It’s been almost two months since Kanye West’s return to Twitter, and my ears have not stopped ringing from the sheer volume of the conversation surrounding everything he’s said over that period. I still don’t know whether to be mad or amazed at the incredible amount of dialogue one person has been able to create recently. And it’s not the first time. Kanye has made it a habit to stir up controversy and to spark dialogue around basically every one of his releases thus far. Whether these dialogues are to express free thought and further society or just a plea for attention or somewhere in the middle, I’ll leave to you. But the impact and loudness surrounding the man is impressive.
However, here we have ye, a seven-track album as understated and calming (mostly) as the lowercase album title given it. The maximalism of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is not to be found here, nor is the intensely aggressive industrial grittiness of Yeezus. This album is for the most part uplifting, hearkening back to the soulful Kanye of old, layered together with blissful synth pads and beautiful vocal performances by Ye’s collaborators, bringing beauty to the brokenness Kanye expresses.
The 23 minutes of this album are jam-packed with memorable lines, even if they’re headscratchers. Kanye opens the intro track by stating, “The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest / Today I seriously thought about killing you / I contemplated / Premeditated murder / And I think about killing myself / And I love myself way more than I love you, so.” This opening gets right to the point of what Kanye wants to express at this point in his life. He’s recently dealt with mental health issues and is looking for a way to live life lovingly. By opening with these lines, Kanye expresses his bipolar personality, sharing that his thoughts often oscillate between deeply dark and beautiful. (Sound like a familiar album title?) But this is also a roundabout way of Kanye stating that this album is about love. He hasn’t killed himself but has instead decided to try to love himself more. And part of that for him is to love those around him better.
But before arriving at that love, “Yikes” outlines Kanye’s struggles with substance abuse and intoxication. Although sounding boastful, asking, “You know how many girls I took to the titty shop / If she get the ass with it, that’s a 50 pop,” Kanye expresses here more than anywhere his fear about his mental state: “Shit can get menacin’, frightenin’, find help / Sometimes I scare myself.” It’s especially frightening to see other pop icons, people that Kanye has looked up to for all his life, falling victim to the same struggles he faces, as he closes verse three: “I think Prince and Mike was tryna warn me / They know I got demons all on me / Devil been tryna make an army / They been strategizin’ to harm me.” It’s a real daily fight for Kanye; it’s no wonder that he posts so much on Twitter or is fully producing five albums coming out over five weeks. The way out, as he sees it, is to stay mentally focused and engaged at all times.
He addresses this on “Wouldn’t Leave”, saying, “I got the mind state to take us past the stratosphere / I use the same attitude that done got us here.” The track features beautiful performances from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Jeremih and sweet, twinkling production from Kanye that ranks among some of the most innocent and gorgeous in his discography. However, it is easily rivaled by closing track “Violent Crimes”, which begins with 070 Shake singing almost lullaby-like over a soft pillow of synths before Ye begins with his assessment of the male gender: “Niggas is savage, niggas is monsters / Niggas is pimps, niggas is playas / ‘Til niggas have daughters, now they precautious.” He continues to repent of his womanizing and objectification of women, as he realizes he would never treat his own daughters the way he’s treated other women. The track offers self-clarity and growth, while also serving as an indictment on society’s actions on the whole, which led to movements like #MeToo, and particularly calling out internet culture as he says, “I know it’s all pervs all on the net / All in the comments / You want to vomit.”
There is the question of how deeply Kanye believes the life-affirming messages he sends and how well he is exemplifying them with his actions. But while others may criticize him on that front, it is not my place to condemn him, just to analyze his musical output. And what ye represents is a troubled, yet hopeful time in the life of Kanye West. Its songs are memorable, and its production is what you’d expect from this century’s greatest producer. Although not a masterpiece like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, ye shares an abbreviated, yet complete look at Kanye, both the highs and the lows.