After spending the time around the release of his previous album, The Life of Pablo, blurring the lines between performance art and personality disorder, Kanye West opted for a somewhat less erratic run up to his 8threlease, Ye. While there was still more than enough of the obligatory baffling statements and controversy, the release of Ye was an altogether more sober affair and this shows in the album itself. While TLOP was continually issued with tweaks and updates for several months after its release and felt like more of a proof of concept, Ye feels like a complete, satisfying piece of work, everything its predecessor had the potential to be and more. It is still an eclectic mix of sounds and styles with surprising sonic shifts, dissonant, abrasive tones that blends the dark and the beautiful but is much more polished and skilfully crafted.
Thematically and stylistically, Ye is fantastic. The striking album cover makes open reference to West’s bipolar disorder, something that can be heard throughout the album both in the lyrics and the composition. The beats are often very minimal with prominent, dark, pulsating bass-lines and strangled percussion under bright pianos and the occasional distorted guitar. There is a clear musical style here, coherent to the point that the tracks do rather blend into one, although this is excused because it is some of Kanye’s best production work, not to mention that the project is a compact 7 tracks over a brief 23 minutes 41 seconds. In this time, the album says everything it needs to say, covering topics such as drug addiction, insecurity in love and mental health issues. The album opens with West bluntly stating: “Today I seriously thought about killing you. I contemplated premeditated murder and I think about killing myself and I love myself way more than I love you, so…….”. This striking and somewhat uncomfortable opening sets the dark, naked tone for the rest of the album perfectly. This opening track, ‘I Thought about Killing You’, not only gives a sobering account of his battle with his mental health but also challenges listeners coming into the album with the view of West as little more than a self-obsessed prima donna.
Lyrically, Ye includes some of West’s weakest work. There is something to be said for the argument that the often facetious, blunt rap verses West delivers are juxtaposed against the wonderful beats and guest vocals from the likes of John Legend as an artistic choice. However, no amount of self-awareness can make the line “I love your titties ’cause they prove I can focus on two things at once” anything other than horrendous. In fact ‘All Mine’, the track hosting this abomination, is the undoubted low point of the album and features several of the worst lines ever committed to mp3 with Lil’ Wayne levels of wordplay and maturity. As a whole, the album’s verses are delivered with a sharp, straightforward flow and offer a contrast to the luxurious, sung choruses. A particular highlight is ‘Ghost Town’, the albums climax, which features 070 Shake singing in a transfixing style “And nothing hurts anymore, we’re still the kids we used to be” a chilling conclusion to the narrative of drug abuse and mental issues. The album then closes with the sober ‘Violent Crimes’, a thoughtful and mature discussion that women may also be people with feelings.
West has spoken about wanting to be seen as an artist rather than a rapper and if any of his efforts warrants this then it is Ye. The album has a distinct style and a point it delivers. If listened to in a death-of-the-author type bubble, the album is undoubtedly less interesting but in the context of West’s very public breakdowns, hospitalization and drug problems it becomes a fascinating insight into a dark world. It successfully tackles the themes and creates a sound that West has been attempting since his seminal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and while it may not have the lyrical quality or pop appeal of that album, Ye is his most mature and artistically crafted work. It does sometimes lets itself down lyrically, but it’s still a fantastic, refreshing album.By John Richardson