I initially thought that I would wait my prerequisite three months to listen to Kanye West’s new release, “ye” – I typically want the ‘noise’ to subside so I can take an uninhibited, zero-influence approach to an album.
That didn’t quite work out – instead, I spent the weekend listening to “ye” on repeat. As I began to internalize the album more thoroughly, I feel that “ye” is ultimately a strong listen, but falls short in one area where Mr. West usually thrives – genuine honesty.
But why? What is actually going on here?
My initial thoughts after my first listen is that I think Mr. West wants the listener to feel that he is in a super dark place. Confusion and depression are underlying themes throughout the album – maybe not the “depression” associated with somebody that “lost everything,” but from Kanye branding himself as a great artist/iconoclast and feeling the pressure of living up to that standard.
Perhaps Kanye is exhausted with this role; witness him holing up in Wyoming for this album/ gaining weight/ deleting twitter/ disappearing for about a year. After an unparalleled-so-far-in-the-21st-century string of great critical & commercial albums, he thoroughly knows that “ye” needs to follow in that lineage – he MUST produce a magnum opus. The fact is, in my mind, Kanye probably just wants to hang up the mic. The “ye” album has elements soul-baring and depth; the music is heavily gospel and spiritual, though not groundbreaking like his previous work. And the length. . .this release is only seven tracks and only 24 minutes, with not one six- seven- or eight- minute track as he is wont to do? Dude is tired.
Upon my my second listening and more mental digestion, my theory expands. I think this album is mea culpa. The music, while minimal, is more labored than I even picked up on during the first listen. While gospel over soul samples with hip-hop beats is his true/primary sound – that’s basically all Kanye is producing here. Some haunting sounds and Slick Rick sample dot the production, but there is no grandeur. It’s concise musically, but basically Kanye-by-numbers. Lyrically, I perceive a sweeping, general “apology” “for whatever I may have done” – kind of half-assed with nary a desire to be genuinely specific.
Overall, I “like” the album – but this is the sound of a guy who needs to take about five to 10 years off, though I don’t know he has that in him – or if this is possible in today’s milieu. I also can’t escape the thought that this album is somewhat “making excuses” – but for what? The TMZ zaniness? His MAGA hat? Something deeper?
There is also something very peculiar about the overall “sound” aesthetic: this album lacks the complex, driving drum loops that are Kanye’s hallmark; instead, it contains a distinct minimalism; creative, assertive drum use is basically what made Kanye the producer he is today and though he is an expert at utilizing space and time in his music, he is far from a “minimalist.”
After my third trip through “ye,” I was pretty sure that this album is either a partial album and some sort of marketing tactic (a.k.a. he released Lift Yourself and the underrated Ye vs. the People a month ago yet they are nowhere to be found on the final release). My guess is that this particular “EP” release is a substandard yet well-intentioned attempt to address mental health – though even there, I don’t believe it was fully honest. Specifically, Wouldn’t Leave, No Mistakes, Ghost Town – ironically/intentionally his “gospel” tracks – have the potential to really expound upon his mental state, struggles, ‘the feels,’ but they fall short.
What “ye” does, in my opinion, is speak directly to Kim and their marriage. I stand by my assertion that this is a “mea culpa” – though it still does not feel as if Mr. West is directly apologizing or being fully honest to Kim, or more generally, his family – for the pain he caused/is causing).
Here’s another thing. This is the first time I’ve ever sensed Kanye as disingenuous. There is a willingness and a want to be introspective and extant but there is some albatross holding him back from exposing what he really wants to discover.
Not maliciously disingenuous, or even manipulative – I really, really think he wants to discover something but just isn’t getting there.
Furthermore, indulge me as I throw complete curveball that trivializes all of this – what did I really think when he went nuts on TMZ during that whole brief period? I think he cheated on Kim, or worse, and this last six week period has been an act to deflect addressing his shortcomings in their relationship. Basically he was busted and still can’t confess, and all of this “I’m crazy“ and subsequent half assed apologizing through the release of a short album, calculated erratic behavior/bipolar. . .I do not intend to marginalize any of the mental health things he is addressing but it seems to me that it’s a really, really good excuse – this “ye” album – where he doesn’t need to confess his sins/truth to Kim. I mean, when I was a dark place with my wife, I did all kinds of crazy shit just to deflect from the reality that we were living in which I caused. Didn’t matter who or what was in the way, I would manifest medical issues, excuses, apologize for literally six hours straight, write poems, sing songs, buy gifts, whatever resources I had to avoid talking about the real issues.
I kiiiiiiiiiind of sense there’s an element (or more) of that, on a really hypermediaized (hello, 2018) level.
I’m convinced that the seven songs on “ye” are the “see Kim? I made an album detailing my pain (I Thought About Killing You) our travails (All Mine) and apologizing to you (Wouldn’t Leave) and showing how much I love you (No Mistakes, Ghost Town) and care about our family and children (Violent Crime)” – and-thus are probably not the entire (real) album. There has to be more to this.
UPDATE: there’s an interview with Big Boy (previously of Power 106 fame, currently with 92.3) where he says he literally “scrapped the entire album” (after the TMZ fiasco) . This makes sense – the two tracks that were “released“ were both not on the album and sounded nothing like the album. Ironically, Lift Yourself (aka Poopity Scoop) is music wise one of the best tracks he produced this time around and to be honest and not to go more psycho babble on it but he literally might have been in a manic phase had just said “fuck it I making this song for North” because musically that song is straight dope
Lastly, there have been artists and musicians historically that are bipolar and I think there something more with his “acceptance” of it and he’s using it as a crutch like “see Kim I told you I am not right in the head.”
Sidenote: it literally makes me cackle incessantly how the critics literally don’t know how to approach this album including a (solid, but wandering) Pitchfork review.
Again – when my wife was dealing with my utter bullshit for literally three years, it was something new every week that would explain away my bad behavior – “I think I’m having a heart attack” “you have no idea how bad things are at work” “I’m under so much pressure” or literally other bullshit. If I would have thought of bipolar back then I probably would have used that as an excuse. Which is to be clear, not a trivialization of bi-polar or any mental issues. I just personally think Kanye is using that as a deflection point within his serious personal relationships or introspection and not digging into the ‘real Kanye.’
And that is where “ye,” though enjoyable, is lacking.