Kanye West – ye
It doesn’t quite feel right to call a Kanye West album “underwhelming”. After all, his whole shtick over the years has been reinventing his sound and defying what is expected, so even when reception might differ, their sheer experimentation and audacity were everything but underwhelming. So why does his eighth solo album, ye, feel so underwhelming? At this point, we’ve come to expect anything but normal from Kanye. The thing is, ye just feels too normal. That’s an especially strange statement, considering his behavior leading up to it was some of his most erratic and controversial ever. Donning a signed MAGA hat, endorsing figures like Candace Owens, and infamously stating that slavery seemed like a choice, it seemed like everything he did was to divide his fans and critics. The only time he had ever stirred up so much controversy was leading up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his undeniable masterpiece. So it would perhaps be logical to think that all this behavior would indicate another album in the same vein of greatness. Unfortunately, ye just so happens to turn out to be his worst yet.
It’s not that ye is necessarily a bad album. In fact, when taken out of the big picture, several songs are fascinating. The album’s opener “I Thought About Killing You” is a revealing half-spoken word track tackling mental health and suicidal thoughts, utilizing several repeated phrases to emphasize certain points before delving into a bass-heavy verse and eventual beat switch. “Wouldn’t Leave” is a tender and soulful dedication to his wife that should satisfy the types of fans longing for the “old Kanye”, conjuring up memories of The College Dropout. The rock-fueled “Ghost Town” features a standout performance from recent GOOD Music signee 070 Shake bursting with energy. Perhaps on a longer album, these tracks would have helped to round out what could be a truly great album. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest flaw about ye; its length.
ye is the second of five total albums this month produced entirely by Kanye. Aside from Kanye production, what stands out is that all the albums are 7 tracks. The first, Pusha T’s Daytona, arrived last week. On Daytona, the 7-track length worked well in its favor, allowing Pusha to cut his most concise and focused album yet, with its length ridding it of filler or bloat and allowing each song to flow seamlessly into one another. Since Pusha typically tends to stick to the same ideas and themes throughout his music, the short length benefitted Daytona. However, Kanye is the type of artist that needs a long runtime to fully express himself. As the master innovator and trendsetter of modern music, Kanye tends to explore several different ideas and themes that need at least 10-14 tracks to fully flesh themselves out. At only 7 tracks, ye just feels empty in a way. Sure, it’s different from anything else of his, but by the end of its 23 minutes, there is much more to be desired. In fact, even if the album were indeed longer, there’s still something else to be desired.
In May of last year, Kanye left for a remote hideout in Wyoming, accompanied by a large group of collaborators including but not limited to Nas, Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, The-Dream, and many more. This practice is not unlike his hideaway to Hawaii to make Twisted Fantasy, yet another reason to raise excitement. Almost a year of straight work with tons of collaborators in a practice almost identical to the making of his masterpiece should’ve resulted in something wonderful. Yet this now-shelved album was completely scrapped in April, after his controversial TMZ interview. Left with just over a month to his already-announced release date of June 1st, he decided to go and redo the album from scratch. What was it that inspired him to throw away a year of hard work and turn the final product into a messy, underwhelming album that hardly reflects what he’s capable of? Maybe some of the tracks from the past year did make it onto ye; there’s no real way to know. But most of whatever came out of that year-long hideaway in Wyoming is now left for dead, leaving much to be desired from that album.
However, if you do put some time and effort into ye, highlights can be found. The aforementioned “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave” do rank among the higher points of his post-Twisted Fantasy career, with the latter offering a gentle slice of nostalgia welcomed in the chaos of being a Kanye fan in 2018. But it’s “Ghost Town” that is the main standout of the album. It’s not the rock chords, the Kid Cudi chorus, or the rare occurrence of singing Kanye that will draw attention to it. Rather, it’s 070 Shake, the recent GOOD signee whose outro blazes with fiery energy. “I put my hand on a stove/To see if I still bleed”, she belts, exploding with a fire reminiscent of the triumphing chaos of Yeezus. The performance stands out as one of the finest guest spots on a Kanye album, and establishes Shake as a new force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, she happens to outshine everything else on the album; when one guest spot is the highlight of your whole album, you know you did something wrong.
As if to further complicate things, coming right after “Ghost Town” is the closer “Violent Crimes”, one of the most vapid and clumsy songs he’s ever released. Ironically, 070 Shake does show up again to sing the chorus, but even she can’t save the track from its overly sentimental and hollow dedication to his daughters (ignoring the fact that he also has a son). Leaving out the scatological novelty classic-to-be “Lift Yourself” and the back-and-forth T.I. duet “Ye vs. the People”, Kanye somehow finds ways to tackle the same topics of the latter on tracks like “Yikes” in an even worse way. And for all of its “scoop diddy whoop”-ness, “Lift Yourself” at least proved his hand for soul samples was back, a well-welcomed trait mostly lacking on this album. In fact, many Kanye traits are missing from this album, instead making ye to be just a caricature of himself. Sure, it could have been worse. But that’s not a phrase that one would ever want to associate with a Kanye West album. Unfortunately, ye does just that.
Photo courtesy of Def Jam Recordings