It must be difficult being Kanye West. That level of fame, predicated on his vast laurels, long career and marriage to a reality television dynasty would take a heavy toll on most. Of course, a lot of his trouble is brought on by himself. Nobody spurred him to say that slavery was a choice in that already infamous TMZ interview. Yet this is the man that made ‘New Slaves,’ presenting listeners with a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction. One more in the construction that is Kanye West the man and artist. With Ye, he attempts to tackle some of these contradictions head on.
This comes through first in the cover art, a picture of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming mountains he apparently snapped hours before his very expensive listening party, coupled with a cartoonish scrawl stating ‘I love being bipolar, it’s awesome.’ He addresses this dichotomy right away with opener ‘I Thought About Killing You,’ which could be read as him battling with the darker side of his bipolar persona.
This theme is further explored in the tracks ‘Yikes’ and ‘All Mine’ where Kanye delves deep into his sexual proclivities, including an all-time ‘Ye joke: “I love your titties ‘cause they prove I can focus on two things at once” on the latter song. ‘Yikes’ is darker, scarier, more representative of his manic side, while ‘All Mine’ is much more minimalistic in its production, aside from a twisty refrain from new GOOD Music signee Valee. That these songs are followed by ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ shows off that same dichotomy once more. It’s a song that, while it mostly elides any explanation for his recent commentary, does describe the struggle his erratic behaviour brought on his marriage. A surprisingly effective PARTYNEXTDOOR hook and some Justin Vernon synth helps this track transform into a beautiful ode to the wives who stick with it through the worst.
‘No Mistakes’ almost feels like a mixtape cut for his brevity, but it’s buoyed by an inventive use of Slick Rick’s ‘Hey Young World.’ ‘Ghost Town’ features uncredited vocals from John Legend, Ty Dolla Sign and another new GOOD recruit, 070 Shake, whose outro refrain is a total revelation here, managing to distill the album’s themes into a few chilling sentences. As well, Kanye’s singing here is better than it’s ever been, which is still not truly great but worth mentioning.
Closer ‘Violent Crimes’ is Kanye’s ‘I have a daughter’ track, something that Nas and many other rappers have touched on before. That being said, it is a beautiful take on familiar subject matter. While it could come across to some as overprotective and even patriarchal, Kanye’s love for his daughters shines through with an assist from the gospel production and more uncredited 070 Shake.
Really, your enjoyment of Ye comes down to your tolerance for and investment in Kanye the man. With essentially every previous record, he brought some sonic innovation to the table, which allowed some to ignore the real-life narcissist in favour of his ground-breaking music. He does not do this with Ye. Instead, he takes his gospel, soul and trap sounds and blends them together to create the song of himself. This is Kanye’s most personal record, and easily the most vulnerable he’s been since 808s and Heartbreak.
There is one big caveat, however. While Pusha-T may have benefited from a seven-song album, the same may not be true of Kanye. He’s known for his grandiosity and his exploration on record, and with the themes he tackles on this album, it seems it would have benefited from a couple more tracks to flesh it out even further.
The art is often intrinsic to the artist, until it isn’t. Like the words on the cover art, that about sums up Ye. What may end up being his most divisive record is also his most personal, something that the man himself probably wouldn’t want any other way.