Kanye West. At times a problematic figure, but now undoubtedly one of the best producers/artists of the last two decades at the very least; if we look at statistics and record sales. Unfortunately, for better or worse it seems that when he does anything at all it’ll be frontpage news – be it positive or negative which has somewhat marred his legacy from some people’s perspectives.
Every single album West has released since his sophmore effort ‘Late registration’ has now debuted at number 1 on the US Billboard top 200 chart – that’s a run of 8 albums with the release of ‘ye’. His first LP ‘The College Dropout’ (an album deemed by many to actually be his best) debuted at 2nd on the same chart.
While one of Kanye West’s 8 projects that helped him achieve this impressive run is his collaborative effort with Jay-Z; ‘Watch The Throne’, and his more recent collaboration with Kid Cudi ‘Kids See Ghosts’ has only just been released (and it’ll be interesting to see how that charts in the coming weeks) – statistically he is one of the greatest musicians of the last few decades, accomplishing a feat that has only been equaled by Eminem and The Beatles. Not bad company to be amongst.
With all that said, ‘ye’ is a departure from the albums we’ve previously heard from West. Not only is it the shortest of his solo studio albums with 7 tracks (allegedly down to West rebuilding the album from the ground up following a certain TMZ interview) and a run time of just over 20 minutes, but also with some the artistic styles employed.
‘ye’ opens with ‘I Thought About Killing You’ an introductory track that features West using a spoken word style that longtime fans have not heard very much of at all since his days preforming on the Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) hosted HBO show, Def Poetry Jam. His hit track ‘All Falls Down’ featuring Syleena Johnson from his debut LP actually began as a spoken word piece titled ‘Self Conscious’ on the platform.
“Today, I thought about killing you, premeditated murder.
I think about killing myself,
and I, I love myself way more than I love you.
The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest.
I think this is the part where I’m supposed to say somethin’ good.
To compensate it so it doesn’t come off… bad.”
Kanye West – Today I Thought About Killing You
Although the spoken word segment is an isolated occurrence on ‘ye’, it’s certainly a welcome return for long term fans and something many would love to see Kanye give a little bit more attention, especially as it’s one of the most interesting highlights of the album.
On ‘All mine’; the most playful song lyrically on the album by some distance, we have un-credited features from Ty Dolla $ign and the relatively unknown Ant Clemons. Clemons in particular has a stellar performance on the track with his delivery of the chorus. Interestingly, the track takes some of the avant garde and industrial spirit of West’s album ‘Yeezus’ with the production choices and sounds used.
“They say, “Build your own”—I said, “How, Sway?”
I said, “Slavery a choice”—they said, “How, ‘Ye?”
Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day.
Now I’m on fifty blogs gettin’ fifty calls.
My wife callin’, screamin’, say we ’bout to lose it all.”
Kanye West – Wouldn’t Leave
The extremely meta ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ is a testament to the changing nature of the music industry and how quickly artists can now adapt a project before a release date. Kanye perhaps pioneered this in popular culture with his previous album ‘The Life of Pablo’ where he released the album on streaming services, only to then decide he wasn’t finished with the project; rolling out updated versions of several tracks not long afterwards, tweeting that he would “fix” the track ‘Wolves’.
In this particular case, ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ –an ode to his other half Kim Kardashian West references amongst other things, a much publicised TMZ interview where West quipped on the topic of slavery; “For 400 years? That sounds like a choice”.
Unsurprisingly, the comment (along with the context of West’s open support of Donald Trump) drew the ire of almost the entire black community – or those on social media at the very least.
However, almost exactly a month later here we have a song that not only just addresses the situation, it’s actually also very well rounded and arguably one of the better tracks of the album. The soulful ‘Wouldn’t leave’ features a gospel choir, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Ty Dolla $ign to bolster an earnest apology to both his wife and the partners of men worldwide who’ve let their other halves down.
On ‘Ghost Town’ with PARTYNEXTDOOR, 070 Shake and Kid Cudi, we get an introductory glimpse of what the Kids See Ghosts collaborative album sounds like. Although Cudi and West turn in excellent verses (even if Cudi’s is teasingly short) Its 070 Shake however who steals the show on the track, with an outro that shows that Uncle Kanye (This writer’s tongue was firmly in his cheek here) has been keeping an ear out for what the younger generation of hip-hop are tapping into.
“We’re still the kids we used to be, yeah, yeah
I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah
And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.”
Kanye West – Ghost Town
In recent times hip-hop artists such as (but not limited to) Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion, 6ix9ine and the late Lil Peep have moved towards hip-hop with lyrical content more commonly found in the emo genre. On the only track of the album featuring his long time collaborator and self-proclaimed ‘Lonely stoner’ Kid Cudi it seems that West extends an olive branch to the younger generation of hip-hop with this feature by 070 Shake, something that is all the more unsurprising when taking into account his own recent mental ‘breakthrough’ (his own words).
Overall, ‘ye’ is a tough study. Not being one of the privileged music journalists that heard the version of the LP before Kanye rebuilt it makes it even tougher – although reports are that the version released it does differ quite considerably from before the TMZ interview. With this in mind, ‘ye’ is a successful album, although it’s not without flaw. The final track ‘Violent Crimes’; a preemptive strike on those who will attempt to date his daughters in the future, will probably age well – but at this moment in time it’s rather uninteresting and ultimately quite missable after hearing it once. On an album of only 7 tracks that’s not ideal.
Although ‘ye’ probably will never sit in the upper echelons of Kanye West’s musical legacy, it is by no means a project that is at the bottom of the pile either, an impressive feat in only a month.
With his production of G.O.O.D Music CEO Pusha T’s Daytona album being well received, equaling Eminem’s and The Beatles’ record of 8 consecutive number 1 albums, the Kids See Ghosts album hot on the heels of this LP, as well as The new Nas album imminent with West producing – it would seem Yeezy season isn’t approaching anymore, it’s here.
‘Ye’ is out now on Def Jam Recordings/ G.O.O.D Music.