
Picks: I Thought About Killing You, Yikes, Ghost Town, No Mistakes
Ye, like the title suggests, is an embodiment of the man himself - erratic, bold, brash, artistic and yet somehow genius. While the record is tonally inconsistent, it’s clear that Kanye’s mindstate is the centrepiece of the album. From the suicidal statements of I Thought of Killing You to the romantic musings of Wouldn’t Leave, each track gives us an insight into one aspect of Kanye’s mind. Whilst often contradictory and erratic, these insights are almost always sympathetic, almost as if Kanye is stripping away his external facade. Not Yeezy, Yeezus or Kanye West, no, we’re finally seeing Ye.
This personal nature is enhanced with glimmers of Kanye’s past – Ghost Town champions the stadium sound of Graduation, No Mistakes features a College Dropout-esque soul sample and I Thought About Killing You carries the spaced-out sounds of TLOP. That’s not to say there are no new ideas, however: unique guest vocalists, frequent beat switches and the use of new vocal mediums show that Kanye is unafraid to push his boundaries.
While every track is consistent, the first two truly stand above the pack. I Thought About Killing You will go down as a classic opener: the Francis and The Lights-sampling beat is beautiful, the grief-stricken spoken word is at once disturbing and empathetic, and Ye’s gradually building lyrics give the track a satisfying progression. And in a time where mental illness is almost fetishized, it’s refreshing to see an uncomfortably honest portrayal of an afflicted mind in mainstream media.
Yikes takes this narrative even further. The hook is a paranoid call to “find help”, with Kanye’s “Sometimes I scare myself” sounding increasingly frantic and vulnerable. Over the track’s three verses he laments the loss of “best friends”, questions if he’ll “make it”, yet ends the third by describing his “bipolar s***” as his “superpower”. While Kanye tries to make light of his mental illness (“Hospital band a hundred bands, f*** a watch”), it’s clear that it is a subject of both strength and weakness. The beat matches this vocal conflict, with vocal samples almost ‘crying out’ amidst chaotic and brash drums patterns. Yikes is a clear standout, putting an utterly compelling portrayal of Kanye’s bipolar disorder over excellent production.
Ye combines both the genius and the messiness of Kanye’s mind, delivering a fragmented, yet entirely personal album. While it doesn’t have the same tonal emphasis as a record like 808s and Heartbreaks, this window into Kanye’s mind has incredible musical peaks, gripping stories and a rousing honesty. Not everyone will love it, but those that do will cherish it.
Picks: I Thought About Killing You, Yikes, Ghost Town
At the album’s close, where ‘niggas is savage, niggas is monsters, niggas is pimps, niggas is players,’ Kanye West is suddenly very worried about chaotic universe he had previously (until now) perpetuated. ‘Don’t you grow up in a hurry, your mom’ll be worried,’ goes the revoltingly saccharin refrain, as Kanye appears to remodel his perspective towards women – a shift framed, apparently, by his newfound responsibilities as a father of two. Novel, perhaps, for a man whose last album contained this actual refrain: ‘now, if I fuck this model / and she just bleached her asshole / and I get bleach on my T-shirt / I’m a feel like an asshole.’ For those of you only selectively remembering, Life of Pablo dropped just two years ago – Kanye was a dad then too.
Long story short: I feel now like I always do when Kanye West drops an album: in awe of the messy, postmodern rollout; taken aback by the conversational rush of the artwork; and enamoured with the choppy, collaging production for which West is now (in)famous. Similarly unchanging, however, is the discomfort of the lyrics. ‘Today I seriously thought about killing you,’ he begins on the opener; ‘and I love myself way more than I love you, so –’ Fiery wit like this gives way all too often to tactlessness: ‘You know how many girls I took to the titty shop? / If she get the ass with it, that’s a 50 pop.’ Suddenly – once again – looking for genuineness in Kanye’s concerns about the world is a bit like trying to take multi-millionaire Adele’s miniature melancholies all that seriously.
All in all, it is what it is.: postmodern collage. Bits are good. Bits aren’t. Just as ever that translates roughly as: 51% of this record will offend you… and just less than half will justify the rest.
Individual Rating: 2⁄5
Picks: I Thought About Killing You, Ghost Town