Ahead of the release of Kanye (Ye) West’s new album ‘Yandhi’ in November, Jamie Riley reviews his album ‘ye’ released earlier this summer.
Kanye West may have had a “shaky-ass year”, but it was the month leading up to the release of his new album ‘ye’ which proved to be the most turbulent. Following a series of feverish (though not uncharacteristic) tweets in which he reaffirmed his previous support for U.S. President Donald Trump, the rapper provoked outrage by seeming to suggest in a TMZ interview that slavery was a choice. Thankfully, regardless of West’s absurd outbursts, ‘ye’ is not the alt-right album fans feared was coming. Sadly, it isn’t a particularly good album either.
In fact, it’s hard to say whether the lack of political content makes the album better or worse. Nobody really wanted to hear seven tracks of West’s red-pilled musings, but at the very least that would be about something. As it stands, ‘ye’ isn’t really about anything. The songs have definite topics, but they seem relegated to West’s periphery vision rather than his direct line of sight. You can describe most of the songs on the album by following the basic structure of: “Well, it’s kind of about X, but not really.” For example, what is ‘Yikes’ about? Well, it’s kind of about drug abuse, but not really. What is ‘All Mine’ about? Well, it’s kind of about infidelity, but not really – and so on. That’s not to dismiss the lyrics completely; there’s certainly some clever, insightful lines scattered throughout, but they’re buried so deeply in often irrelevant nonsense that the excavation just doesn’t seem worth it.
However, this need not be a problem. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ isn’t always the most focused album either, but what ties its sometimes scattered tracks together is its framing. The album doesn’t present a cohesive narrative as much as a collage of thoughts and feelings deriving from, but not always directly concerning, West’s experiences of fame, allowing him to tackle issues such as racial injustice, moral corruption and self-loathing whilst still remaining thematically relevant.
‘ye’ attempts a similar approach, mapping out West’s scattered thoughts in the wake of his declining mental health, but it’s a map with no clear directions. The opening songs, ‘I Thought About Killing You’, ‘Yikes’ and ‘All Mine’, underdeveloped though they may be, do address the self-destructive themes the album initially seems interested in. However, once West delves into hollow marital ballads, passive-aggressive Drake disses and creepy parental anxieties, the album loses its way with no clear idea of where it is, how it got there, where it’s going, or if there was even a planned route in the first place. After bursting into life, it simply shrugs out of existence, providing no answers to the questions it raises or any incentives to look for some.
This certainly speaks to a broader ignorance on West’s part, an unwillingness to truly engage with the ideas he’d rather flirt with, but if the album sounds unfinished – thematically or musically – it’s more likely because, well, it isn’t finished. Indeed, executed with all the grace of a student undertaking an all-nighter, West reworked the entire album in only a month following his appearance on TMZ, with some changes occurring as last-minute as the car-ride to the listening party. This alone isn’t exactly uncharted territory for West, having famously continued to make changes to ‘The Life of Pablo’ months after its release, but ‘ye’ comes off as less rushed and more disposable.
In part, this is an inherent problem with G.O.O.D. Music’s splurge of albums earlier this Summer, with each being shoved away by the next before it really has time to register – this very review feels completely irrelevant at this point. More particular to ‘ye’, however, is the too-specific context surrounding much of its lyrical content. Many of the songs allude to events which transpired little more than a month before the album’s release, but worse, assume that the listener is at least vaguely familiar with them. This may not be an unreasonable expectation in the short-term, but unless West plans on reissuing the album with a full set of footnotes, it’s doubtful how well ‘ye’ will age even within the next couple of years. It’s an album which capitalises on its own faux-controversy – it doesn’t have time to consider its lasting appeal.
So what are we left with? An album that only barely explores topics most people will have forgotten about within a few months. It’s not that there’s anything substantially wrong with ‘ye’, it’s that there’s nothing of substance. There’s appeal certainly – there are some decent beats, some creative flows, and some catchy choruses. It’s just disappointing that for an album that sells itself as a harsh, introspective look into the troubled mind of its creator, the only real shock is the dearth of ideas residing there.
[Image credit: aaronisnotcool/Flickr.com]