Kanye West’s ‘ye’ Is Mystifying– For Better Or Worse
Kanye West broadcasted the "new album" signal late Thursday night (May 31). WAV Media would be the ferryman bringing fans to Wyoming, through Gorilla Glass screens and iPhone stereos. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I downloaded the application, wary of the company’s small Twitter following.
Turning it on, signing up, then logging in, I was greeted to a sight out of Harmony Korine’s Springbreakers — a sea of nameless, vibrant souls moving in unison to an exultant Kanye record, unheard, and unflinching. Celebrities, tastemakers, and, writers of any publication that Kanye felt he could sway with airfare flew to catch the livestream premiere of Kanye’s new album, ye in the wee hours of Friday morning.
The public’s umbrage that was birthed by Kanye's ignorance and circus-like political antics prior to the release of the project seemingly dissipated into thin air. Over the course of the next hour, I watched the crowd intently; 2 Chainz, Teyana Taylor, and a few other paragons trying their hardest to appear jubilant as ye played.
Since then, I’ve been flipping it forward and backward, searching for the bread crumbs to bridge together autonomous ideas. I’ve come to the conclusion that ye is a thorny, shambolic mix of ideas that don’t completely gel together like he believed they would. It’s a haze of puckish and juvenile beliefs and a haphazardly put together sonic structure.
For starters, we didn’t know the album was named ye until after it dropped. Kim Kardashian-West revealed that the cover for the album was shot on the way to the super-secret listening session. Also, the title was rumored to initially be LOVE EVERYONE— ye appeared to be a last-minute resolution.
This confusing mess only strengthens the delusion of what’s going on with the album, the (whether purposeful or not) disorientating mess masquerading as a united release. But when it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s not suddenly, a swan.
Ye is a character study of a middle-aged man who, both knowingly and unknowingly, admits to his flaws and, through stream of consciousness-like raps, acknowledges that which he does not understand. While all of this is happening, the absence of more than surface layer lyricism reveals even more about Ye then the album does itself. But that’s the good nature of Mr. West; he makes everything easy to see, whether he realizes it or not. And connecting the dots is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Ye is eldritch- point blank. The album’s opening lines “I thought about killing you,” meant to be avant-garde (later confirmed by him pondering if the “cool” thing to do would be to say something that counterbalances the phrase’s darkness) are repeated a near endless amount of times, looped as if some grand valiant statement were being made. Then it gets to the one of the more prevalent themes that runs through the course of the album which is mental health, for better or worse.
“Yikes” starts off with a list of Mad Lib adjectives and menial observations, making clear the anxiety that Yeezy seems to deal with before breaking into an effervescent Ye track that wouldn’t sound out of place on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But for as loud and explosive as it is, it comes across as pyrrhic— like the majority of the energy went into the shock factor of the anxiety. He even yells senseless nothings toward the end, I’m guessing as an ad-lib of sorts, that have little to no impact.
Ye is a haze of puckish and juvenile beliefs and a haphazardly put together sonic structure.
Without any segues, ye often switches subjects at the snap of a finger — sometimes in the midst of songs. He starts the album on an introspective kick — then he jumps into the rockiness of his idealistic marriage to Kim Kardashian. “No Mistakes” bridges this gap, with Ye reflecting on his growing frailty both physically and mentally (he references the grey strands in his beard) while the chorus apologizes to Kim for the stuff he’s put her through — I use stuff in place of a certain, less than honorable term because, boy, has he subjected Kim to some filth.
“Wouldn’t Leave” is about as Kanye of an apology as Kim will ever receive publicly. On it, he reflects on his ill-minded quip about slavery being a choice. As absurd as it sounded to the public, Kim, whose career has been built off of the perception of the public, is the one who had to break it to him that he’s damaging her brand as well as his. But of course, we’d never see those conversations public. So Ye gives us his side of their talks which, by the somber production and PARTYNEXTDOOR ‘s over-the-top vocals, must have been pretty serious.
When he exclaims her fear of him “losing it all” for the both of them, echoes of her anguish can be felt through his voice. But through it, the sincerity becomes questionable. His tone on the chorus, explaining how he told his wife that she could leave him but she wouldn’t, sounds snarky, matter-of-factly even.
Perhaps what’s most astounding about it, aside from the zoned-out vibe of it, is the complete absence of the political Ye that’s been a Trump supporter for the better of two years. Ye first endorsed the commander-in-chief in a rant at a Saint Pablo Tour in San Jose back in 2016. Soon after, he posed for a photo op at the Trump Towers, manifesting some serious negative energy from his community of fans.
We were misled into thinking that the inquisitive rapper who questioned his beliefs would explain himself — the album just proves that Ye, still, doesn’t know the politics he was anxious to understand.
He recently went full fanatic with his support, posting a picture in the "Make America Great Again" hat and seemingly aligning himself with the man at the helm of much of what’s wrong with America. The timing was impeccable. Kanye's new album had to reference it. The closest we got? A tongue-in-cheek reference to his slavery quote about it being a “choice,” which, even after listening to the album, seems random.
Of course, at seven tracks, it’s concise, to a fault even. But we get the full range of veteran Kanye here, conditioned to the game, yet still prone to the same mistakes. We were misled into thinking that the inquisitive rapper who questioned his beliefs would explain himself — the album just proves that Ye, still, doesn’t know the politics he was anxious to understand.
If there’s one, unexplored takeaway from the project, is that Kanye's a big picture guy now, much like rap’s new age prospects. His production is as dauntless and peppy as ever — it’s the message that has changed. It’s more wide and obtuse, not meant to be picked apart and analyzed. And there are no hidden strings…it’s just flat in front of you.
“Violent Crimes” is plain face talk about the fear Ye experiences when he thinks about his daughter North growing into a woman. In plain speak, Ye reflects on his own dealings with women who he didn’t believe to be worth the time of the day and how that’s changed since he now has a daughter. As problematic as it is, we read it for face value, because, that’s all there is to it. No intelligent commentary about the jacked-up connotations that he, along with the many rappers before him who have echoed the same sentiment, has brought to the table.
It's akin to the cringeworthy scene in Atlanta (Robbin Season) where a woman of color confronts a white woman for having a black boyfriend. While this conversation is absolutely necessary, it’s been treaded a near limitless amount of times — without bringing new context to the situation, the conversation is meaningless. Because of this, the idea of respecting women is extracted from the song, but not read at more than the surface level (side bar: you should always respect women).
Ye's sporadic nature is at odds with its concise appearance. For it to be a Kanye album, we expect a narrative that can be extrapolated from the music — not implicitly stated, but present through the concepts presented throughout the songs.
Graduation chronicled the maturity of Ye as a celebrity and adjusting to the tenants of fame, 808s and Heartbreak reveled in turmoil and despair that reflected Kanye's darkest period in his life. Ye may reach for making sense of mental illness, but it jumps randomly to other subjects without any warning. We spend equal amounts of time analyzing his wife’s reception and their rocky marriage as much as we do appreciating his newfound appreciation for women. Somewhere in there, he analyzes his own mistakes. If it sounds longer than seven songs, it can feel like it — even if a few cuts have one verse and last less than three minutes.
Daytona made the most use of its concise structure, while ye feels restrained by it. There’s some hefty ideas here that could have been fleshed out into entire albums. Admittedly, I came into Ye looking to learn more about the inquisitive Ye in “Ye Vs. The People.”
He exposed himself as less than the deity he believes himself to be. T.I.’s conversation on The Breakfast Club painted the track as a throwaway that wouldn't make the album. Due to its hefty subject matter, I can see why. On a thematic level, it would have made more sense due to him bleeding himself dry emotionally.
The end result — a messy journal filled with Kanye’s incessant scrawls, exposing the aspects of his personality that need the most tuning — was the same, anyway.
The brief flashes of sagacity that permeate the album’s spine come in the introduction, and a few guest contributions that align in such a way that they burst through the emptiness that Kanye creates both knowingly and unknowingly.
But the musical brilliance that comprised seven of the eight albums in his discography (sorry Ye, The Life of Pablo didn’t quite meet the mark) appears to be waning with age. There’s a good album somewhere in the scraps of what we’ve gotten and what was left on the cutting room floor, but the expansive sound and exuberant palette of emotions that he tries to portray fall flat. Maybe, next time, Kanye should make a longer album. That’s probably the first time in history that anyone has ever said that.
Trey Alston is a Virginia-based journalist that loves the raw energy of hip-hop. When he's not writing editorials across the web, you can find him on SoundCloud searching for the next best thing. Follow him on Twitter at @treyals.