Review Summary: vs The People, vs The Man, vs The Ugliness.
This is the part where I'm supposed to implicitly defend my Kanye fandom while I justify why the music is still worth it. Oh, I probably won't go into too much detail why, skirt as well as I can around the awful things he's said and done in the media this album cycle, but there's a baked-in defensiveness anyway. It's as if I'm starting off on the back foot by being a fan, even with all the separating-art-from-artists arguments I can throw up. Thing is though, I just can't do it this time because there is no separation to be made. There's no separating the man from the music because they've become the same, and there's no ignoring his behaviour in the public sphere because it's coded into the music. It's all right there in the album title – Yeezus
without the ego, no capitals because this is the untidy, real-time, unfiltered thoughts of Kanye West. This time, being a fan is being forced to reckon with a man we don't necessarily like behind the music we love.
Twitter has become our place of public exorcism over the last few years, a whipping pole where sexual harassers and predators are rightfully outed side-by-side with every end of the political spectrum (and most members of the presidential administration) sniping back and forth forever. Kanye, give the guy some credit, is probably the ideal candidate for your archetypal Twitter user because the man filters absolutely nothing. It all came out when he resurfaced: poorly researched political opinions, mixed feelings of loathing and forgiveness towards the plastic surgeon who operated on his mother, what seemed like a genuine attempt to extend love to people who have been pretty awful (and J. Cole, which might actually have been the biggest step). But the things Kanye said speak to a detached perspective that only comes from living at the top too long, surrounded by fellow people at the top; you can't love everyone when you're living in the streets, no matter how pure the intention might be. What seemed like a sincere desire for openness became alt-right tunnel vision in a truly 2018 way. Kanye's love has been twisted up, misguided and mangled into selfish and entitled ignorance which couldn't be further from where it began. Basically nothing could be worse for the kids who found culture in "Heard 'Em Say" or comfort in "Jesus Walks" or confidence to believe in themselves in "I Wonder". It's a sad, nasty thing and what it's given us is a sad, nasty album, one where all the good intentions and desire for cleansing honesty have been twisted into more self-delusion and artlessness.
The thing is, it's clear Kanye felt the catharsis moving through him when he recorded this album. "I Thought About Killing You" has the weighty, poetic self-seriousness of someone revealing their darkest secrets and desires to the world at large, though unfortunately the thoughts themselves are about as complex as unbuttered bread. Making things worse is Kanye's goofy delivery over Francis Starlite's autotuned gospel warble - not at all far from a thin mirror of "Dark Fantasy"'s opening moments, and performed by the knockoff Justin Vernon to boot – which is about as convincing as Jaden Smith's spoken word on that Childish Gambino EP. This disconnect between intent and delivery is explicit the entire album through. From the harried, unfinished-sounding "No Mistakes" which is built on a skeletal Slick Rick sample and almost nothing else, to the choppy breaks for chorus in "All Mine", to "Wouldn't Leave" which is basically a Francis and the Lights demo with a Kanye scratch vocal quickly added in. Worst of all is our first taste of the Kids See Ghosts
project, the lumbering and clumsy "Ghost Town". Clearly Kanye hears a "Runaway"-style epic in this song, and the razor-sharp guitar wailing almost takes the instrumental to the next level, but it's tanked by a grand total of three all-time worst vocal features in the man's discography. It would have made perfect sense as a closer; 070 Shake's kinda nonsensical "I put my hand on the stove to see if I still bleed" has all the wannabe poeticism of the record's opening lines, but then again Kanye's never been all that interested in coming full circle.
What I hear in ye
is a man who, after burning through his righteous anger with the American Dream (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
), the oppression of black Americans by white America's industries (Yeezus
), and all the various ways family and friends can screw you over (The Life of Pablo
), was finally left with nothing to be angry at except some sort of emptiness inside himself. Yes, I applaud the honesty about mental health, and the message at the end of lone standout "Yikes" where Kanye refuses to allow bipolar illness to negatively define him is a good and respectable one. But jesus, when it's coming hand-in-hand with lines about Russell Simmons getting #MeToo'd like it's an STI and not a vital social reckoning that's been years in the making, or saying "if you whip her ass, she move in with him / then he whip her ass, you go through it again" about his daughter North (currently five years old)？It's a childish, trivialising scribble over the image of any positive, uplifting messages the Love Everyone era was trying to send. The album is ugly, not just on the surface – although plenty of off-key warbling choruses see to that – but at its core. All of this is why ye
is not a good album, and it doesn't become good even if you retool the beats or do a second take of the abhorrent singing on "Ghost Town" or fix any of the other musical mistakes. It doesn't change anything because this is an album with a fundamental hole inside itself, a grand canyon between the purifying, cleansing art Kanye clearly wanted to make and the deluded, ugly one he ended up with. Maybe Kanye West exorcised all his demons onto the tape for ye
, and that's great for the guy, but at the end of the day it's as hollow as a rich rapper telling you to love everyone over twitter, and the guts he's spilling still stink.