“If you’re a fan of Kanye West, you’re a fan of yourself…”
— Kanye, Bonaroo 2014
Being a fan of Kanye West has always seemed like a privilege. Like you were in some secret club and only people who truly “got it” could appreciate it with you. Before the critically-lauded Yeezus dropped in 2013, thousands of people stood outside of buildings around the world to watch “New Slaves” projected on the edifice. It was like a religious experience. Five years later, I don’t know how many of those people would wait outside on a mild Friday night in May to watch a Kanye West art exhibition.
Ye is a 7-track toe dip in the pool of artistry. Instead of the chainsaw grind of “On Sight” or the molasses gospel of “Dark Fantasy,” listeners are greeted with Kanye talking to himself: “The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest / Today, I seriously thought about killing you.” But a different duality follows Kanye throughout the album — Kanye the artist vs. Kanye the person.
At its heart, Ye is an album about mental health, about self- and relationship- preservation. Like self-preservation, it’s deeply selfish. There was no way for Kanye to avoid the controversy surrounding the past few months, but he doesn’t reflect. He just builds up his defenses.
So if Kanye doesn’t have bars like he did in 2012 and is relying on 2016 production style in 2018, what does he have?
“Wouldn’t Leave,” the fourth track on the album, is a beautiful love song and the most authentic song on the album. It’s an opportunity for Kanye to look back at his erratic behavior and see the damage he did to his family, his friends, his fans. Instead, he hits everyone with the Kanye shrug and moves on.
The fifth track, “No Mistakes,” clocks in at just over 2 minutes, samples Slick Rick, has a saucy Charlie Wilson and Kid Cudi hook and houses Kanye’s most compelling verse on the album: “Oh, I got dirt on my name, I got white on my beard/I had debt on my books, it’s been a shaky ass year/Let me make this clear, so all y’all see/I don’t take advice from people less successful than me, haaaan?” It’s the one song on the album that gives me a lot of hope for future Kanye, an articulate Kanye, a Kanye I wish the album had more of.
On every other album, Kanye has broken a mold: Dropout rose above gangster rap, Graduation transcended pop, and Dark Fantasy opened the doors to what hip-hop could be. Ye’s boundless preaching feels like a broken record.
Sonically, the album feels more like a Pablo EP than a true Kanye album. Songs like “Yikes” and “All Mine” would fit perfectly on the sloppy, mixtape-style B-side of Pablo.
So if Kanye doesn’t have bars like he did in 2012 and is relying on 2016 production style in 2018, what does he have? Masterful feature contributions from G.O.O.D. Music collaborators 070 Shake, Kid Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Travis Scott? Even that’s not enough to pull Ye out of the self-indulgent Wyoming wilderness.
The beauty of Ye is in its length. Like Pusha T’s DAYTONA, Ye clocks in at 7 tracks under 30 minutes. In a year where big rapper season has been clouded with seemingly endless releases from Rae Sremmurd, Playboi Carti, and A$AP Rocky, it’s exciting to see albums that trim the fat.
Kanye will always be a fan of Kanye. He’ll always be the loudest voice in his own mind. The life of Kanye West the person will always be an exhausting trip to follow and might result in Kanye West the artist losing his most loyal fans along the way.
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