Kanye West – ye Album Review
by Jay Fingers
The past few weeks, we’ve had to endure some bizarre behavior surrounding the rap superstar, both of his own doing and of some seemingly done on his behalf. I mean, there’s his continued association with Donald Trump, his baffling and controversial remarks regarding slavery, and the brouhaha around his charitable foundation Donda’s House.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about the music, no? Many have speculated that Kanye West was simply courting controversy to stir up an interest in his newly released album YE, but it really, ultimately, comes down to the music itself. And so, with all of the hype, how does YE fare?
It’s pretty damned good. YE is certainly a step up from Kanye’s previous album, the ambitious if scattershot The Life of Pablo. Where Pablo was chaotic, impulsive, and —unusually for a Kanye West record — noisy, the seven-track YE is focused and measured. This is a surprise given that the album delves into Kanye’s struggle with bipolar disorder, among other things.
For example, the album’s opener, “I Thought About Killing You,” begins with a spoken word piece that addresses his bipolar diagnosis in uniquely West fashion: “Today I seriously thought about killing you/I contemplated premeditated murder/And I think about killing myself/And I love myself way more than I love you.” Here, we’re bearing witness to the war that’s raging within Kanye. Yeah, sure, he’s still the narcissistic ‘Ye we all know and love, but he’s also in a place where he feels as if he wants to die.
And then there’s “Yikes,” with its horror-movie organs and declaration that “shit could menacing, frightening.” Kanye humorously compares himself to Gandhi, while elsewhere getting addressing the recent spate of sexual assault charges, rhyming, “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me, too/I’ma pray for him ‘cause he got #MeToo’d.” It’s also where Kanye refuses to bow down to his mental illness: “That’s my bipolar shit …/That’s my superpower, nigga!/Ain’t no disability/I’m a superhero!” Word to Stan Lee.
Other highlights include “Wouldn’t Leave,” Kanye’s ode to wife Kim Kardashian for sticking by him “for better or worse,” especially after his slavery comments seemed to jeopardize their livelihood (“My wife callin’, screamin’, say, “We ’bout to lose it all!”/Had to calm her down ’cause she couldn’t breathe/Told her she could leave me now/But she wouldn’t leave”); and the album closer “Violent Crimes,” in which Kanye expresses how — and, notably, why — his outlook toward women has changed (“Niggas is savage, niggas is monsters/Niggas is pimps, niggas is players/Till niggas have daughters”). The latter closes with a voicemail from Nicki Minaj, which alludes to her participation in writing the track. Maybe she’s been a good influence on Kanye. Who knows?
YE isn’t a flawless work. The track “No Mistakes” feels like one, two minutes of filler on a blessedly brief album that’s only somewhat notable for its maybe-diss to Drake (“Truth told, I like you/Too bold to type you/Too rich to fight you/Calm down, you light skin!”). But otherwise, there are few faults to be found. The production on YE is top-notch, although it doesn’t lean too much on Kanye’s signature sample-heavy M.O. Sure, we recognize bits taken from Orange Krush and Slick Rick, but YE is a much moodier, ambient record and doesn’t rely so much on familiar riffs as does Pusha T’s recently released Daytona (also produced by Kanye). And, maybe owing to its brevity, the lyricism on YE is more than adequate. He gets to the heart of what he wants to say and leaves it at that, sometimes only giving us one verse on a song. No “Scoopity Poop” here.
In a way, YE is Kanye’s version 4:44. It’s personal, mature. He’s coming into his own as a grown-ass man and dealing with the pressures that come with that — marriage, fatherhood, mental health, and taking responsibility for the things he says as a celebrity, whether on- or off-record. Perhaps making this album was the healing salve that will help Kanye truly wrest his demons.
Best Tracks: Yikes,All Mine, Wouldn’t Leave
Check out the full album stream: