After an over two year hiatus, with the exception of a few inconsequential features and some production work on the side, Kanye West has returned in full force. Following “Daytona,” which was exclusively produced by West, news of a collaboration project with Kid Cudi and the two teaser tracks preluding this new project, “Ye,” Kanye’s 8th studio album, has dropped. At just 23 minutes, with a total of 7 tracks, it’s skeletal compared to the likes of “Late Registration” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” which, sporting runtimes of over an hour and, in the case of “Late Registration,” more than double the number of tracks, amount to musical epics.
As for the production, it’s as bare bones as the album’s cover, with soft, echoey vocals and simple instrumentals prominently featured on nearly every track. Similarly to “Yeezus,” “Ye” captures the essence of Kanye’s signature production style, an emphasis on vocals and soul samples, while simultaneously stripping it of all the grandiosity and swagger that we’ve seen develop over West’s previous projects. However, “Ye’”s themes and overall mood feel far more personal and genuine than any track that ever came out of “Yeezus,” which simply boiled down to a messy, unorganized parade of Kanye’s over-inflated ego that was a stretch for even the most hardcore Kanye fan. And that’s because “Ye,” much like the majority of Kanye’s later discography, is an exploration of the mental state and perspective of Mr. West himself.
Right from the intro, which opens with these very quiet and soothing vocals from Francis and the Lights, accompanied by a monologue from Kanye, it’s made very clear that “Ye” is much more reflective, and I would dare say sentimental, than Kanye’s previous projects. This isn’t to say that tracks like “Real Friends,” “Roses” and “Hey Mama” weren’t examples of extremely genuine and emotional moments, but while these tracks felt like impassioned detours on their respective albums, this pouring out of feeling is much more centerstage on “Ye.”
The emotion that’s put in the spotlight is about as unstable and unpredictable as Kanye himself. We go from the sporadic and energetic “Yikes,” which feels like a mental outburst, to the slow and somber “Wouldn’t Leave,” where Kanye is reflecting on mental breakdowns like these with what seems like regret. From lines about the toll his actions have taken on his relationship with his wife, to the guilt that he feels for the pressures and criticisms that come with her marriage to him. As we see from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Ty Dolla $ign’s hook, these feelings have gone far enough to create a distance between the two of them, where Kanye “doesn’t feel that she’s mine enough.”
We see the climax of these brimming emotions in “Ghost Town,” which draws some inspiration from classic rock and samples “Someday” by Shirley Ann Lee, while featuring contributions from John Legend, Kid Cudi and 070 Shake. On the track, the toll of this swing of emotions becomes seemingly overwhelming as Kanye decides to abandon these emotions entirely, leading to the euphoric state of the entire cut, rather than to deal with and experience the pain. The experience of numbness is embodied perfectly in 070 Shake’s outro with the lines, “I let it all go, of everything that I know, yeah / Of everything that I know, yeah / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.”
At its core “Ye” is a story about Kanye, but more importantly it’s a story about genuine human experience. The ability to separate art from the artist is a hot topic in the media, and from his Twitter rants to statements about President Trump, few artists are as contentious as West at the moment. With the album littered with references to the aforementioned controversies along with several other incidents that have followed Kanye throughout his career, the project can seem dismissable as simply another perspective from him to his fans. However, when it comes to “Ye,” there’s a little more to it. Is “Ye” one of the most Kanye-focused albums ever? Yes. But simultaneously, what this album does is tell a story that’s one of the most personal and resonant West has ever told; it’s a story less so about the larger-than-life figure and one that focuses on the man behind the curtain.
Verdict: With a short runtime and fluctuating mood, “Ye” is far from Kanye’s greatest project. However, with compelling emotion and stellar production, it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored.