After Kanye West released “ye,” I didn’t wanna touch it first.
I visited his past work instead, to try and tease out a sensible narrative for a musician I used to consider a genius, maybe figure out what part of him was lost in the whirlwind of his dragon energy antics: proudly tweeting a picture of a signed MAGA hat, calling slavery a choice on TMZ, endorsing a free thought philosophy that’s half-baked at best.
I listened to “Graduation” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” mostly — one the revelrous magnum opus that put gangsta rap in the ground, the other a douchebag-toasting masterpiece with all of the lights on. Both triumphant. Heroic. The man was a hero.
So I can’t be faulted for listening to “ye” with preconceptions. I’m sure Kanye wouldn’t fault me either. He’s never been one to separate art from the artist, and besides, art doesn’t live in a vacuum.
So I go into the album, a tight seven-track record framed by Kanye’s struggles with bipolar disorder, a theme and reality in his life that had been left mostly unexplored until now. It’s a fascinating piece of work, one in which the supposedly tortured genius lays his psychological battles out with almost guileless moxie — from his addiction to drugs and bitches (Yikes, All Mine) to his questionable positioning as a husband and father trying to give up his misogynistic worldview (Wouldn’t Leave, Violent Crimes).
On the other hand, when he references his politically whack behavior, he only does so in passing (“I said ‘Slavery a choice’—they said, ‘How, Ye?’ / Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day”), forcing me instead to look at his pain, his battles, as if that’s the most pressing thing in this dark, twisted reality.
When he references his politically whack behavior, he only does so in passing forcing me instead to look at his pain, his battles, as if that’s the most pressing thing in this dark, twisted reality.
What am I supposed to think, then? That Kanye’s MAGA shit was just a result of mania? That I should accept this record as one tumultuous chapter in his journey to a peak that, frankly, he already reached pre-“Yeezus?” That this is art? It tempts the comparison that Taylor Swift is to “Reputation” as Kanye West is to “ye”: a clumsy product about falling from the grace of the public eye that attempts self-reflexivity, and fails.
Lest any Kanye stans think I’m being too harsh, I’ll be the first to admit that yes, “ye” has its heroic moments — the way 070 Shake steals the show on both Ghost Town and Violent Crimes, the way PARTYNEXTDOOR’s hook on Wouldn’t Leave is enough to make any schmuck boyfriend go soft. But the way it was with Kanye’s past work, beauty was easy to find. Beauty could rise up and smack you in the face. With “ye,” which collapses under the weight of its creator’s misguided convictions and bears the additional baggage of a persona gone peak tactless, beauty is hard to find. I gotta scrounge. This is not how an album is supposed to make me feel.
It tempts the comparison that Taylor Swift is to “Reputation” as Kanye West is to “ye”: a clumsy product about falling from the grace of the public eye that attempts self-reflexivity, and fails.
It’s the first line that Kanye utters that tips you off: “The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest,” he says in I Thought About Killing You. Kanye assumes that true artistry must come from a Chaotic Neutral place, as if saying something out loud “just to see how it feels” is the key ingredient to genius, as if courting controversy is what characterizes the creative process. And maybe that’s always been the way he’s done things, but it was also the same process that gave us poopy-di scoop. What the hell was that, man.
I wanna say I miss the old Kanye, but what would the point be? After repeated listens of “ye,” I’ve decided there is no narrative to mine, no meaningful truths to take away. “ye” is sound and fury, signifying nothing.