On Ye, Kanye West ends the New Kanye era, and ushers us into his new world of self-aware maturity.
The idea of “New Kanye” blossomed around the time of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, when Kanye was no longer seen as the innovative newcomer in rap, but rather the established egotistical maniac that the public would view him as for years to come. Under the “New Kanye” era, we received multiple classics including Twisted Fantasy and The Life of Pablo, the latter of which grows on me more after every listen. Kanye’s work and opinions have undoubtedly been polarizing for the past decade. Projects like Yeezus, where he experimented with his sound, while proclaiming he was a God may have been the peak of Kanye controversy, until this album rollout. Post TLOP, a lot happened to Kanye. First he came out to supported Trump, then he went to a mental hospital, and since then he has come out to say he was diagnosed with a mental illness, and oh ya, he still supports Trump. So with the new album around the corner many people were worried Kanye would be washed, that he would not be the same artist he once was, and that he could be done forever. Those people were proven wrong. Ye, brilliantly addresses Kanye’s mental headspace, over varied production in an engaging 23 minute emotional experience.
From the jump, Kanye sets the tone for the rest of the album on “I thought About Killing You”. The track opens up with a spoken word piece by Kanye where he reveals the evil thoughts and depression he has. The line “today I seriously thought about killing you, pre meditated murder. And I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you” perfectly sums up the entire song. Kanye delivers these chilling lines over cloudy production, bringing a somber tone to what he is saying. As the track goes along the production matches Kanye’s intensity. At first he begins to rap melodically about his family and continues to dive into his depression. During this segment of the track subtle 808 kicks are added in the background. Then the track becomes far more aggressive when the total beat kicks in. The beat is still atmospheric, but the drums are hitting. Kanye matches this intensity with his lyrics addressing his place in the industry and his haters. This track serves as a great opener for the project, as it delves into Kanye’s bi-polar mindset of being suicidal to fully braggadocios.
“Yikes” picks up where “I Thought About Killing You” leaves off with another high energy beat. The beat features an entrancing vocal sample, with jingly percussion in the background. While the beat is solid, it does lose its lust as the track goes on. Outside of the hook, the beat is the same loop for the entire track. Some variety in the track would have been much better, but still the production is entertaining. On the track Kanye lyrically focuses on his opioid addiction and mental struggle. Kanye refers to the drugs he has taken, including 2CB and DMT, as well as his time in the hospital rapping “hospital band a hundred bands, fuck a watch.” This line shows how Kanye has overcome his illness and learned to embrace it calling it “a superpower” later in the song. The hook is catchy and dark, but I cannot help but hear the influence of wolves on this track, making me think Kanye could have done better. Also, Kanye struggles to stay on topic on Yikes. Specifically the segment referring to Russell Simmons and the #MeToo movement. While these lines leave a lot up for interpretation (it is hard to tell if Kanye is supporting Simmons or not), it probably was not the wisest inclusion on the album. Kanye probably should have been more descriptive in his writing, because those lines have potential for fallout. But even with the numerous flaws on this track, Kanye still comes through with a catchy flow and beat, making it far from a dud.
“All Mine” is definitely a highlight from Ye. The production is very straightforward enlisting a holy sounding organ melody, that is abruptly cut off by a crisp dense bassline that runs for the rest of the track. While the minimalism of the production may seem like a setback, it actually fits perfectly with the dynamic performances of Kanye, Valee, and Ty Dolla $ign. On the track Kanye and company rap about infidelity and the temptation to cheat on your loved one. Kanye uses multiple celebrities who have been caught up in cheating scandals to explain his struggle to stay monogamous saying “If I pull up with Kerry Washington/That might be an enormous Scandal/I could have Naomi Campbell/ and still might want me a Stormy Daniels”. The opening lines of his verse Valee’s high pitch singing performance just oozes sexual tension, which is perfect for the theme of the song. Kanye’s wordplay and the sensual performances from Valee and Ty Dolla $ign make “All Mine” a highlight on the album. Also only Kanye can mention “thots on Christian Mingle.”
“Wouldn’t Leave” serves as the foil for “All Mine” as Kanye details his love for his wife, Kim Kardashian. Once again the production on this track is not the most layered, but the simplicity works. While the production is simple, it is beautifully done. The piano melodies that pop up are subtle but sweet. The drum pattern is very skeletal but heart pounding, and the vocal samples add quite a lot to the track as well. The choir and Ty Dolla $ign give grand performances on the chorus, making the track even more gorgeous. Kanye uses the track as a platform to show his love for Kim, and her ability to put up with his continued antics. Kanye raps about his controversial outbursts in the public eye including the how sway moment and his slavery comments on TMZ. Kanye tells us that he “told her she could leave now, but she wouldn’t leave” even after Kim thought they were going to “lose it all.” The refrain on the track by PARTYNEXTDOOR of “And I know you wouldn’t leave” is dazzling as well, adding even more emotion to the song. Kanye ends the song in a speech shouting out all of the women who stick by their men, even when they would not listen to them. The production during the speech has very sweet piano chords that sound like they could have been on Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book.
Up until this point in the album, the production has been relatively minimal and simplistic. “No Mistakes” is an extreme change of pace from that tone in the best of ways. The track begins with booming bass and a few quick vocal samples saying “believe it or not.” This then transitions into the chorus through an elegant arpeggio of warped notes. The arpeggio leads into a palatial chorus featuring Charlie Wilson and Kid Cudi. Wilson and Cudi beautifully sing “Make no Mistake Girl I still love you”, reaffirming Kanye’s love for Kim, over a triumphant piano melody and engaging drums. The production continues into Kanye’s verse including the repetition of the original “Believe it or not” Slick Rick sample. Kanye raps exultantly about overcoming his “shaky ass year” which included debt, aging, and dirt on his name. Then suddenly the beat cuts out to a heavy bass and a repetitive looming piano note. During this portion of the song Kanye allegedly takes aim at Drake, who has been caught up in beef with GOOD Music president and one of Kanye’s good friends, Pusha T. Kanye raps he is “too rich to fight you/ calm down you light skin and then suddenly the glorious beat and chorus kick in again this time with the help of incredible background vocals. While “No Mistakes” is only two minutes long, it is one of the boldest moments on the entire project.
Speaking of bold, “Ghost Town” is the best track on the entire album. The track opens up with these shining dramatic synth organ leads with Ty Dolla $ign and Shirley Ann Lee singing triumphantly. Heavy fuzzy guitars come in to make the track even more emotionally charged and glorious. Kid Cudi sings on the chorus in his usual moaning, slightly off pitch style. But on Ghost town this performance is ideal. Cudi’s voice has the perfect amount of strain and precision to elicit an emotional response from the listener. Cudi croons “I’ve been trying to make you love me/But everything I try just takes you further from me.” This can be interpreted as Kanye talking to himself trying find self-love and acceptance. Kanye continues the incredible awe inspiring performance with his verse. Kanye raps about his struggles with drugs, his outbursts, and his mental health, but still says “they gon’ have to rope me off.” Kanye knows he is here to stay, and affirms that it will take more for his critics to get rid of him. While his verse is about himself, it is inspiring to anybody who has been cast off. I would be remiss if I did not mention the absolutely ridiculous outro featuring 070 shake. This is the climax of the whole project. The production is grandiose with the guitar becoming even more prominent, until it fades out into a snare backing. 070 Shake gives the vocal performance of her life crying out “And nothing hurts anymore I feel kinda free/We’re still the kids we used to be/ I put my hand on the stove to see if I still bleed.” 070 Shake repeats this earworm in dramatic fashion multiple times as the beat transitions multiple times from guitar, to organ, to both, to silence, making each repetition different from the last. The sound effects peppered throughout sound futuristic adding yet another great element into the fold. “Ghost Town” may be one of the best songs Kanye West has made in a long time.
Lastly, “Violent Crimes” is a wonderfully eloquent and gentle closer to the album. On the track Kanye explains his anxiety about his daughters growing up. 070 Shake picks up where she left out on Ghost Town on the intro of Violent Crimes. Shake sings an endearing hook over spacey deep production saying “ Don’t you grow up in a hurry, your mom will be worried.” The added piano melodies add another touch of sweetness to the song. Kanye continues to deliver an amazing verse revealing his worries of his daughters growing up. There are so many impactful lines that I want to mention, but I can’t just put the whole verse in the review. The closing lines of his verse beautifully sum up Kanye’s point of view saying “N***** is pimps, n***** is players, til’ n***** have daughters.” Nicki Minaj is featured at the end on a recording a phone call, recommending a few lines for the track. While this touch me seem pointless, it has multiple purposes. First off it shows Kanye’s respect for Nicki as strong woman. But interestingly enough, Nicki Minaj was the first voice heard on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the last on Ye, further signifying the close of the new Kanye era. Overall, Violent Crimes is a poignant track from Kanye about fatherhood and maturity, and is an amazing closer to Ye.
Overall, Ye is not as grand as My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it is not as experimental as Yeezus, and it is not as wild as The Life of Pablo, but it is the most real piece of art Kanye West has delivered in over a decade. The lyrics are for the most part not wasted and the production is spot on. It is important to note that if you do not care about Kanye West, this album may not have the same impact on you. But if Kanye, like for me, has been one of the biggest parts of your life musically, this album feels important. Kanye West delivered yet another classic with Ye, reinvigorating his career one more time.
Highlights: I Thought About Killing You, All Mine, Wouldn’t Leave, No mistakes, Ghost Town, Violent Crimes