Release Date: Jun 1, 2018
Record label: Getting Out Our Dreams
For the first time in his storied career -- a career that has catapulted his discography into the holy grail of Hip Hop solo acts -- Mr. Kanye West does not have the answers. His semi self-titled ye masterfully arrives after the internet firestorm the 40-year-old maestro ignited through co-signing Donald Trump and other right-wing trolls. But when it comes to the moment of truth for an explanation, the 23-minute album glosses over the ongoing narrative of his mental illness and unscripted 400 Years A Slave feature, among other erratic behavior.
To download, click "Share" and right-click the download icon | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS The Lowdown: In some ways, Kanye West is continuing a struggle that goes back to his last great record, 2013's Yeezus. With its deadline approaching, Yeezus was famously a mess, bloated and unfocused. West took the album-in-progress to producer Rick Rubin, who took a hatchet to it.
There is something about the crumbling of American civilization that makes you want to say "fuck it" and go full cowboy; cue Kanye West and friends cosplaying Wyoming as a concept, living out a dude-ranch fantasy beneath the Tetons. It was there, in Jackson Hole--the most economically imbalanced city in America--where Kanye threw together his eighth album in the midst of a public unraveling that, in a society where celebrity wasn't deified, would be the stuff that ends a career. In the month leading up to ye, during which he and his team of producers and songwriters created the 24-minute album in its entirety, West proudly donned a Trump-autographed MAGA hat, sputtered that slavery seemed like a choice, and offered a steady stream of empty platitudes urging his followers to "stop thinking so much" and "google dopamine.
I want to talk about ye without making it about Kanye. But in an age where separating the art from the artist feels less like a tool for objectivity and more of a political choice, that's increasingly a no-can-do. And - a bit like the album title itself - with Kanye, you'd only be getting half the picture anyway. So what to say about ye? Rap's Holden Caulfield is riddled with contradictions.
Kanye West's modestly formed eighth record is a meditation on marriage, mental health, and addiction "No half-truths, just naked minds," Kanye West sings on Ghost Town, the penultimate and perhaps strongest track on his eighth album, 'ye'. And he isn't lying: every question you've had about the past year of the divisive rapper's life - from his battle with bipolar to his problematic comments on black slavery - seems to be answered in this widely speculated and fascinating record. At 23 minutes in length and with a brisk 7-song tracklist, it feels purpose-built to avoid room for euphemisms, too.
As stupid as it is, the first thing I thought of upon realizing I'd need to review Ye is Mission: Impossible III. As Billy Crudup's understated villainy is revealed, he sighs, "It's complicated." Fittingly - somehow - Kanye West even provided the theme for the film in 2006. Needless to say, Mr. West has not been an ally to himself of late.
In light of Kanye West's longevity - it is easy to forget that 14 years ago his contemporaries included Nelly, Fabolous and Chingy - it is now possible to split his output so far into three periods. The education trilogy (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation) planted his unique production style on the map and gradually expanded on it, three subsequent releases (808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus) showed a relentless drive for reinvention, and ever since 2016's The Life Of Pablo we've been in a phase which sees him somewhat rudderless, flipping between modern trends, "the old Kanye" and something else entirely. Ye opens with processed vocal harmonies and a tediously long spoken intro that sounds a lot like playing for time before launching into a confrontational verse, ending with "don't get your tooth chipped like Frito-Lay".
It’s been a mighty grim year to be a Kanye fan. For a lot of people, this guy is just a celebrity douchebag who dabbles in music on the side. But for the first time, it sounds like Kanye agrees with them. It always seemed like he cultivated that “jerk-off who never takes work off” image so he could hide his genius behind it – he felt safer there, with a smokescreen of bravado to hide the vulnerability and melancholy in his music.
All the clues you need are there - in front of you - on the horrific album cover. It's an Instagram-worthy mountain landscape defiled by a slime-green slogan ("I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome"). It's who Kanye is now, ladies and gentlemen. The themes that ooze out of this latest record as readily as they have previous records - self-harm, hatred, homicidal rage, toxic masculinity, drug abuse, delusions of grandeur - have never felt more counterintuitively alienating or distancing.
vs The People, vs The Man, vs The Ugliness. This is the part where I'm supposed to implicitly defend my Kanye fandom while I justify why the music is still worth it. Oh, I probably won't go into too much detail why, skirt as well as I can around the awful things he's said and done in the media this album cycle, but there's a baked-in defensiveness anyway. It's as if I'm starting off on the back foot by being a fan, even with all the separating-art-from-artists arguments I can throw up.
To review a Kanye West album is always, on some level, to review Kanye West. The rapper’s knack for imploding the separation between art and artist has been the connecting thread of his 15-year solo career, from his instantly epochal 2004 debut album, The College Dropout, to 2016’s messy but arresting The Life of Pablo. With Ye, he’s erased that separation entirely--naming the album after himself and scrawling a reference to his mental health (“I hate being bi-polar, its [sic] awesome”) across the cover.
When listening to a new record, it won't be long before the question reaches the front of your mind: "Is this any good?" Whether we listen to music for enjoyment, to learn something, to gain insight, to make us dance or some combination of the above, we have our own ideas of what constitutes "good music. " On some rare occasions, however, the burning question is: "Why has this been made?" That's not necessarily related to the quality of the work, but to a nagging sensation that you're not quite sure of the motives of the artist in question. ye isn't just an album that makes you question why it was made, it makes you question the entire concept of albums as an artform.
Two weeks ago I didn't want to hear a new Kanye West album. I've been a fan since I ordered an imported copy of 'The College Dropout' online in February 2004 because it was yet to be released in the UK, and have never not been excited ahead of one of his musical releases. When I saw the photo of Kanye rocking a MAGA hat on Twitter, I'd decided that I'd still be able to listen to an album as long as it wasn't deliberately and embarrassingly instigating controversy for the sake of it.
In a recent New York Times essay, titled “My Woody Allen Problem,” film critic A.O. Scott grappled with the problem of dividing an artist’s body of work from the inescapable particulars of a troubled (and troubling) human being. “Innocence and guilt are legal (and also metaphysical) standards,” he wrote, “but when we talk about the behavior of artists and our feelings about them, we are inevitably dealing with much messier, murkier, subjective issues.” Separating art from author has been a common practice – there’s Woody Allen, but also Roman Polanski – and, regarding the content of ideas, happy ignorance stretches all the way back to Wagner in the modern era.
Every great win streak comes to an end. Kanye West made a near perfect seven-album run (Eight, if you count Watch the Throne.) But now there's Ye--a seven-song, twenty-four minute Wyoming album seemingly recorded up until the moment of release. Ye, like The Life of Pablo before it, has had its fair share of controversy surrounding it: the MAGA hat, the slavery was a choice comment, "Lift Yourself." However, Kanye's antics are usually forgiven when the result is an incredible album.
Rating: NNN Before being assigned to review it, I had decided I wouldn't be listening to Ye by Kanye West. I have seen virtually every tour stop he has made in Toronto since 2005's Late Registration and have listened to and studied his records extensively, including 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which stands as one the finest albums released this century. But somehow, through willful blindness, I have ignored his more reprehensible traits, including his rampant misogyny and ableism.
The thing about watching Kanye West's train repeatedly go off the rails over the years is that, at some point, West realized the world would never turn its eyes away. By now, none of West's formulaic chaos should be jarring. When he sunk into a deep depression after the death of his mother, Donda West, in 2007 and emerged with the genre-bending "808's and Heartbreak," there was something genuine about sincere pain producing worthwhile art.
For a pop celebrity, solipsism comes as easily as breathing. In that respect, Kanye West has few peers. His eighth studio album, "ye" (GOOD/Def Jam), was unveiled at an exclusive listening party Thursday in Jackson, Wyoming, and it comes with the usual Kanye caveats: Is this a cry for help? Is this a put-on? Is he trolling, well, everybody? After a series of albums that rewired popular music, West's recent works -- "Yeezus" (2013), "The Life of Pablo" (2016) and now "ye" -- have increasingly sounded like extensions of his onstage rants, Twitter outbursts and unfiltered waywardness with words in interviews.