On the aptly named “Ye” we are given an abbreviated version of the polarising and ever-ambiguous figure that is, Kanye West.
The greatest art is birthed in the depths of the greatest adversity and throughout history the artist has performed the role of ‘the conduit’, a vessel for which personal and societal adversity can pass through before being dispersed back into the world from which it came. Whether it be Jean-Michel Basquiat during the heights of racial tensions in inner-city New York, Mary J. Blige immersed in a sea of heartbreak or Vincent Van Gogh clinging onto reality through bouts with psychosis, adversity has always been the muse of artistic expression.
At this juncture of his career, Kanye West is facing more adversity than ever before, yet he is only comparable to one of these artists, Vincent Van Gogh (and not because of the art that he is producing) – Like Van Gogh, Kanye is without an ear, unable or unwilling to hear the deafening sound of political and social unrest that exists in the world around him…
Not The Album We Were Promised. Everything about this album is a far cry from the perfectionist who once made Pusha T rewrite his verse four times for “Runaway” because it needed to be more “douchebag”. “Ye” feels sloppy and rushed from the opening track – “I Thought About Killing You” starts off as a concise monologue about suicide and murder, before descending into a collection of half-finished thoughts, melodies and lyrics… his verse on “Ghost Town” is nothing more than musical-sounding ramblings (similar to those on “30 hours”)… and even the album cover was a last-minute picture taken en route to the listening party for the album.
On Pusha T’s song “What Would Meek Do” Kanye proclaims “No more hiding the scars I show ‘em like Seal righhhht”, leading many of us to believe that an introspective album was on the way, but for the most part “Ye” is a very surface level affair.
The reason this album sounds nothing like the “mental health” album that we were promised is because it isn’t… two weeks before the album’s release, Kanye caught a lot of backlash from an interview with TMZ, leading to him scraping the original “Ye” album and re-recording it in the space of two weeks to meet the deadline for the G.O.O.D Music releases.
Lost In The Woods Of Wyoming. The line “I love your titties because they prove that I can focus on two things at once” on “All Mine” may just seem like juvenile punchline on first listen, which it is, but it is also a fitting metaphor for the predicament that Kanye found himself in before Ye’s release. Female parts aside, much of Kanye West’s attention was divided during the development of “Ye”, over the course of a 5-week period, he single-handedly produced and also provided vocals on five studio albums as part of the G.O.O.D Music roll out (Pusha T, Nas, Teyana Taylor and a joint album with Kid Kudi), all of which likely contributed to both creative and physical fatigue.
It would seem unthinkable to say this about a Kanye West album but “Ye” is suffering from a severe lack of presence… known for his collaborative approach – famously calling on 14 features for All Of The Lights – it’s not uncommon for other voices to play a prominent voice on his albums (just ask Nicki Minaj), but on this one he gets buried among the noises. Kanye finds himself playing the role of a passenger on songs like “All Mine” and “Ghost Town”, driven by the vocals of Ty Dolla $ign and 070Shake; leaving him sounding like more of a guest appearance than a leading man.
Glimpses Of The ‘Old ‘Ye. Somewhere among the slurred words, cringeworthy punchlines and empty themes there are flashes of the artist who captured the imagination of so many during mid 2000’s and early 2010s – If not in the lyrics, but through the production. Before pursuing a career as a rapper, Kanye’s claim to fame was as an in-house producer for Rocafella Records, and on the song “No Mistake” you can really hear him in his element… angelic high-notes, triumphant piano keys and a Slick Rick sample that has no business being there, all come together to restore the feeling on what is otherwise a very melancholy album.
Outside of the production, some of the same tropes of the ‘old Kanye’ rear their head throughout the album, if you listen hard enough the brash underdog from Chicago is still in there. Lines like “I don’t take advice from people less successful than me”, are callbacks to earlier work (“You Can’t Tell Me Nothing”) and a time in his life when he was a lot more self-assured.
What Could Have Been. Although there were those who doubted that Kanye had it in him to produce another truly great album due to his recent breakdowns and social media antics, there was a core of die-hard fans who held out hope that with his back against the wall – much like it was when he released his last classic, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ after the ‘Taylor Swift fiasco’ – Kanye could rise from the ashes once more, but it wasn’t meant to be….
Lack of talent? Completely out of the question! Kanye has built up too much cachet through his past work for this to be the case, but a ‘lack of time’ on the other hand would be a lot closer to the mark. A combination of an unsettled mind and self imposed limitations (heavy work load, 7-song track listing, two week recording time) contributed to Kanye’s weakest effort at musical redemption yet.
Kanye’s best work is when he has a blank canvas and a full set of hues, shades and colours to work from (often choosing to use all of them at once). On “Ye” he limits himself to an A4 sheet of paper and a couple of crayons.
In the midst of adversity and self-doubt, Kanye misses the chance at what could have been a career defining album.
Overall Rating: 3/10.
Standout Tracks: No Mistakes, Violent Crimes
What Did You Think Of ‘Ye’? Does Kanye West Still Have A Classic Album Left In Him? Where Does ‘Ye’ Rank On Kanye’s List Of Albums For You?
As Usual Comments Are Encouraged!