ye album review: Kanye West comes undone on a personal record about family, politics, addictions

Abhinav Jai Singh

June 13, 2018 17:28:08 IST

Before we delve into Kanye West's eighth studio album ye, we have to address West's antics before its release.

Kanye is, unarguably, one of the greatest rappers of all time. The thing about hip-hop that people who are not fans of the genre do not understand is that a rapper, a good one, opens up about everything they have been through in life — fears, doubts, traumas, lies, poverty, family drama, heartbreak, addictions. They narrate their lives in such a way that their fans see them as someone they know personally rather than just another musician. This is particularly true for Kanye. Right from his debut record The College Dropout to 2016's The Life of Pablo, Kanye's fans have seen him grow from a young Chicago native to a rap-mogul with a God complex.

While Kanye has said a lot of bizarre, cringe-worthy things throughout his career, him wearing the 'Make America Great Again' hat weeks before the release of ye whipped up a serious shit-storm. Apart from getting his MAGA hat signed by Trump, Kanye, during a TMZ interview, said, "When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years? And it’s all y’all?" This was coming from the same man who, in 2005, went off-script on live TV during a Hurricane Katrina relief show to scrutinise the portrayal of black families in the media, and very famously said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

So, what's going on with 'Ye? The answer is on ye.

After being relentlessly criticised for his highly controversial statements, Kanye redid a huge chunk of the album. Seeing that he tackles relevant and recent topics on ye, it is apparent that the album was redone. ye is only 23 minutes in length and seven-track long, but despite its short length, it is loaded with references, word-plays, calling people out and explanations for Kanye's recent behavior.

ye int

ye album cover/Image from Twitter.

The first two tracks on ye are also its best. ye opens with the track 'I Thought About Killing You', a song exactly about what the title suggests. It begins with Kanye speaking about "killing you" and contemplating "premeditated murder" over subtle, outlandish background vocal harmonies that get more and more unnerving and atmospheric as the track progresses. Kanye's mental health issues, which have been a subject of media speculation for quite some time, feature prominently on the first two tracks.

As Kanye talks about murdering "you" and "himself", you cannot help but notice that both these people is Kanye. The song is gravely personal, with Kanye talking about why he chooses to say the things he says ("Just say it out loud to see how it feels/People say, 'Don't say this, don't say that'/Just say it out loud to see how it feels"), and makes it explicit that his thoughts of killing himself is not motivated by self-loathing ("See, if I was trying to relate it to more people/I'd probably say I'm struggling with loving myself because that seems like a common theme/But that's not the case here"). Kanye paints a picture of himself as a man who carries these disturbingly dark thoughts in the same corners of his mind as immense love for the people around him.

'Yikes', the second track on ye, further elaborates Kanye's disturbed mental health state. This is the first time Kanye has admitted to being bipolar, and 'Yikes' presents a bleak picture of him as a man losing control, high on psychedelic drugs, and full of himself to a point of no return. The hook on 'Yikes' is incredibly catchy and the flow is absolutely killer. Kanye's verses are drenched in paranoia and hyper self-awareness.

On 'Yikes', Kanye raps about praying for Russell Simmons because he got "#MeToo'd", and references being hospitalised and getting addicted to opioids. On the second half of the track, Kanye increasingly sounds like someone genuinely scared of evil forces out to get him. Kanye feels Prince and Michael Jackson — both of whom died as a result of accidental drug overdoes — trying to warn him. He draws a parallel between his philosophical self and Mahatma Gandhi saying that he, just like Gandhi, is not taken seriously because of his clothing choices. 'Yikes' is one of the most twisted and catchiest song in Kanye's discography.

"I can feel the spirits all around me
I think Prince and Mike was tryna warn me
They know I got demons all on me
Devil been tryna make an army
They been strategizin' to harm me
They don't know they dealin' with a zombie
Niggas been tryna test my Gandhi
Just because I'm dressed like Abercrombie"

The next track, 'All Mine', is the first weak moment on ye. The song, featuring guest vocals by Ty Dolla Sign and Ant Clemons, opens with a silly, juvenile falsetto that sounds distasteful at first. The beats of 'All Mine' are way too minimal for its own good and the song, a little under two and a half minutes in length, is too short to leave an impact on the listeners. On 'All Mine', Kanye talks about women and sex, and, for the first time, presents these topics as something that has done more harm to him than good. The second half of 'All Mine' carries these rough, noisy, caustic beats that bring the track to life.

The following song, 'Wouldn't Leave', is a sappy, apologetic track dedicated to Kanye's wife Kim Kardashian. It's here that Kanye explains his recent political statements and narrates how he calmed Kim down who was so worried they would "lose it all" that she "couldn't breathe". Just when you begin to think you don't care about the plight of two self-obsessed, super-rich celebrities, the song turns into a magnificent ode to women who stand by their men through the best and the worst times. The hook on 'Wouldn't Leave', sung by PARTYNEXTDOOR, has an old-school '80s R&B vibe to it which redeems the track. 'Wouldn't Leave' transitions beautifully into the next song, 'No Mistakes'. There are glimpses of classic early 2000s Kanye on 'No Mistakes'. His delivery, the flow, the instrumentals are bound together with lo-fi production quality that gives it the smug Kanye touch.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West with their family/Image from Twitter.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West with their family/Image from Twitter.

The final two tracks, 'Ghost Town' and 'Violent Crimes', feature Kanye's protégé, 070 Shake, and the unceasing melancholia she brings along with her.

On 'Ghost Town', also featuring Kid Cudi and PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kanye sounds gleefully hopeful over soothing soul samples hanging in the background. 'Ghost Town' has a strong, evocative beat, and the blaring distorted guitar gives it the much-needed experimental touch. But what really pulls you in and makes you fall in love with this track is the verse by 070 Shake. The chilling effect her vocals have is multiplied by the despair-ridden lyrics that go behind the psychology of self-harm and the feeling of being invincible.

The final track, 'Violent Crimes', brings forward a topic vehemently discussed by feminists in recent times: Men rethinking their feelings on the fairer sex because they now have daughters. The tone comes off as patriarchal, but Kanye is just being honest when he says he is a changed man as he now sees women as "somethin' to nurture/Not somethin' to conquer". Just like Eminem, Kanye too comes off as an overprotective father who would stop at nothing when it comes to his children; and even though people might misinterpret his lyrics or not pay attention to his intentions, Kanye is glaringly self-aware on 'Violent Crimes'. The track also dives into the topic of over-sexualisation of girls. Kanye borrows a line from Nicki Minaj (I want a daughter like Nicki, aww man, I promise/I'ma turn her to a monster, but no menagés) saying he wants his daughters to be like Nicki, but without the sexual promiscuity.

While ye isn't nearly as experimental or extravagant as Kanye's earlier releases like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus or The Life of Pablo, it is an important Kanye release. For everyone who has followed his evolution, ye provides answers to a lot of questions. ye is a refreshing direction for Kanye to head in; and his fans will love it because, whether or not they agree with him, Kanye puts forward an earnest picture of himself: A man deeply in love with the world and his family, but also emotionally strained to a degree where he fears a shocking, tragic death.

So the next time you are wondering what Ye means when he says something everybody hates, just listen to ye carefully.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2018 22:54 PM