Mention Kanye West and immediately music heads will conjure up their opinions over which of his first seven albums is his best and why. Over the past five years this exercise has been exhausted and beaten to death, so much so that the fun in discussing the greatness of Kanye’s career usually sounds like more of a turn off than the fun debate it should be. Regardless, with every new Kanye release, still comes a wave of curiosity – and an internet shit storm – that propels us to sit down and hear what he has to say – this time for only 23 minutes.
His most brief and unfinished body of work yet, ye is the eighth studio album from West. It captures him in a rather volatile state, recounting his darkest thoughts while simultaneously holding on tight to those dearest to him. Much like 2016’s The Life of Pablo, it’s an interesting yet messy portrait of one of pop-culture’s most instigating individuals.
Like every Kanye release, ye is enhanced audio experience. It is a short but equipped set of songs that offers up a few familiar takeaways. Kanye’s taste in production is still ahead of the curve; ye is a blend of styles he’s used in the past – classic soul, fusions of rock, electronic and hip-hop, gospel – although often times not fully realized or fleshed out. This is likely because of the rushed time in which the album was created, but as always, Kanye and his collaborators still present a number of fresh artistic ideas.
“I Thought About Killing You” and “Yikes” lack strength as well-written songs but boast unique production. The pitched sample in the former is particularly different. Still alive on ye is Kanye’s ongoing take on gospel and hip-hop that only a few other artists have done justice. “Wouldn’t Leave” executes this beautifully, utilizing contorted synthesizers and amazing guest vocals from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Ty Dolla $ign, who have become two of Kanye’s favorite album call-ups.
“No Mistakes” is another brief but charismatic performance. At this point, I consider Kanye a subpar rapper, but his lacking bars don’t succumb the album to being more lackluster. They’re kind of fun and comic if you don’t read too much into them. Yet, it’s also clear that Kanye’s mental state is as fragile as it’s ever been. His artistic pedigree and colossal level of fame put him in a unique class, so it’s strange to hear an artist of his caliber in such a sensitive place.
He dives further into personal fixings on “Violent Crimes,” contemplating the morally conflicting realities of raising a daughter, an admirable attempt at reclaiming the poetic depth that once had made him such a likable rapper. The album’s climax comes on the multi-dimensional “Ghost Town,” Kanye, Kid Cudi and 070 Shake each delivering memorable performances on the song, creating a beautiful and epic junction of rock, soul and hip-hop that recalls My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
At this point in his career, Kanye is not out to gain new fans. Most of his listeners have solidified their opinions of him, for better or for worse. Of course, this type of controversy has always been a part of Kanye’s MO. The difference on this record is that it feels more personal. Right now his mental condition is obviously in a weird place, which may be a serious matter. This album, however, at the moment, is not as significant. But in that somewhat unimportant regard, ye works. It feels incomplete, but it still leaves everything out on the table. At it’s best, it possesses many unfinished moments of beauty.