Kanye West's "Ye" is rewarding for those willing to look beyond the antics.
Somehow, Kanye West has managed to tow the line between ubiquitous and enigmatic. His union with Kim Kardashian is no secret, yet the nature of their personal relationship is open to interpretation. Likewise for his political views, which have frequently emerged as a series of tailor-made headlines; before “slavery was a choice” came “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” As Ye has never been the most eloquent orator, listeners have largely been expected to pick up the pieces, using his anecdotal lyrics to piece together their own unauthorized biopics. Enter Kanye West’s Ye, the closest we’ve come to an eponymous album. One syllable off. Upon initial consumption, one would not be at fault for expecting something personal. Yet the narrative surrounding Kanye seems to imply expectations exist simply to be shattered.
Ye is indeed a personal album. He briefly touches on his spousal dynamic more candidly than on previous outings, particularly on the emotional “Wouldn’t Leave.” Sonically, the song feels like the offspring of The Life Of Pablo intro “Ultralight Beam,” employing a subdued drum groove and “gentle-mental” piano progression. Aesthetically, this may be the closest to College Dropout Ye we’ve seen in decades; though he lacks the storytelling prowess of say, Royce Da 5’9” on “Power,” Kanye’s effort remains valiant, given his recent abandonment of lyrical traditionalism. The dedication of the epilogue speaks volumes; raising a toast to any guy who ever “embarrassed they girl” is a far cry from celebrating the “douchebags” and “assholes” of the world.
Once again, we’re left piecing together our own narratives, based on the breadcrumbs Kanye West leaves us in Riding-Hood-esque fashion. Yet if we’re to take his lyrics at face value, as closer “Violent Crimes” seems to want us to do, what are we to make of hedonistic cuts like early standout “All Mine?” The opening organ evokes a funeral dirge, heralding the decay of decency; all hail hedonism, full steam ahead. Immediately picking up where Freestyle 4 left off, Valee sets the tone with an playful, falsetto-heavy chorus. “Get to rubbin' on my lamp, get the genie out the bottle,” he raps, channeling Christina Aguilera circa 1999.
In all seriousness, one of Ye’s most brilliant musical moments arise when the snares kick in during “All Mine’s” extensive hook. Not to mention, the subject matter is clearly something Yeezy values, as he’s at his most lyrically sharp throughout. Shades of childlike cleverness seep through, particularly during his soon-to-be-legendary biology lesson of “none of us would be here without cum.” Moreover, Ye’s penchant for name-dropping plays a dual role, dating his music while simultaneously immersing listeners within a relatable world. You might not need you a Stormy Daniels, but given the societal position of the pornstar-turned-political-figure, the simplistic line can resonate with a wide-ranging spectrum of demographics.
While Ye’s affinity for coveting strange is well documented, it becomes difficult to understand where the fiction ends and facts begin. Is he, indeed a polygamist? I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter, though part of Kanye’s artistic allure works in tandem with his real-life legacy. For that reason, songs like the aforementioned “Violent Crimes” feel unexpectedly refreshing; hearing him speak so openly about a child we’ve actually come to know through a media lens is paramount in shifting a “God” back into a man. In truth, this is hardly the first time we’ve dealt with the demystification of Kanye West. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy featured some of his most personal authorship, as did The Life Of Pablo’s latter half. Yet the public perception surrounding Yeezy has never felt as hostile as it did during the Ye rollout. Many, be it online or in the media, seemed to be actively championing for the once-revered artist to meet an Icarus-like demise.
In truth, it can feel difficult to write about Kanye West without drawing from his seemingly infinite antics. Yet it would behoove critics and listeners alike to separate man from music, at least for a moment. In that regard, Ye stands among the year’s most enjoyable releases thus far. It’s hardly a challenging listen, and despite the relative brevity, Yeezy and co have managed to jam a variety of musical ideas in one easy-to-digest package; high art for dummies, or, the avant-garde-starter-pack. Everything from spoken word monologues to dually-constructed song structures are laid out on the table. Luckily, for the most part, the missteps are few and far between.
As for the highs, there are indeed several. Penultimate, grunge-inspired ballad “Ghost Town” is arguably Ye’s musical crux, a stylistic amalgamation of several choice Yeezy eras. The production, which seems to employ a variety of acoustic instruments, seems to bring out a simplicity in Kanye’s vocal performance; it’s almost as if he took to the booth and laid down the first melody that came to mind. In that regard, “Ghost Town” feels like a moment of genuine sincerity, and is allotted the appropriate time to resonate accordingly. For those adverse to the slow-burn, allow yourself to be challenged by Kanye West for old times sake, lest he stand before you shouting “are you not entertained?”
Perhaps that’s simply the intention. Between Daytona and Ye, the resurgence of Kanye West has set the tone of the summer to come; perhaps even the year.Admittedly, the project pales in comparison to some of his bonafide classic. In many ways, it feels like a cousin to The Life Of Pablo; don’t be surprised if the project leads to to revisiting Pablo with a newfound sense of appreciation, while discovering new layers in the process. Yet while Pablo was shrouded by a morose darkness, Ye provides an optimistic counter-narrative. Not quite happy, not quite bittersweet, simply content.
At less than twenty-five minutes, Ye remains an easy to digest album with a satisfactory amount of depth on both lyrical and musical fronts. Fans will no doubt walk awayfeeling fulfilled, save for those unable to shed their lofty expectations of rap’s self-styled deity. Yet it’s hardly fair to malign the disappointed, seeing as Kanye himself played a pivotal role in shaping said expectations. Is Ye groundbreaking? Hardly. Yet those looking for deeper artistic meaning should consider looking at the ongoing G.O.O.D Music rollout. Perhaps when we’re over-saturated with an endless wave of seven-track albums, we can fondly reminisce on the time Ye popped a wheelie on the zeitgeist once again.
I’ll put it like this. For one night, Kanye and company set Wyoming ablaze with vibrancy. The next day, business as usual. Such is life, such is Ye.