If you were to take my creative essence and distill it down to its core components you’d eventually find a small group of individuals that have served as the foundation for everything I love and believe in. Within that highly-exclusive lineup, I can personally guarantee you that Kanye West would be one its primary figures.
Emblematic of the work ethic I strive for, the confidence I want to have, and an (often hilarious) philosophy that I genuinely admire, Mr. West’s persona throughout the 2010’s has been a guiding light in my creative life for years at this point. When things started to go pear-shaped in early 2018, I still held out hope that his alt-right escapades and tabloid misgivings were merely a controversy-baiting ruse used to promote his upcoming album. Best case it was bad marketing, worst case the man that has inspired me for years had questionable politics.
After reading countless think pieces, numerous fan theories, and even explanations from the man himself, my fandom hit a wall. After years of rave reviews, heartfelt defenses, and taste-defining experiences, I began to seriously regret my devotion to Kanye for the first time ever. While this Atlantic piece helped me reckon with what was unfolding and “Ye vs. the People” granted me some insight into his perspective, my relationship with Kanye West had been changed fundamentally.
Despite my reservations, I sat down on May 31st and downloaded the WAV Media app ready to take in the live-stream of Kanye West’s newest record. As I sat stationed at my computer live-stream in-hand and fan chat on-screen I felt a strange sense of calm wash over me. Maybe it was secondhand excitement from the multiple chat rooms I had open, or maybe it was a meditative contact high absorbed while taking in the peaceful Wyoming landscape, but before the music even started all of that weird political stuff just sort of fell away.
As the sun set, fans, journalists, and musicians alike flooded towards the Jackson Hole stage. As the horde of attendees rolled in, the chat room lit up, and I began to feel something more than apathy. Shortly after an introduction from Chris Rock, Kanye made his initial appearance and walked toward the campfire at the center of the crowd. Suddenly I was beaming. The instant the record’s first song began I had full-body goosebumps and tears were welling up in my eyes. I guess that’s the power of fandom.
Now weeks removed from the spectacle I’ve listened to ye dozens of times and finally have enough distance to compose my thoughts on some level. While this is far from definitive (and not even really a review) my conflicted thoughts bled out into something too long for our June New Music Roundup.
Musically, ye is the definition of a mixed bag. Some of the album’s highlights include dissonant Yeezus-esque scratches on “All Mine” that are pressed up against one of the album’s most crass and meme-worthy lines. Another peak comes near the close of the album on “Ghost Town” where Mike Dean’s rich guitar-work is paired with a soaring and anthemic outro courtesy of 070 Shake.
Meanwhile, the album’s lows include scattershot and rushed songwriting throughout which finds lyrical footing almost exclusively in the events of the past month. From questionable #MeToo bars to references about Kanye’s recent stance(?) on slavery, the album revels in the controversial events of the last few weeks. This “freshness” combined with reports of rushed recording, last-minute decisions, and uncleared samples leads to a record that feels very “in the moment,” but not necessarily in a good way.
As much of a highlight as “Ghost Town” is, Kanye’s contributions to the track sound like temp vocals recorded phonetically with a melody, half-finished lyrics, and not much else. Kanye is using ye as a diary that addresses recent events he’s found himself at the center of and trading timelessness for immediacy in doing so. If anything, I suppose this proves the quality of music Kanye West can turn around in under a week’s time, but as impressive a feat as that is, the only reason I’m giving it this much time (and these many words) is because it’s Kanye West.
Far as I can tell, the “concept” of the album (if you can call it that) is exactly what’s scrawled out on its cover. The entire release is a 24-minute bipolar episode. Frontloaded with aggressive affronts that peak with a moment of clarity on “Wouldn’t Leave,” a track that details the aftermath of West’s TMZ interview and a tearful phone call with his wife. From that point onward the album shifts into much “softer” songs tackling everything from childhood innocence to father roles and emotional numbness.
According to Kanye, he “killed his ego” for this record, elaborating “Who or what is Kanye West with no ego? Just Ye.” While that’s a nice sentiment, my biggest knock against ye is that he already tackled this topic… two years ago on The Life of Pablo. While his 2016 LP was far from perfect, that record did a much better job walking the listener through Kanye’s troubled mind than ye ever does, and TLOP does that without ever spelling it out. Hell, even the one-off loosie “I Feel Like That” does a better job hitting that mark than ye does.
So at the end of the day, we have a record that sounds cool but feels short, under-written, and half-baked. ye is hurried and reactionary, but only time will tell how well it ages. Every Kanye release has only gotten better with age, but for the time being, I don’t see ye ranking anywhere but the bottom of his discography.
On top of these still-shifting extra-musical kernels that linger in the back of my head while listening, we’ve also received a wealth of music from Kanye in the past month. Just the last 30 days, we’ve heard Pusha T’s Daytona, Kids See Ghosts’ self-titled record, Nas’ Nasir, and Teyana Taylor’s KTSE, all of which have been produced by Kanye West and have at least one guest feature from the man himself. Teyana Taylor notwithstanding, I enjoy all of these records more than ye at the time of writing, and that’s not what I would have expected even a few months ago. It’s a weird feeling for a Kanye album not to be dominating my music player, but I guess sometimes the power isn’t in your favor.
Time may tell how this album ages, but one month out ye feels like a very temporary time capsule that could evaporate at a moment’s notice. A shiny new app installed on your phone for one night and deleted the next day. A Snapchat of a mountain range with a vaguely-clever caption handwritten across it. The image may be less powerful the next day, but it was never meant to be here forever.