by Clio Fleese
ye is good because it’s Kanye, but it isn’t great Kanye. Meaning, everything Kanye makes has a pretty decent level of quality because he is without a doubt extremely talented, but relative to the other work he’s has released, ye really isn’t anything musically special. In his eighth studio album, there seems to be some understanding Kanye has gained that, no matter what he does, as long as he gives us a few decent, decidedly Kanye beats, all will be forgiven. This has been proven true in part, although at this point it’s clear that the lack of effort has not gone unnoticed, even for some of his hardcore fans.
Kanye admitted that he scrapped a full album after his viral rant at TMZ (which most notably included his comment about slavery sounding like a “choice”), and he was even finishing one of the tracks the day of his Wyoming listening party. Unfortunately for him, he did not overcome that self-imposed time crunch to make something really worthwhile. In reality, the best thing ye has going for it is its role as a potential time capsule, a moment of Kanye’s life and career solidified into something tangible. That’s ye at its best—at its worst, it’s a mediocre, small collection of songs with some semblance of a voice, but nothing to anchor it.
The two high points on ye are tracks ‘I Thought About Killing You’ and ‘Ghost Towns,’ which almost bookend the album. The former starts with a calm, beautiful, and almost spiritual-sounding backing track, juxtaposed with extremely arresting lyrics (“And I think about killing myself / And I love myself way more than I love you, so… / Today I thought about killing you, premeditated murder). On this song, Kanye seems to want to immediately and concretely address his bipolar nature, with some of his widely beloved self-aware egotism. With a little over a minute left in the song, the beat switches to a more discomforting one, with dissonant qualities and a repeated scream; along with the beat, the lyrics also switch to a more classic rap style, complete with self-praise and disses, although, similar to a lot of the verses on ye, the bars really aren’t anything to write home about.
‘Ghost Towns’ features a great beat, with vintage soul samples as well as full-sounding distorted guitar reminiscent of the ending of ‘Hold My Liquor’ on Yeezus. It’s one of the more emotionally raw songs on the album, with Kid Cudi singing a classically sad hook (“I’ve been trying to make you love me / But everything I try just takes you further from me”). Kanye gets as close to self-deprecating as is perhaps possible for him, singing “Sometimes I take all the shine / Talk like I drank all the wine / Years ahead but way behind.” Funnily enough, despite this being the track that Kanye was still finishing the day of the listening party, it sounds more put-together than several other songs on the album. New Def Jam recruit 070 Shake sings a repeated phrase in the outro, ending with “And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” This could be referencing the struggle with opioid addiction Kanye very publicly admitted to going through, or perhaps the results of his embrace of “free thinking,” but it does have quite a beautiful and relaxing sound to it, although certainly tinged with a kind of vague sorrow.
The album’s low points are seen essentially throughout the remaining 5 songs on ye. Each song has its good own good qualities, but none of them are solidly great songs. Sexism and misogyny show through the cracks in ‘Violent Crimes,’ an ode to his daughters about how fatherhood has changed his view on women. Despite the possible good intentions, Kanye manages to proactively objectify his own wife and daughters’ bodies while expressing his worries and protective feelings about them (“Don’t do yoga, don’t do pilates / Just play piano and stick to karate / I pray your body’s draped more like mine / And not like your mommy’s”). ‘All Mine’ is a sexually-charged song with the currently popular style of mumbling auto-tune in the chorus, and is, I suppose, a fun song – one of the bigger contenders for the title of a “summer jam” – but is so sparse and soulless that I’m not sure it can reach that status.
‘Wouldn’t Leave’ is one of the more interesting tracks, perhaps the third best, but it feels the entire time to be stretching its arms towards real meaningfulness but never reaching it. Kanye directly references two of his most viral moments, the previously-mentioned slavery comment and his “How, Sway?” outburst in 2013, and adds “Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day.” He’s using his famous “craziness” to almost tease the audience into wanting more, but my immediate response to that line is: well, let’s see it, Kanye. What would you actually do on a “wild day?” Because whatever it is, it would probably get you even more attention… so why hold back? This leads me to think that maybe there isn’t anything more that he’s holding back, just the threat— or promise, maybe —of being more crazy, more wild, more out of control, that he needs to maintain in order to keep us coming back. This is what, ultimately, ye felt like to me: Kanye has nothing more to give us right now in the midst of dealing with his own internal conflicts, so he reverted back to tired themes hoping his audience wouldn’t notice the lack of passion behind his words. Many haven’t, or maybe they just don’t care because it’s Kanye, but once I realized that, ye lost virtually all meaning or usefulness in my eyes, especially when I really needed it to be something special in order to at all overshadow the disappointment I and many other fans have experienced over the past few months. At a moment when Kanye most needed it to, ye simply didn’t deliver.