There was a telling moment during the of Kanye West’s unveiling of his newest album ye. As celebrities, journalists and hypebeasts gathered around the Wyoming campsite, Chris Rock got up to address the crowd. After a few lighthearted jokes about being in Wyoming (“I saw a moose!”) Rock got more personal noting that, “Rap music, hip-hop music are the first art forms created by free black men, and no black man has taken more advantage of his freedoms than Kanye West.”
On the surface, this comment was a sweet sentiment from Rock to Kanye about his influence in the genres he holds so dear, but in another way, it speaks volumes to a truth too many fans of West are willing to ignore.
For years now Kanye has said and done things that any reasonable person would determine to be aberrant. But Kanye fans are not reasonable people, so declarations of Bill Cosby’s innocence or a meeting with Trump have been met with cries of separating the art from the artist.
And for a while there, it was easy for one to do just that. Yeezus was a bombastic work done by a revolutionary at the height of his power and The Life of Pablo, while spotty, had some of Kanye’s best songs to date.
But now we have ye, which comes after several months of Kanye doing everything in his power to push away the last of his good graces. And where his previous releases were able to push through the noise of his personal life, ye get’s buried in it.
At scant twenty-four minutes spread across seven tracks ye has no room for error but there still moments of dead air across the album. Opener ‘I Thought About Killing You’ has Kanye delivering some spoken word about love and violence equating the two through some shaky reasoning stating, “You’d only care enough to kill somebody you love”.
Elsewhere on the song, Kanye talks about a drug-fueled hookup, defying people’s hero worship of him and his bipolar disorder. Any one of these angles could have been tackled better by Kanye in his prime but we’re years away from that now, and outside of a funny Frito-Lay/chipped tooth line there isn’t a single new idea presented in this opener, nor on the rest of the album.
Kanye seems stuck between two different eras; the more emotional current era (think Lil Peep) and the braggadocious stylings of his past. It’s fine to balance the two but Kanye just can’t seem to meld them into any cohesive way.
A song like ‘Yikes’ has Kanye talking about his bipolar disorder while also dropping head-scratching lines defending Ruddell Simmons from his #MeToo accusers and taking Wiz Khalifa to North Korea. Does Kanye ever explain the connections to these things? No, and he seems happy to drop even more nonsensical lines in between moments of genuine introspection.
And when he does hone in on a specific topic it comes across as not well thought-out. ‘All Mine’ could be a typical banger of a track but when Kanye is dropping lines like “I love your titties, ‘cause they prove I can focus on two things at once”, it’s hard not to roll your eyes.
And sadly ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ is so close to being something of an emotional centrepiece of the album but is bogged down in Kanye bringing up his “slavery was a choice” rant and how the only thing he learned from it was that he almost lost some money.
Then there’s the closer, ‘Violent Crimes’, on which Kanye talks grossly about his daughter’s body as he hopes she looks more like him than her Mom, before saying he would punish her physically if it didn’t mean she would run away as a result. It takes what would be an easy home run of an emotional track and instead comes across as odd and at times inappropriate.
It would be wrong to say there aren’t some highlights; ‘Ghost Town’ has great contributions from Kid Cudi and 070 Shake and Kanye actually gets thoughtful lines off about his own mortality, while ‘No Mistakes’ is classic Kanye as he takes jabs at Drake and reps Chicago.
The production on the album is also quite blissful even when Kanye’s lyrics fail to live up to them. Kanye is keeping his hot streak going from last weeks Pusha-T release by continuing to chop up soul samples and taking them down some darker paths.
But these highs are not enough to bring this project from the depths of mediocrity. For the first time in Kanye’s career, it feels like the music was an afterthought like ye was just an obligation rather than a true artistic statement. It’s music made for a select few who would care about Kanye’s family life or his finances.
For those of us who were troubled by Kanye’s latest behaviour, there is no answer for it here. If you’re a Kanye diehard you’ve already made your mind up about this album, but for me, it’s the straw that finally broke me of my fandom.
Ye is out now.