Even the most loyal Kanye West apologist (raises hand) can admit that Yeezy has not had the best year. But let’s step back in time to before he wore a MAGA hat on SNL and visited the Cheeto bandito at the whiter-than-White House. West had dropped two tunes “Ye vs. the People” (a pro-Trump track) and “Lift Yourself” (aka “Poopy-di Scoop”). Sure, both tunes have bizarre lyrical turns, to make the understatement of the year, but they are two gorgeously produced tracks that seemed a return to early-Kanye neo-soul. Meanwhile, amidst making controversial statements about the nature of slavery, West was producing five releases that came out in May and June, collectively known as the Wyoming Sessions: Pusha T’s Daytona, Nas’s Nasir, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E., in addition to Kanye and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts and his eighth studio album ye.
Listening to ye in a vacuum—as one must these days in order to stomach it—it is an album that is bold and vulnerable. West confesses to suicidal (as well as homicidal) thoughts, comes out officially as bipolar, takes the blame in missteps in his marriage and admits to his fears as a father (in the misleadingly titled “Violent Crimes”). And all in less than 25 minutes. Make no mistake, there is still West’s characteristic bravado, mostly on “No Mistakes,” though even on that track he admits, “It’s been a shaky-ass year.” The standout track is “Yikes,” in which West juxtaposes calling his bipolar “my superpower” with manic screams.
Yet, despite moments of lyrical vulnerability, the production on the album is not up to West’s usual game-changing standard. With the exception of the Kid Cudi-featuring “Ghost Town,” it feels as though West was distracted from adding his usual depth to the sound, relying on a spare sound as a crutch, not as a tool. It’s no wonder given that the story behind the album is that, allegedly, West scrapped all he’d worked on and redid the album in two weeks. One has to wonder how different it may have sounded if West had pushed back the release date, as well as what the previous album sounded like by comparison.
“The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest,” the album begins. Unfortunately, despite Kanye showing some of his darker sides this year, we received a middling effort rather than being rewarded with his most beautiful art. That being said, middle-of-the-road for Kanye is still above and beyond most. The game may not have been changed this time, but the game is still good.