By Ben Luty
I don’t know how he does it, but everything Kanye West does is simultaneously genius and idiotic. Kanye is no stranger to things that somehow manage to be good and bad. On ye, he decides to release a seven-song, 23-minute album that was pretty clearly written and produced within the last month or so.
At first, I thought the short setlist was just a sign of the rushed nature of the entire project. But then like with Pusha T’s latest album “Daytona,” I think Kanye and G.O.O.D. Music have realized not very many people listen through full albums anymore. Clearly Kanye intended for “ye” to be listened to straight through in one sitting.
And listen I did. At least eight times on release day.
Forget “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” This is Kanye’s dark twisted reality. This is his struggles with mental health, bipolar disorder, staying faithful to his wife, drug addiction and loving his kids. It plays out like a therapysession for himself, calling himself out on his recent issues and public mistakes. Therefore, it’s a little tough to analyze in a traditional way. Since it’s only seven tracks, I’ll take it one-by-one.
To me, “I Thought About Killing You” makes the therapeutic concept immediately apparent. I interpret the song as meditating and making peace with his inner demons — that he would rather fix himself than kill himself, hence the repeated line “and I love myself way more than I love you.” This is the most emotional and powerful opener Kanye has ever created, and is a prime example of the incredible production throughout “ye.” The verse beginning at 2:20 may be my favorite part of the entire album. It’s the reason I keep getting excited to start it over again and again.
“Yikes” probably features the most controversial lyrics on the album, referencing the #MeToo movement, his visit to TMZ (where he infamously called slavery “a choice”), his bipolar disorder and his struggles with opioid addiction. The ending also finds Kanye coming to terms with his disorder, viewing it as a superpower instead of a handicap. “Yikes” is the best-constructed song on the entire album, with solid and intricate verses, unique production and a trap-influenced flow.
“All Mine” is about infidelity. It is loaded with classic Kanye-isms. Basically, he calls out a lot of different celebrities who cheated on their S.O.s and the chorus talks about uncontrollable desires. Not one of the highlights, but the beat is still fantastic and the features are solid.
“Wouldn’t Leave” is a more emotion track about how Kim sticks with him through all of his struggles. It displays the nice sentiment that he understands he makes a lot of mistakes and does bizarre publicity stunts and has someone to stick it out with him through thick and thin. It’s definitely got some Drake-like vibes to it.
Intentional or not, he immediately goes after at Drake in the next track, “No Mistakes.” I’m guessing that the lyrics to “No Mistakes” were originally different or Kanye didn’t have them written yet, but this song was clearly put together within the last week or two. The production doesn’t really match the sound of the other songs, and the lyrics are similar to Pusha T’s “The Story Of Adidon” at one point. Short and forgettable, but not bad.
“Ghost Town.” This penultimate track is the centerpiece of the album to me. While it’s known that the song was cut from the upcoming collaborative album of Kanye and Kid Cudi, it’s clearly because the song ties together the concepts of “ye” so well. I don’t know what it is, but Kanye just hits some nerve that Kanye, giving me goosebumps with songs like this. While Cudi is a grating singer at times, the line he sings is very telling of Kanye’s mental state, wanting the love and acceptance of the world as well as loving himself. The transitions from piece to piece of the progressing track is beautiful. Kanye’s verse is a lot like his lyrics on “Runaway,” calling himself out and referring to himself as “Years ahead but way behind.” 070 Shake’s outro is haunting and beautiful, and would’ve made for the perfect closer to the album. It reminds me of “Bound 2” in a lot of ways — saying, “Hey guys, it’s me, Kanye. I’m still in here, still full of childlike wonder and soul.” I know it hasn’t been out long, but “Ghost Town” is a top ten Kanye song, and I mean of all time, for me.
Tyler, the Creator really loved Violent C song (it’s his twitter bio), and it definitely sounds like something he would’ve put onto “Flower Boy.” The synths in the background are beautiful, and 070 Shake is fantastic yet again here. I hadn’t heard much from her before “ye,” but I’m excited to see what’s coming up with her now. A sentimental finish.
Something changed about Kanye West for me after listening through “ye.” The quick production and release of the album speaks to Kanye’s artistic ability, but it also displays an almost entirely new side to him. I feel like he had a face on for so much of his past work, putting on a big, braggadocious personality to growl through his lines. You may remember how Kanye’s 2007 classic Stronger was mixed more than 75 times before he was satisfied with it–that sheen is gone here, but his trademark soul and controversial one-liners stay in the mix.
While most of the tracks on ye are far from his best, there’s something inside me that wasn’t there before that just…trusts him now. He’s begun to make it clearer and clearer that he has serious struggles with his mental health, and I’m 100% by his side through it all now–even if I’ll never be able to conjure up a valid defense for some of his comments (he can’t either).
I think Kanye was looking to connect with those who have experienced difficulty with listening to his music in the past through ‘ye.’ Similar to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he wants to address controversy and explain a bit of what has been going through his head. I think that on “ye,” he’s looked into his own thoughts and found that deep down, he’s still the same kid he used to be, crying out for his mother.
On the livestream premiere of his new album, I saw Kanye crying tears of joy as he watched people listen to his struggles. And damned if that didn’t make me the happiest that I’ve been in a long time. I hope he’s doing okay.