Review: Kanye West, ‘Ye’

For a Kanye West album, Ye ends up being comparatively underwhelming, besieged by flashes of brilliance.

Another year, another Kanye West controversy. Most of Kanye’s 2018 has been plagued by his philosophical-turned-political tweets, and a rather distasteful TMZ appearance. Amidst all this it’s been clear he’s been on an expedition of stream of consciousness, tweeting a rather (at the time) unbelievable schedule of GOOD Summer releases – one every week for five weeks straight. We learnt with the erratic release of The Life of Pablo that Kanye cannot be relied on when it comes to release dates, but he’s managed to deliver week by week. Just the mention of Ye, Kanye’s eighth solo album, creates an apprehensive feeling. Will Ye be filled with MAGA-supportive bars or be another genius display of musical royalty in his immaculate discography?

With the compact run time it has, Ye has little room to impress. The seven-track motif Kanye’s insisted on for every GOOD Summer release means all seven songs must be all hits, no misses.

So with only seven tracks to deliver on, it’s tough to grasp how incomplete and unaccomplished Ye is. Ye provides an enjoyable listen, but the standards – set by Kanye himself – are so high that Ye doesn’t dazzle enough over the 23 minutes when considering the previous bodies of work he’s shown he’s capable of creating.

The opening track, “I Thought About Killing You”, begins with a spoken-word metaphor of Kanye killing his ego before transitioning into a real verse and robust beat. As clever as the metaphor is, the Francis and the Lights sound has been overused at this point, nor does the second half provide much resurgence thanks to Kanye’s weak flow. The track lacks identity and ends up lacking any replay value, ultimately feeling like a waste of space on an album that’s supposed to be airtight.

Kanye West campfire

Fortunately, Ye experiments with promising ideas for the remainder of the album. Ye picks up the pace with some bounce on “Yikes”, bringing back the flow from Pablo‘s “Facts” with Kanye showcasing the charisma we expect from him. The playful, sex-obsessed “All Mine” channels the same charisma worthy of replays, although the track is not fleshed out to its full potential. The tender “Wouldn’t Leave” is an improved sequel to Pablo‘s “FML” powered mainly by Ty Dolla Sign and Jeremih’s vocals rather than Kanye’s own performance.

While these songs are sonically pleasant, they are far from fulfilling their true potential. The fact Kanye stated he redone the album two weeks before release is clear as day. Kanye is known for his meticulous craftsmanship, yet that is glaringly absent on Ye.

Kanye is best known for his magic behind the boards, but Ye suggests that many buttons were left unpressed. Most of the production on Ye is sparse, and at times lifeless. This is the case with “All Mine”, consisting only of bass and claps. If it wasn’t for the distinct hook, the track would not have any value. “Wouldn’t Leave” dons a similar identity, but goes over much more successfully as the sentimental subject matter matches the gentle beat. As pretty as the song is, one can’t help but notice how much it sounds like a throwaway song from The Life of Pablo penned by Chance The Rapper.

The sole song that lives up to West’s artistic abilities is “Ghost Town”, a heavenly hymn fitting of the Wyoming landscape it was birthed in. A progressive sample throughout the song makes “Ghost Town” the best-produced song on Ye. The highlight of the song and the whole album is 070 Shake’s performance, who steals the show in the latter half with her uplifting exclamation of liberation (“I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free”). Shake’s deep, distinctive voice sets her apart from every other vocalist on the album who would have been competing for the spotlight.

Instead of addressing and providing some clarification on his recent controversy, West chooses to indirectly mention it in the form of songs dedicated to his wife and her loyalty (“Wouldn’t Leave”). More sentimental moments crop up on the closer where Kanye vents his insecurities surrounding being a father to a daughter (“Violent Crimes”). Although that can be appreciated in some sense, it provides no satisfaction as a listener seeking answers from the ever-so puzzling Ye.

One topic that Ye attempts touches on is mental health, however it barely scratches the surface on the issue. Just like the cover and closing words of “Yikes” suggest, bipolar is what Kanye has been suffering from. Describing bipolar as a superpower rather than a disability is the sole empowering proclaim. Outside of this reference, we do not get a chance to hear Kanye West be transparent. Instead, he spends the 20 minutes tampering with imprecise thoughts.

It’s not hard to believe that with the level of talent Kanye West has that he didn’t have bigger and better songs in the stash that could have made the tight tracklist. What we get is a satisfactory selection of what was whipped up in Wyoming in those two weeks preceding release. The issue isn’t that the songs on Ye are bad, it’s that Kanye can do better. Unless he embarks on Pablo-esque alterations, Ye may just be Kanye’s first blemish in his immaculate discography.

Rating: 6.5 / 10

Best tracks:  “Ghost Town”, “Yikes”, “Wouldn’t Leave”