Kanye West is alone.
As hard as that is to believe being the most famous and polarizing rapper of the last 20 years (let alone the last 20 days), Kanye has seemingly never felt more isolated than he has now. Now that might’ve been on purpose since he’s been spending the last year couped up in a private residence in Wyoming working on new music. Still for a man who has been all about spreading love to everyone recently, he’s found himself in multiple situations (by horrible circumstance or self-inflicted idiocy) where the only person he can trust or confide in is himself. The walls are closing in on him every time he makes a move, he feels the tiniest bits of pressure on his body. He’s backed into a corner and doesn’t see a way out. So how’s he been handling himself?
“The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest/Today, I seriously thought about killing you/I contemplated, premeditated murder.”
If 2016’s The Life of Pablo showcased a more unstable and manic Kanye, then ye is Mr. West as his most fragile, self-loathing and paranoid. This is still very much “the new Kanye” bragged about on TLOP, with low droning bass beats and looping electronic samples flooding the seven tracks with sparse bits of “the old Kanye” peppered in via bits of gospel-tinged backing music and the occasional R&B backing singer (Charlie Wilson, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih). But while the Kanye of TLOP was proudly displaying his fractured, unhinged state of mind, ye comes from the mind of a man retreating from his energy and deeper into his demons. Now THAT is an interesting narrative for a Kanye West album, who even at his most emotional vulnerable can’t help but brag about metaphorically banging Taylor Swift. And given the current state of public opinion on Kanye (and his opinion on *cough* certain things), it would be interesting to hear the long and hard journey he took to reach his new “I love you” enlightenment…..
Too bad we only get to hear 24 minutes of that journey. For an album that starts right off the bat with Kanye considering suicide, ye seems to put Kanye back on his own boisterous high-horse in record time. It feels like there are chunks of songs missing on here that would’ve told the story of Kanye looking at himself in the mirror facing up to his faults or coming to some kind of conclusion to keep on keeping on. Kanye’s interesting mindset lasts for about the first three tracks, with album opener “I Thought About Killing You” starting with the spoken word bit on self-infliction leading to a verse where Ye lashes out at those holding him down (“Buckwheat-a** n***a, it’s ‘gon be otay/Sorry, but I chose not to be no slave”) and even his former big brother Jay Z (“How you gon’ hate? N***a, we go way back/To when I had the braids and you had the wave cap/Drop a pin for the fade and I’m on my way ASAP”). With his self-professed opioid addiction recently coming to light, “Yikes” only makes more sense with the lines of “Tweakin’” on 2C-B and DMT. It only furthers his paranoia (“Hundred grand’ll make your best friends turn to opps”) yet somehow further detaching him from sensitivity (“Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too/I’ma pray for him ’cause he got #MeToo’d”) while keeping his corniness well intact (“N***as been tryna test my Gandhi/Just because I’m dressed like Abercrombie”). Somehow he finds time to make the weird girlfriend diatribe “All Mine” that covers his wide range of taste (“I could have Naomi Campbell/And still might want me a Stormy Daniels”), how ladies can play a man with some timely family drama peppered in (“All these thots on Christian Mingle/Almost what got Tristan single/If you don’t ball like him or Kobe/Guarantee that b***h gonna leave you”) and a quick dig at Nike for some reason (“Ayy, if you drivin’ ’round in some Dri-Fit/Ayy, I’ma think that you the type to dry snitch/Hm, mhm, if I see you pull up with the three stripes/Ayy, ayy, I’ma fuck around and make you my b***h”). These songs and their big leaps from being about a mad genius re-evaluating his work to pretty typical Kanye-isms, which would be fine if Kanye had anything else interesting to say or had interesting music to back it up. At least The Life of Pablo had the sound of the “new” and “old” Kanye crashing into each other too what held together on songs. On ye, it feels like Kanye could’ve made this album in his sleep.
Not to say that there aren’t any interesting songs here. On “Wouldn’t Leave,” he credits wife Kim Kardashian for putting up with his very blatant bs (“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”) and thanking her for trying to help him (“You want me workin’ on my messagin’/When I’m thinkin’ like George Jetson/But soundin’ like George Jefferson”). Complemented by some impressive background vocals by PARTYNEXTDOOR and Jeremih, it’s one of the few times where Kanye’s corniness can actually be a bit sincere, like Kanye can still hang his head down awkwardly with his hands in his pockets like the self-conscious kid on “All Falls Down.” Even his brag/diss tracks still hold up well when he focuses, as he does on the brief “No Mistakes” with a killer hook by Charlie Wilson. The most enlightening moment is on the closer “Violent Crimes,” Kanye’s take on Nas’s “Daughters” that switches out Nasir’s detail and deep-thinking with Kanye’s hype and humor (“I hope she like Nicki, I’ll make her a monster/Not havin’ ménages, I’m just bein’ silly/I answered the door like Will Smith and Martin/N***a, do we have a problem?”). It’s the best kind of Kanye: sincere to his daughters and reject stereotypes (“Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates/Just play piano and stick to karate/I pray your body’s draped more like mine/And not like your mommy’s”) while also not shying away from his unhinged nature that clearly hasn’t gone away with fatherhood (“I swear that these times is the wildest/She got the scars, they serve as reminders/Blood still on her pajamas”).
“Violent Crimes” song fades out with 070 Shake and Ty Dolla $ign saying “colors drippin’ off,” as a sign that the times have gotten darker and could get even darker. Kanye clearly wants to imply that and his current life certain leads to that conclusion. But ye is too short and too restrained to make any kind of significant impact, making for the least important album of Kanye’s career. Whatever kind of spiritual enlightenment or mental snap Kanye endured will probably never be fully revealed by the man, stashed away in his ivory tower while he continues his quest to be the most iconic artist of his era. It’s amazing how even when he seems like the most unhinged and most tortured, Kanye has become so comfortable.