Kanye West - ye (Review)

Martin_Canine
KANYE WEST
ye
★★★★1/2

ye fits into Migos’ Culture II over four times. You can even listen to the first two songs once more. Once this fact dawned to me, I needed to question what I consider an album. I get that it’s a bit mean of me comparing the significantly short record to a 2 disc double album, but there’s another reason I’m doing this: the Migos album is exactly what people expect of a hip hop album where I live. It was released physically, can be found in every store that sells CDs, contains easily accessible hip hop music of the trap subgenre, and is stuffed with music. Now, if you read into the reviews and comments on the German Amazon page of ye, you’ll see a user furious about Kanye’s marketing strategy of not releasing it physically, even going so far as saying he lost them as a fan. German speaking people generally don’t trust the digital. They want to pay money for what they like, but want to get something they can hold in their hands for it - the same goes for movies, newspapers, books and other media. Getting the newest album by an artist means going to the store, buying it on CD or vinyl, and if you’re a big fan, get an expensive deluxe box set with all kinds of bonus material. Being a fan of American hip hop in Austria goes a long way of frustration and inconveniences, because many of the big names don’t design their records for this way of music consumption anymore (note that I myself didn’t create an account on iTunes until 2016, and just recently logged in to the free version of Spotify specifically to make these reviews - and if possible, I still buy an album that I like rather than streaming it). Despite that, ye is definitely an improvement towards The Life of Pablo in that it’s at least finished and available for download. I mean, a fan will always find a way to still listen to the record, but it just doesn’t feel the same as actually purchasing it.

Now, 2 years later, the god king of hip hop avant garde hybrid music blesses us mortal beings with another output. With only 7 tracks and clocking in at roughly 24 minutes, it’s what I would have called an EP, but for the master it’s enough to regard it as a full studio album. Who am I to disagree. Jokes aside, it’s been years since Kanye West’s musical output has been easy to like. He started off with straightforward, funky, soulful and poppy jams that were far bigger in ambition than those of anyone else in the business, but still stayed within the convention of the genre. He expanded on this idea for three and a half more albums (808s & Heartbreak is something of a transition; a clear experiment that offered a new sound, but that was still fairly easy to listen to and “get”), before deciding to let his Freudian unconsciousness take over the creative process. Ever since then has his music been so visceral and impulsive that it went a thin line between genius and madness, often both combined. It took more and more attention from the listener to truly get to the essence, an effort which was rewarded with a deep look into a mad man’s psyche as well as some extremely good, visionary music that’s unlike anything else, mainstream or independent. West’s discography became hip hop music’s counterpart to the best kind of abstract art.

ye was preceded by two singles, Lift Yourself and Ye vs. The People, which are not featured on the album but are without a doubt from the same recording session (and really, you just couldn’t fit them onto the album anymore to give it a somewhat proper length?). But did they hint at what to expect of the full record? People is a conscious hip hop song in which T.I. takes the persona of the people who harshly criticize Kanye for his political statements. The song is brilliant and has a few very intelligent and insightful arguments on both sides. Lift Yourself on the other hand sounds like a very, very rough demo. It has little non-sampled vocals and consists mostly of adlibs, and not exactly the most skilled ones. So what was to expected of ye? A radical political statement or a further dive into surreal territory?

In the end, neither is fully the case, but there’s a tiny bit of both in there. It’s without a doubt Kanye’s most introspective and meditative work to date. Where his past albums of the 2010s unfolded a savage, anarchic storm of thunderous emotion, the soundscapes of ye are much more melodic and smooth, the lyrics sometimes deconstructive. There’s still the occasional scream and West’s ego bursts out of all corners, but there’s also a hint of self reflection on these seven songs. Despite all of
his god complexes, he always acknowledged his character flaws while praising them at the same time. Like actor Klaus Kinski, Kanye West is often insane and even somewhat scary, but he’s also highly talented in his art and has found an intelligent of creative expression through a mosaiq of metaphors and intertextually. Unlike Kinski, he is very aware of his grotesque state of mind, and uses it to triple the intensity of his work - which Kinski not unlikely did entirely unintentionally. To be honest, it’s a surprise the diagnosis of bipolar disorder comes to such a surprise to him, but maybe he just learns to cope with the fact that his beautiful dark twisted fantasy has a name. In any way, it’s a topic that the album heavily draws from.

The opening song, I Thought About Killing You, starts off as a spoken word poem that slowly involves into a fully developed music track. “The most beautiful thoughts are always aside the darkest.” he says. “Sometimes I think really bad things. Really, really,.... reeeeaaaally bad things.” It’s a bit frightening because it’s relatable. We all have some very sick stuff going on in out heads, and what separates those who are called sane to those that are seen as crazy is merely the ability to keep it all inside. His vocals’ pitch shifts from helium induced to devilish over a minimalistic flangered synth line (could also be a distorted choir). It’s eerie, not least because it’s actually very harmonic and positive in sound, but completely off due to all the filters and lyrics. Towards the end, it bursts into an industrial beat made of shortly cut looping sound effects and unsettling noises, as Kanye’s rapping kicks in. You could also say the song’s two segments already bear the bipolar disorder in them, with a dramatic change in style and key in between.

It’s actually a really nice and fitting opener, as it shows what you are about to hear on ye. No, it won’t continue to be a poetry slam record, but it never touches on the levels of carnage of his previous works, instead relying on a sound that’s far calmer, yet still able to lay open the ways the mind of Yeezus works. He lives his life in a way that doesn’t fit society’s ideas, concerning both acts and views. It might end up in him puzzling, hurting or infuriating the people around him, but that’s just what’s deeply rooted inside of him. And whether you like it or not, it’s there. “See, that's my third person / That's my bipolar s--t, n---a, what? / That's my superpower, n---a, ain't no disability / I'm a superhero! I'm a superhero!” - with what sounds like a random ad lib at first listen, Kanye West has got a really valid point. Being bipolar frees you of the boundaries of social consensus, as you can’t keep your thoughts controlled as much. It may end up in you publicly admitting unpopular opinions, such as preferring a polyamorous relationship over commitment or supporting a right wing politician while being part of a minority yourself - but maybe you’ll help also the world feeling more confident about their own views, and ultimately put topics up for debate that others were too scared to address. Over the course of the album, Kanye drops numerous lines that could spark a discussion, and no one, probably not even West himself, will agree with all of them, but that’s exactly the great thing: we need different points of views to enrich and constantly question our own perspective.

Musically, the album offers a lot in its short length. Yikes is among the more traditional hip hop pieces Kanye has released in recent years. The song, primarily about the consequences of drug use, is reminiscent of Famous on The Life of Pablo. It’s a classic yet modern head nodder that could as well be a successful hit single, and it’s also the most conventional tune on an album that doesn't care about conventions. All Mine on the other hand has a certain Yeezus vibe. It’s very rough and sketchy, with an overmodulated 808 bass drum forming the body of the music, and a memorable falsetto chorus by Jeremih. Wouldn’t Leave adds a lot of soul to the anti-formula, interpolating a singer-songwriter indie pop sound. At this point, there’s a slight shift away from any minimalism towards lush production, and a clearer focus on singing. No Mistakes is as much baroque pop as his sophomore album Late Registration was, and Ghost Town’s massive organs, heavy guitars and lively percussions turn the record into an epic show of extravaganza - it’s the biggest moment of ye and plays like one huge climax. After all the emotions and ambitions have unloaded on this massive number, it all ends with the quiet, introverted Violent Crimes that, in the context of the album, resembles the credit song.

ye is magnificent. Although it’s a lot less aggressive than expected, it’s nonetheless absolutely visceral and adventurous. With a discography like Kanye West’s, the bar is set extremely high, and it’s astounding he still manages to deliver something so shamelessly gripping.

Comments

Update: it will get a physical release, it was announced to be released in July. Back when I wrote this review, only the digital release was available. - Martin_Canine

This was Kanye's least creative album as far as production but definitely his most introspective, which is what made me appreciate it more because once again, it's completely different from the rest of Kanye's discography. - Mcgillacuddy

To be honest, I liked it more than TLOP. Pablo had a bunch of catchy pop rap songs (Famous, Fade) and a few almost avant garde pieces (Pt. 2, Wolves) that really stand out, but most of it didn't really stick with me, although it was always entertaining throughout. I have the feeling that on here, each of the 7 songs was given full attention and especially the epic "Ghost Town" and the poetry of "I Thought About Killing You" are highlights for me. - Martin_Canine

You can say what you want about Kanye as a person. But you cannot deny he is such a good artist. - iliekpiez

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