When Kanye West invites you to go to Wyoming, you absolutely say yes. After receiving the invite and confirming my attendance, I spent the rest of the day of wondering if it was really happening. I sat at home with a bag packed next to me, ready to leave at the sound of a phone notification. My flight confirmation arrived at 2 a.m., and I trekked across New York to catch my flight at JFK with 60 other media outlets and influencers.
As we embark on our five-hour plane ride to Wyoming, my mind is racing about the surreality of it all. I think about what state of mind West is in. Would he show up rocking his Donald Trump-signed MAGA hat? Would he play a response to Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle”? Or would this moment be the theorized “prestige,” the big reveal that all of his recent social media controversy was really part of an intricate facade of performance art?
We land in small airport terminal at Jackson Hole, and are immediately greeted by a beautiful landscape of snowy mountains and grass hills for miles on end. For every New Yorker on the plane, it was a reminder that the so-called “flyover states” between coastal cities that we often joke about are real, and contain natural wonders that are as integral to the American identity as the man-made monoliths we stare up at on a daily basis. We deplane and arrive at the Jackson Hole airport. Wyoming may seem like an unlikely place to inspire West’s latest album, but it also served as the inspiration for Virgil Abloh’s Fall/Winter 2015 OFF-WHITE “Don’t Look Down” collection, which was inspired by the designer’s college ski trips to the sleepy northwestern resort town. So perhaps that may have helped put it on West’s radar.
Later in the day, we hop on shuttles from the Rustic Inn hotel for a 45-minute drive to the event. On the way, we pass the sprawling Grand Teton National Park, and plenty of local spots with animal-themed names—Snake River, Beaver Creek, and the towns of Elk and Moose. We arrive at the Diamond Cross Ranch in nearby Moran, a beautiful environment surrounded by mountains and doubles as a rentable event space for typical things like corporate retreats and weddings—probably ones where you’re more likely to hear bluegrass played at the reception than Kanye West. It looks like something out of a ‘90s Marlboro ad, somewhere between Westworld, a Jim Krantz photograph, and one of the locations that inspired the latest Red Dead Redemption game.
Outside, the sun is breaking through the clouds over a skyline pierced by mountain peaks, and hazard yellow construction equipment starts to wheel in massive sound systems, mixing Yeezy Season with harvest season. I see a herd of horses galloping around a wide open field, and suddenly kind of want a Budweiser. Later, I find out Diamond Cross Ranch enlists the services of Grant Golliher—a certified horse whisperer.
The party begins in a massive barn, with haystacks and metal ladders reminding us that we’re definitely in the boondocks. Outside, construction equipment wheels in massive soundsystems. Celebrities, artists, influencers, and fans intertwine and mingling over delicious barbecue. Jonah Hill is by the door grabbing photos with Lil Yachty, Desiigner is sitting atop a table throwing back ribs, while Scott Disick is doing his best Jared Leto impression rocking a full beard and man bun.
I grab a plate of wings, brisket, mac-and-cheese, and cornbread, and sidle up to a table with an open spot near DJ Clue. Guests begin huddling up in the back corner of the space. I think it means that Kanye West has arrived, but it’s actually workers bringing out boxes of new merch.
They set up a makeshift store giving away new Wyoming-inspired Yeezy hoodies, long sleeve T-shirts, and hats. However, guests are only allowed to obtain one per person—though it didn’t take long for people to try to finesse multiples. As the merch line grew, it was easy for many to sneak back in line to grab another piece.
I follow suit, managing to grab a black hoodie, orange tee, and a black dad cap. The holy merch trinity. Caught up in the moment, I pull an amateur move and throw it all on immediately. But it turns out everyone else is on the same wave.
As more wings were consumed, more celebrities started rolling in. First Chris Rock, then Nas, then Kid Cudi, then Fabolous, ultimately leading to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian finally making their grand entrance. They wore his-and-hers merch tees that had been hand-drawn by artist Wes Lang. Kanye “Not Smiling Makes Me Smile” West was all smiles. He snapped selfies with fans, embraced Rock and Cudi, and made his way around the barn.
The sun finally sets. What was once a nice warm spring evening turned into a chilly brisk night. However, the energy is high at this point, probably due to the vodka-infused lemonade slushies being served at high volume. Kanye then directs everyone to finally make their way outside. It was time to hear the album.
As we trickle outside, we’re directed to a roaring bonfire surrounded by stadium speakers and a DJ booth. Lil Yachty, Ty Dolla $ign, and Desiigner make a beeline to the front of the fire, prepping to mosh out. Then we hear someone grab a mic at the booth. It’s Chris Rock, who delivered a humorous introduction to the album and West.
“It’s beautiful—I was walking around, and I saw a moose!” he joked. “I went up and touched the moose, and the moose said to me, ‘Hey! There’s a lot of niggas here!’”
Rock continued to entertain the crowd for a short time, before announcing Kanye West and the album’s final name, ye. The album itself clocks in at a lean seven songs (carrying on the theme of Pusha-T’s DAYTONA length) and features special guests John Legend, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, DeJ Loaf, 070 Shake, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih and PartyNextDoor.
At this point, the roaring fire pit started spitting out ashes burning those who are close by, and hours later our covetable new merch will still smell like smoke—but no one really cares. West has captivated our attention.
He doesn’t shy away from addressing all things personal on the album. Everything from his mental health and drug addiction, to Tristan Thompson‘s cheating scandal, and even reveals how his wife Kim Kardashian reacted to his slavery comments.
“Wife calling screaming saying: ‘We’re about to lose it all!’ I had to calm her down ‘cos she couldn’t breathe / I told her she could leave me now but she wouldn’t leave,” he rapped. “This is what they mean for better or for worse huh?”
Despite the tone of songs like “I Thought About Killing You,“ “Yikes,” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” the overall vibe is triumphant. As 070 Shake’s extremely satisfying hook on “Ghost Town” hits for the first time, I look over to Kanye West and he’s smiling from ear-to-ear.
“We’re still the kids we used to be” croons 070 Shake, and I witness West stretch his hands towards the night sky, following the flickering ashes of the bonfire as the hook crescendoes to the line “And nothing hurts anymore. I feel kind of free.”
The album was played in its entirety back-to-back, and had the ranch owners not made it clear that time was up, I’m pretty sure West would have done a three-peat. By now it’s close to 11 p.m. in Maron, Wyoming. The mountains are now hiding away in the darkness, the bonfire is finally put out, and we all huddle back in the shuttles to our hotels.
Most guests fall asleep immediately as silence greets us for the first time all day, but then someone gets up and says: “After party at some place called…‘Cowboy bar?’” with a confused look on his face. Everyone erupts with laughter as we all collectively think “only in Wyoming.”
Kanye West’s new seven track album Ye has finally been released on all streaming platforms. Stream the album below.