ye (released June 1, 2018)
The Internet is a funny place.
When Kanye West decided to publicly meltdown on Twitter, the Internet’s reaction was basically “who would have ever thought our Kanye would go this crazy?”
And I was over here like:
Even if we look beyond his issues with mental health (which we’ll get to later) Kanye has spent most of his career – especially the last decade – reveling in the role of America’s favorite villain. He’s the Killmonger of hip-hop, the over the top bad guy who, more often than not, has valid points. But his execution is way screwed up.
So when Ye went on his most recent reign of terror, from throwing on a MAGA hat and transforming into Konservative Kanye Kardashian to his downright insulting remarks about slavery, it shouldn’t have been THAT much of a surprise. He was doing what Ye does – tapping into the current vein of pop culture and causing it to hemorrhage.
But while Ye was locked up in his Wyoming cabin recording his eight album entitled, um, ye, he failed to realize the world has changed. It’s no longer a world that celebrates his brand chaos and unfiltered speech, it’s a much more cautious world hurt by rampant racism, police brutality and heartless politicians.
Simply put, no one is in the mood for foolishness.
Many diehard fans who still yearn for Old Kanye hoped that ye would provide insight into the reckless rants that have divided his fanbase.
If you’re looking for clear answers, you won’t get ’em here. And if you’re still holding out hope for Old Kanye, he shows up in spurts but he’s not here for the long haul. ye is instead a fractured, unfocused look into the mind of man constantly at war with himself and the world around him.
The album opener “I Thought About Killing You” kicks off with spoken word backed by warbling production – an idea better in theory than practice. He confesses that “The most beautiful thoughts are always inside the darkest,” before launching into a more traditional verse, seemingly taking a shot at his “Big Brother” Jay Z (“How you gon’ hate? N****, we go way back/To when I had the braids and you had the wave cap.”).
As braggadocious as Kanye can be, he really sounds more vulnerable that ever before here. The first verse of “Yikes” may focus on Kanye accessorizing his women with new boobs and booties like Ms. Potato Head, but he opens up a bit by the end of the track:
They know I got demons all on me
Devil been tryna make an army
They been strategizin’ to harm me
They don’t know they dealin’ with a zombie
It’s a bit sad, almost like Ye is admitting he’s now a man with nothing to lose.
One thing he does show affection for is his daughter North, with “Violent Crimes” feeling suspiciously similar to Nas’ “Daughters” (Ye, of course, is producing Nas’ latest LP). Similar to the Nas track, he remarks that “N****s is pimps, n****s is players, ’til n****s have daughters”: “Father forgive me, I’m scared of the karma/’Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture, not somethin’ to conquer.”
We haven’t gotten that level of introspection from Ye in a long time. It’s why when he proclaims that being bipolar is actually his superpower on “Yikes” it’s actually endearing.
Still, it’s the erratic nature of Ye – both the man and the music – that really hurt this album.
While most of the production shines, especially on “All Mine” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” it’s often crippled by annoyingly weak and raspy hooks. Ty Dolla Sign, Valee, Jeremih, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kid Cudi, Kanye himself – smack ALL of ’em in the face with a bottle of Chloraseptic. Once again, it’s Uncle Charlie Wilson who comes to the rescue on “No Mistakes” who helps massage Kanye’s stream-of-consciousness flow into a manageable story. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of the album, which wildly fluctuates between horny rambling about his wife (“All Mine”) to attempting to justify his social media outburts (“Wouldn’t Leave”). Yeah, it’s an interesting look into what makes Kanye tick but, frankly, just feels too fragmented and unfinished to be considered good music.
Sonically, ye is Kanye’s best album since 2010’s landmark My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And while the short run time makes it more cohesive than 2016’s bloated The Life of Pablo, Pablo at least had several winning tracks to stake its claim. ye’s brief running time is a detriment – it doesn’t have enough time to sort through the erratic pacing and often-confusing themes to give us something solid.
Much like a Kanye Twitter rant, ye sometimes sounds good but rarely makes sense.
Best tracks: “No Mistakes,” “Violent Crimes”
3 stars out of 5