CMA Awards 2018

5 Things We Learned on First Listen to Kanye West's 'Ye' Album

Over the past month or so, Kanye West, for better or worse, has demanded our attention. The Chicago producer/rapper has kept himself in the spotlight for everything from his “dragon energy” with kindred spirit Donald Trump and support of conservative pundit Candace Owens to his comments on slavery and the fiasco surrounding the Donda’s House foundation. If nothing else, Kanye kept himself in the spotlight. Coincidentally, amidst all of the fuss, he announced the release of a string of albums that started with Pusha T’s critically acclaimed Daytona, followed on Friday morning (June 1) by 'Ye's eighth studio album, Ye.  

Now that he has our attention, it’s time to show and prove. For over a decade, West has been at the pinnacle of creativity and has constantly dared to be great. If there’s one thing he refused to be, it was a follower. Although the influences can be spotted in his music, it’s pretty safe to say that there hasn’t been an artist like Kanye West. Whether you agree with his political views or not, Kanye’s artistry impact on a generation has been undeniable.

It can be argued that this is his most important project considering that so many people are demanding answers out of him. Does he fulfill the prophecy?

Only time will tell but here are five things that immediately jumped out at us upon the first run through of Ye.

Kanye West Embraces His Mental Health Issues

For the past few years, there have been questions about Kanye West’s mental health. This has been magnified by West’s actions over the past few months that have drawn the ire of even his staunchest supporters. But if Ye does anything, it’s address these issues head-on. From the opening track “I Thought About Killing You,” West is addressing the challenges he is facing. The manner in which he approaches the subject of suicide is staggering. On “Yikes” he looks at being bipolar as a superhero trait, which may strike a chord with many people going through the same thing. It’s not necessarily the crux of the album, but it is touched on throughout the 23-minute endeavor.    

Ye Doesn’t Actually Explain Anything

There was a promise that everything that has transpired over the past month would be explained on Ye. If you were looking for some kind of explanation for Kanye’s wayward tweets, liposuction revelation, ardent support of Trump, free thinking or claims that slavery was an "option," you are absolutely not in luck. Ye doesn’t answer any of these questions in any capacity other than alluding to the rapper's mental struggles. Instead, the 7-track project is about family, mental health and learning how to treat women better.

But then he also has songs about threesomes and taking women to get plastic surgery that completely contradict those thoughts. Perhaps that is the beauty of it all, but nothing on this album brings Ye's previous antics into context. If anything, West pointedly used controversy as a marketing tool for his album. It’s a strategy that will certainly pay off considering that all eyes are on Mr. West at this moment, but it’s disappointing that the Chicago artist doesn’t bring clarity to any of the things that he said over the past month.  

The only line that comes close is on “All Mine” when he says: “They say build your own I say ‘How Sway?’/ I said slavery’s a choice they said ‘How Ye?”

Yup, that’s about all we got.

And we really didn’t even get a mention of Donald Trump.

The Production Is Throwback Kanye

Like Pusha T’s Daytona, Ye takes Kanye West back to his earlier production techniques of sample chopping. Sparse arrangements litter the album on songs like the Young Thug and Jeremih assisted “All Mine” and the album opener “I Thought About Killing You.” If anything, the album is a hybrid of production from Late Registration and 808’s & Heartbreak with a hint of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. However, what it doesn’t do is push the sonic envelope as we’ve known Kanye has been apt to do over the years.

It’s truly missing that one undeniable beat that has everyone nodding in unison. Nevertheless, Kanye has proven to be a maestro of production and offers some impressive work here from the rolling guitars that power the John Legend, Kid Cudi and 070 Shake assisted “Ghost Town” to the chopping of Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” on “No Mistakes.” It’s rare that you get something truly bad when Kanye West is behind the boards. No matter where he’s at in life he’s still ahead of the curve.   

But Kanye’s Rhymes Are Not Up To Snuff

Unlike Pusha T’s Daytona, Kanye doesn’t pack the lyrical punch that is necessary to take the production to the next level. Instead, we get Kanye West at his most elementary. The regression in his lyrical ability is staggering and there are a number of reasons that can be attributed to this. Is it that he’s so detached from the rest of the world that he doesn’t really have much to say? Could it be that he’s missing the voices (and pens) from the likes of Rhymefest and Consequence, who grounded Kanye and assisted in providing his most thought-provoking rhymes? Who knows what to make of this, but what we are left with is a rapper who is a far cry from the somewhat conscious and introspective artist that delivered My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

"Let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome/ None of us would be here without cum,” he says on “All Mine.” On the same song he drops the gem "I love your titties cuz they prove I can focus on two things at once."

Ultimately, Kanye does his production no favors by packing in so many cringe-worthy lines in such a brief offering. That’s not to say that everything is bad because he does have his moments where the aesthetic all comes together like on “Ghost Town.” But that song is more about the guests than it is Kanye himself.

Less Is Not More

In some instances, a concise offering is more welcome than a project that is overstuffed for the purpose of streaming records. But for Kanye West, the margin of error on an album this short is slim to none. With only 7 songs to work with, one would hope that it would be an exceptional piece of work that spotlights the best of West. However, Ye could have benefited from having a few more songs. If nothing else, it could have helped set a more consistent tone. Instead, it’s quite the uneven effort where the bad is really bad (“All Mine”)  and the best doesn’t come close to competing with some of the finest moments of his previous work (“I Thought About Killing You”). Ultimately, Kanye is at his best when he’s playing the role of conductor and orchestrating the efforts of others. But when the focus is on him as a rapper, it feels like a bunch of incomplete thoughts that need more fleshing out.

In order to fully deliver on such a short outing, the rhymes and beats need to have a perfect marriage. Ye is flawed and doesn’t give us enough meat to chew on. Especially when you consider all of the controversy surrounding his life, it felt like this was going to be his most important album. Instead, it feels like an appetizer with no main course in sight.