It would be easy to believe that Ye — Kanye West’s eighth studio album, which is often stylized as ye — would be buried under the weight of Kanye’s now-infamous outbursts. Between tweeting photos of an autographed “Make America Great Again hat,” declaring on air that 400 years of slavery sounds like “a choice” and, of course, rapping “poop-di-scoopty” for a full thirty seconds, many expected his forthcoming album to be more of an afterthought than a stroke of genius.
And yet, hope prevailed. It’s impossible to forget, after all, that West is no stranger to creating amid controversy — 2010’s critically acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was, after all, crafted in the aftermath of his interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The space surrounding Ye became a murky abyss. It was hard to know what the album would be — whether it would be nothing but MAGA or another innovative masterpiece. There was nothing to do but to wait.
As it turns out, Ye was not worth the wait.
It’s true that the album provides a rare look into West’s personal life and the struggles he faces. In its strongest moments, the patchwork of voices that comes together through West’s carefully curated samples and collection of collaborators is utterly resplendent, crescendoing and settling into softness just as majestically. The production, too, shines with West’s classic artistry rounded out with a newfound gentleness.
Yet even though its production might be technically excellent, the album brings nothing new to the table. Ye simply sounds like the quieter younger brother of Kanye’s 2016 release The Life of Pablo, a more passive counterpart that rounds out Pablo’s aggression.
Lyrically, too, the album bears unfortunate similarities to Pablo. With lines such as “Let me hit it raw, like fuck the outcome / Ayy, none of us’d be here without cum,” from the bass-heavy “All Mine,” Ye reflects its predecessor’s more hilariously inane and memorable moments. While it’s hard to claim that West has ever been the most virtuosic lyricist, on Ye, his lyrical capacity seems to have hit an impossible low. It’s West’s abundant unawareness of the sheer ridiculousness of these lyrics that makes them almost work. He raps “I love your titties ‘cause they prove / I can focus on two things at once,” with the same steady confidence with which he explains the frightening nature of his opioid addiction on “Yikes.”
The major novelty of Ye is its thematic content. Here, in the space of just 23 minutes, West delves into various facets of his personal life. Moving steadily from mental health to addiction to his relationship with his wife and children, on Ye, West paints a comprehensive portrait of the rapper’s own life. Though West scratched the surfaces of many of these topics in his previous material, it is here that he finally begins to more fully flesh them out.
This begins with the album artwork, a photograph of the Wyoming landscape taken by West himself en route to the album’s release party. “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome” is scrawled across it. Before the album has even begun, West has boldly declared his experiences with the disorder.
This continues, of course, with the album’s lyrical content. “Yikes,” the album’s second track, is a perfect example. The song presents West’s experiences with bipolar disorder and opioid addiction (“Tweakin’, tweakin’ off that 2C-B, huh?”). West’s mental health has been the object of public speculation for years, placed prominently in the limelight with his turn to Twitter philosophy and MAGA-ism in the past few months. The rapper has even obliquely addressed it within his own discography (“You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than / This n—- when he’s off his Lexapro,” he raps on “FML” from The Life of Pablo), this is the first time he has so frankly disclosed his own mental health status. The song ends with Kanye naming his bipolar disorder a “superpower” and declaring “I’m a superhero! I’m a superhero!”
Still, even with the new lens that West provides into his personal life, Ye is quite simply an album that fails to capture the attention that it seeks and, arguably, deserves. After all, the album signals a new path in Kanye’s discography and it’s a release by one of the greatest rappers of all time.
But at best, the album serves as a rehash of what Kanye has already done in the past. At worst, it is overpowered by Kanye’s new “free-thinking” persona that surrounded the album since its announcement. This persona creeps its way into the lyrics of each track, disrupting the sheer sentimentality of the album’s most personal moments and ultimately prohibiting the album from accomplishing all it set out to do.
Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected].