The past several months—since West’s return to Twitter in April—has marked a time of reckoning for his fans and friends alike. Longtime West devotees and collaborators abandoned the rapper in droves after witnessing a solid month of belligerent behavior on social media: What began as harmless philosophical drivel and questionable shoe designs quickly devolved into a series of polemical rants and an energetic embrace of Donald Trump that no one asked for.
On Friday, June 1, Kanye West debuted his sort-of-surprise, sort-of-self-titled eighth studio album, ye, at a star-studded listening party at Diamond Cross ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The 7-track album clocks in at just 23-minutes, his shortest yet, and features cover art West reportedly snapped on his iPhone on his way to the party.
Indeed, Friday’s album drop came at a time when people were still recovering from his remarks on slavery being a choice, admissions about his struggle with opioid addiction, and more recent accusations over his purported neglect of the Chicago nonprofit named for his late mother. West mentions, but mostly disregards the drama in ye, and on the whole, the album feels like a slapdash response to a messy year.
Sonically, fans won’t be disappointed by ye. It’s beautiful music: Rather than reinventing the wheel, parts of ye revisit the canon of West’s past work. “Yikes”, a strung out track mostly about drug use, would fit comfortably on the 808s or Yeezus tracklist. And “All Mine”—the album’s indisputable banger—opens with the gospel organ we heard throughout The Life of Pablo, before launching into titillating chorus by fellow Chicago rapper Valee, who somehow sounds more like Jeremih on the album than Jeremih does.
But the album’s most powerful features come from two women: rapper Dej Loaf’s ethereal vocals carry “Violent Crimes,” while 070 Shake, the 20-year-old G.O.O.D music newcomer, completely eclipses a nasally Kid Cudi on “Ghost Town”, the album’s definite anthem. The song recalls the sprawling sonic layering that gave My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy its epic sound.
That said, while the production may harken back to the “old Kanye,” lyrically, the record feels unsophisticated, hasty, and unfinished. West has long-since abandoned the thoughtful, clever lyricism of his earlier albums, a practice that he began in earnest on TLOP (much of it too NSFW to revisit here).
Ye is more of the same. From clumsy pop culture references (“If I pull up with a Kerry Washington, it’s gonna be an enormous scandal”) to inane political digs with #MeToo and Stormy Daniels references. Even ye’s more contemplative songs are dissatisfying: “Wouldn’t Leave” is a misguided apology to his wife, Kim Kardashian West, for sticking by him despite his humiliating behavior. Then there’s “Violet Crimes”—where West reflects in classic As A Father of Daughters-style that his treatment of women has miraculously shifted since the birth of his daughters: “Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture / Not somethin’ to conquer.”
Unsurprisingly, his most fleshed out thoughts on the album are on his own personal struggles: With addiction, with his bipolar diagnosis (which is essentially announced on the album cover), as well as his thoughts of suicide, which he ruminates on in ye’s rambling opening track “I Thought About Killing You.”
In short, while being a Kanye West fan has always meant acknowledging, if not making peace with, the arrogant character in the foreground, West chose a bad time to reach peak ignorance. Since #MeToo began last October, consumers of art, music, and film, have had a lot of practice appraising art in relation to the artist—and many have found that passively engaging with the works of men accused of harassment is a decision of weak complicity. A similar sentiment applies to West, (who, we should note, hasn’t been accused of harassment, though in a revealing lyric seemed to suggest that it’s not off the table).
Maybe it was naïve to hold out hope that ye—the second of five promised projects from West—would at least begin to respond to the past year’s controversy. But the album—which is pretty, but shallow and self-centered—leaves you with the impression that West’s growth as an artist is stunted. This realization is all the starker when compared to other musical giants, like Drake, Kendrick, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z, who use music—rather than social media and off-the-cuff interviews—to communicate. On this front, ye disappoints, and it won’t change your mind on Kanye.