Updated: Jan 21, 2019
Author: Sam Seliger
By this point, everybody is familiar with Kanye West’s antics leading up to the latest run of albums from his G.O.O.D. Music collective. West hid himself away in the mountains of Wyoming, surrounded by his collaborators then emerged on Twitter, to support President Donald Trump, and TMZ, saying that slavery was a choice. He concluded his antics by dropping the song “Lift Yourself,” with its infamous “poopty-scoop” verse. Although this behavior was controversial, Kanye West fans are no strangers to putting up with his outlandish statements. Back in 2004, West delivered his famous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line on a live fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina relief. In 2009, Kanye stole the microphone from Taylor Swift at the VMA’s and proceeded to rant about how Beyoncé was more deserving of the award. But those comments were different. In West’s old statements, one could argue that there were seeds of truth, and his ideas, touching on issues of racism, seemed understandable coming from a middle-class Black kid from Chicago.
Now, West is telling flat-out lies, endorsing extreme right-wingers as “free thinkers” and sharing his support for a president that much of his audience considers an enemy. West has always been willing to say or do almost anything for attention. But with his recent actions, he shows that he has lost his perspective.
But then the music came. Five albums, one a week. All have seven songs (excluding Teyana Taylor’s “K.T.S.E”). First was Pusha T’s “DAYTONA,” produced by West. Then came Kanye’s own “Ye.”
The cover art, a picture that West took of the mountains while on his way to the album’s listening party with the words “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome” is an almost perfect metaphor for the album. Both the album and the cover art were fine, but seemed done at the last minute. It felt like West was taking advantage of the beauty around him, and just doing it for the sake of doing it. With “Ye,” West delivered his worst project to date.
He opens with a bizarre monologue about homicidal and suicidal urges, but reminds us (as if we did not already know) that he loves himself more than anything else. When he finally gets to rapping, more than halfway through the opener (aptly titled “Homicidal Thoughts”), his verse feels bored, uninspired and uncreative—three adjectives that have never applied to West prior to this album. Punchlines like “get so bright it’s no sun, get so loud I hear none” are predictable, and do not really accomplish anything. On “Yikes,” he follows up his slavery comments with an ill-intentioned #MeToo pun: “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too; Imma pray for him ‘cause he got Me Too-ed.” Throughout the album, West’s rapping, when it is not in poor taste, is mediocre at best and lacks any semblance of emotional depth.
But West’s greatest strength has never been his rapping. West made his name as a producer, and that continues to be how he succeeds. The production on “Ye” is very good, but it is simply not on par with West’s best work. He shows flashes of the West that made classics like “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” but it all sounds uninspired. On “No Mistakes,” West flips an obscure soul song into a refrain that is hard not to love, and crafts a classic Kanye banger. But the song lasts only two minutes, and Kanye’s rapping is boring, overly blunt and his ideas are sometimes questionable.
To make matters worse, when the music is at its best, West is often nowhere to be found. When “Ghost Town” reaches its emo-rap culmination, it is West’s newest recruit 070 Shake and longtime collaborator Kid Cudi singing over the distorted guitars for most of the song, not West. On “All Mine,” West’s labelmates deliver creative hooks until he shows up to name-drop Stormy Daniels and complain about “thots on Christian Mingle.” Repeatedly, West’s co-conspirators put out some of their best work, and West simply fails to deliver at the same level.
The one exception to this is “Wouldn’t Leave,” in which West talks about his wife’s response to his slavery comments. West demonstrates his gift at making poignant, heartfelt music that he has shown sporadically throughout his career. In his raps, which are his best on the album, he paints his wife Kim Kardashian West as an intelligent, rational and empathetic woman, which is a feat in and of itself. But this song’s meaning takes a nosedive when one considers the context, which is that West is describing a woman whose family has made a fortune appropriating African-American styles and who has a reasonable reaction to a Black man saying that slavery was a choice so that he can sell more records.
“Ye” is very much reflective of what has happened to Kanye West: he is still the same attention-hungry musical genius he has always been. But now, it seems he is acting just for the sake of acting, and whatever filter he once had is gone entirely.
Photos courtesy of The Independent and Genius.