It’s been a tough few months for Kanye West. Having cancelled his previous tour citing mental health issues, Kanye took a step away from the limelight in 2017 and de-activated all of his social media accounts. Rumours were abound as to what Kanye was going through, and what he was up to during his self-imposed hiatus, and these rumours only intensified following a report by TMZ that West and collaborators were ‘holed up’ in the mountainous region of Jackson, Wyoming working on his eighth album.
As the months passed, gossip columns were full of the possible goings on in the mountains, as a host of rappers, producers and Kardashians were spotted in the area. As speculation grew, the hype intensified and it reached a critical point in April of this year, when West re-activated his Twitter account and begun to tweet about everything from free-will to the philosophy book he was writing and, most controversially, to Donald Trump, when Kanye tweeted an image of himself wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball cap. While Twitter went into meltdown, Kanye began doing a host of TV and radio interviews. One, however, took all the attention. In an interview with TMZ in the TMZ offices in New York, Kanye West said, when discussing free-will and free-thought,“When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice”. Since then, the anti-Kanye feelings that have been bubbling just below the surface exploded like a volcanic eruption, and once again, just as it had been following his interruption of Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech in 2009, it was Kanye vs the world. And that leads us to ‘ye’.
‘ye’ is the accumulation of two years of controversies, rumours and accusations and fans were desperate for some reasoning behind West’s support of Donald Trump and his public outbursts of the past. With so much expected of it, ‘ye’ would need to be an instant classic to force people to put all their anti-Kanye sentiment behind them and listen, and is it a classic? No. In fact, it’s Kanye’s worst album. So it’s awful? No, it’s actually pretty okay but compared to other albums in West’s discography, it’s difficult to compare ‘ye’ to any of them, mostly due to its running time. Prior to ‘ye’, Kanye’s shortest album was ‘Yeezus’ at 40 minutes. ‘ye’ is just over half of that. At 24 minutes, it’s keeping with Kanye’s apparent new ethos, that anything that can’t be explained in seven songs does not need to be heard.
So how are the seven songs? The album opens with I Thought About Killing You, a sparse spoken-word piece about his struggle with mental health issues. It finds Kanye talking about wanting to kill the ‘you’ (who we can only presume to be his wife, Kim Kardashian) and that he has thought about killing himself, and since he loves himself way more than he loves you, it’s obvious that he has thought about killing ”you”. An odd concept, and while there is a certain eerieness and creepiness created through the minimal instrumentation, the final third is an entirely different song, as though two separate samples were thrown together at the last minute. This is followed by Yikes and then All Mine (featuring Jerimih and Ty Dolla $ign), which contains some of the worst lyrics Kanye has written in recent years.
Wouldn’t Leave, is an ode to Kardashian and tells the tale of how his recently Bipolar diagnosis has impacted on his family life, his relationship with the media and his relationship with his wife. Revealing how Kardashian was close to leaving him, his appreciation of her for sticking by him and how close he was to losing it all, its simple drum beat and the chorus, sung beautifully by PARTYNEXTDOOR, make one of the albums most moving moments.
That is until the albums closer, Violent Crimes, in which Kanye raps about his love for his daughter, his fears for her future, of the men she will meet, fall in love with and how they will treat her. Admitting to having seen women as something to conquer earlier in his life, since having a daughter he has seen the danger women can find themselves in around certain men, and Kanye prays that his daughter will be safe when he can no longer protect her. Simple organ and bass instrumentation, it’s the angelically sung chorus (performed by 070 Shake) that really opens the song up to become the emotional and most endearing track on the album and it leaves listeners with a lasting positivity as its final notes play.
But there are downsides. It’s been reported that the original album was scrapped after the TMZ interview and everything we hear was recorded in the month since then, and it shows. It feels like a scrapbook of ideas, of lyrics that could have been tweets and of demos and concepts that haven’t fully be thought-out or considered, and while there are ideas that work (Violent Crimes) there are also some which don’t (No Mistake, which comes off as Bound 2 part two). It’s these moments that drag ‘ye’ down, and with only 24 minutes it hasn’t got enough time to pull itself back up. It’s very close to a succinct album, to a statement, but is just four weeks undercooked. Better than an average album, but nowhere near Kanye standards. Disappointing but unsurprising.