music / Reviews

Kanye West – Ye Review

June 2, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
Kanye West
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Kanye West – Ye Review  

1. “I Thought About Killing You”
2. “Yikes”
3. “All Mine”
4. “Wouldn’t Leave”
5. “No Mistakes”
6. “Ghost Town”
7. “Violent Crimes

Contrary to popular belief, Kanye does know better. Since his earliest days of backpacks and soul samples, he has always understood the difference between impulse and intellect – even if the latter never could control the former. The College Dropout (2004) could not resist splurging his money on shoes, liquor and jewellery even though he knew he was perpetrating and glamourizing a hurtful African American stereotype. Saint Pablo (2016), on the other hand, found himself pulled apart by alienation and indulgence as he tried to justify, apologize for and enjoy his own extremes.

One year after Kanye finally finished the gruelling task of mastering The Life Of Pablo (a circle that could never be squared) comes Ye, 23 minutes of lucid, purposeful music delivered (against all expectation) exactly on time. Kanye is no longer interested in perfection or justifying his every outburst and outrage, instead his latest album is simply testament to his contractions: the man he unashamedly is and the monster that stares back at him in the mirror each and every day.

Freed from the shackles of having to rationalize his behaviour, Kanye can now self-flagellate himself with a smile on his face, flipping off his naysayers as he lays down on the cross. Ye is an album of two halves. The first few tracks allow the bipolar Kanye to run rampant, screaming his head off, as he celebrates the fact that, despite all his abhorrent behaviour and depressive lows, women still fall at his feet and he remains loose from the norms that constrain the vast majority of the world’s working population. The Kanye that greets us is an unrepentantly awful human being (explicitly, in this context, a womanizer and misogynist). This hardly sounds like a recipe for a great record, but Ye has a sting in its tale.

The second half is a love letter to his wife and daughter. Kanye is bewildered that Kim still sticks with him in the wake of all the gleeful destruction he has wrought. In this context, his claim that “slavery was a choice” is not defended or even debated, it is merely an example of how Kanye’s idiotic impulses cast a shadow over his wife’s life and cause his family not only endless embarrassment, but tortuous pain. And yet, through it all, she stays by his side. He can raise his family as she clears his debts and sleeps alongside a saboteur hiding in her husband’s guise.

“Violent Crimes”, the masterful, heart-breaking closer, speaks exclusively to his daughters (specifically North-West). Kanye is petrified of sending them out into a word of brutal, thoughtless, lust addled bastards – bastards like him. The Kanye who stridently spits in the eye of the world on “Yikes” and “All Mine” is the villain of  “Violent Crimes”. He wants his daughters to grow up into beautiful women in their mother’s image, but knows they’ll be leered at online and may follow in their father’s carnally obsessed footsteps. It would be fair to criticise Kanye for being both over-protective and patronizing of young women, but the point of the song is not to tell a young woman how to live, but to crucify the kind of man who doesn’t think about his behaviour until he has a daughter of his own.

If the closer is a thoughtful meditation on watching a child coming of age in a wild world, then the opener “I Thought About Killing You” is Kanye’s idea of a heartfelt love song. Many rap albums have opened with death threats, but few of them are designed as compliments. Over a beautiful warped, subdued and mutated gospel hum of “I know, I know, I know”, Kanye admits, “today I seriously thought about killing you, I contemplated it, pre-meditated murder”. There is an inherent shock in the statement, but the gut punch comes in the second half of the couplet: “I think about killing myself and I love myself way more than I love you”. The impact is stark and startlingly, it might smack of self-mythologizing iconoclasm, but Kanye’s belief that you’d only consider killing someone you truly cared about is consistent with the solopsistic worldview he has developed over his last three albums.

Kanye is a rapper who does firsts and thinks second, and “I Thought About Killing You” is his most profound realization: he truly loves his family, but he will never curb himself or his behaviour, because his id takes priority over everything and everyone else. Just two years ago Kanye would have torn himself to shreds trying to justify and rectify the above statement, here, on the effortless and easy Ye, he simple says the unsayable and feels the weight come flying off his shoulders.

If the thoughts are new, then, surprisingly, the music is not. Ye doesn’t represent a grand sonic leap into the unknown (although there are plenty of new quirks, tricks and grand designs), instead Kanye has perfected many of the elements he debuted on The Life Of Pablo (“Yikes” is clearly a second stab at getting the sound of “Wolves” right). The brutalistic sample driven minimalism of Daytona  (Pusha T’s brilliant new album that Kanye produced) is not recreated here, instead the sonic palette is rich, but downcast. Soulful choruses soar and are allowed plenty of room to breathe, swan dive or contort as they so wish. Beats lurch and boom with a subterranean gloominess, while warm keys paint the sky and snatched vocals and choral arrangements explode with collective power and human fragility respectively.

The result is an album that evolves from fractured introverted insecurity to unifying torrents of enlivening and stately sound. The journey is paramount and this is a record that rewards start-to-finish listeners. The seven song tracklist is a statement in itself (like Daytona before it): a slap in the face of the algorithm gaming monstrosities masquerading as rap records built in More Life and Culture II’s image. The music, like the themes, slowly run together creating grand crescendos of both sound and thought at the album’s tale.

Which brings us to “Ghost Town”. The penultimate track and Ye’s work of genius – its very own “Ultralight Beam” moment: the one track designed to drop jaws and overwhelm the listener with its sheer power. Kanye might not be the best rapper (far from it) or the deepest thinker (well duh), but he has always aimed for profundity and “Ghost Town” is a piece of music that simply seeks to achieve more than its peers. It is daring.

So where to start? Let’s begin with the guitars. They have a distorted mountainous quality, but rather than soaring, they crumble around Kanye, encasing him in a screeching echo chamber of pure paranoia as these wonderfully rushed, mumbled and under-rehearsed vocals from John Legend and Kid Cudi fill the remaining void. There’s a dark psychedelia at work here, like “Welcome To The Machine”-era Floyd performed by modern black men raised on the best and most incisive soul records. Kanye croons his way through a red wine spilling recrimination masquerading as a verse, but somehow, underneath all the sorrow quenching, the track is picking up momentum and, in its final minute, “Ghost Town” explodes like a great gushing geyser. Suddenly the paranoia and ennui has given way to stadium conquering exhilaration as the guitars surf waves of pure positivity and a booming rallying cry emerges: “I feel kind of free, we’re still the kids used to be, I put my on the stove to see if I still bleed and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kind of free”.

It feels utterly triumphant, but it’s only an illusion. That final euphoric moment comes wrapped in thorns. Not only do the previous five tracks make it clear that Kanye cannot be the naïve youngster he once was (although he can act like a child), but “Ghost Town” reveals that he isn’t free to enjoy life without opiates: they have left him free from feeling all together as well as any real-time understanding of the repercussions of his actions. Hardly a sentiment worth celebrating: especially as this fist pumping moment is followed by a host of fears for his daughters’ future.

Ye offers so much to enjoy in such a short a listenable package that it’s easy to overlook the negatives, but there is plenty to critique. Not only the aforementioned tediousness of Kanye’s early lyrical content (yes his misogyny serves a narrative purpose, but that doesn’t make listening to Kanye explain how he could fuck your girlfriend any more interesting), but the bigger problem comes from Kanye’s rapping. It is tighter than usual in places, but he still sees fit to deliver a host of groan inducing one liners (“let me hit it raw like “fuck the outcome”, none of us would be here without cum”) and rambling verses that lead to lyrical dead ends (the opener falls off a cliff after a brilliant start). In this light, tracks like “All Mine” suffer, its chorus is sublimely contorted and should be an underground hit, but the verses careen between awful and excellent couplets so haphazardly that it proves actively infuriating.

By the album’s conclusion you’ll find yourself wondering whether Kanye should just pack in rapping altogether. So many of Ye’s best moments are rambled, screamed, half-crooned or simply spoken. Kanye has a lot to say and plenty to express, but he does it far better with his production and his tone than his actual words. His foot in mouth syndrome is essential to making this project and his introspection work, so its hard to imagine Ye being so effective without its bars, but as he grows older Kanye may find himself shifting into the role closer to that of Gil Scott Heron or Mark E Smith, than a conventional rapper/singer. This talk may well be fanciful. Kanye is a rap producer and so many of his arrangements lead the listener to expect bars to arrive at the exact right moment (“Violent Crimes”) and, when he does deliver on the mic, the end results are transcendent (if only these moments were more routine).

So there are serious faults to be found on Ye, but, truth be told, this short, endlessly listenable collection is too coherent and sonically satisfying to quibble over. Kanye is an arsehole who fucks, not only his own life up, but his family’s present and future. The joy of this album is in seeing Kanye give up justifying his excesses. He is living the hedonistic high life in the moral gutter. On Ye he has realised the boisterous American dream and become the nightmare he hopes his daughter never has to meet, let alone fall in love with.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Short and to the point, despite an onslaught of distinctly dodgy lines, Ye is a twisted love letter to Kanye's family that doesn't seek to justify his behaviour (or his politics), but instead shows their devastating effects on those who love him the most. The highs are sky high ("Ghost Town") and the sonics (while more offering more of a sly evolution than a grand leap forward) are richer, more dynamic and more grandly ambitious than those of his peers.

article topics :

Kanye West, David Hayter