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When Kanye West flew a select group of journalists and influencers to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for an early listen of his eighth studio album, ye, the immediate social media chatter indicated West’s latest project could potentially follow in the footsteps of groundbreaking efforts like 808s & Heartbreak or Graduation. G.O.O.D. Music president Pusha-T tweeted that the album was pure fire, while other journalists provided hot takes on the project’s most quotable lyrics as the party progressed. When the streaming numbers rolled in, they too became indicative of the album’s commercial success.
Complex reported that the top seven songs on Apple Music and Spotify were occupied by ye – the album is only seven tracks long. Early reports also indicate ye will debut at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The release followed closely on the heels of West’s more controversial comments – including the infamous “slavery was a choice” assertion he made on TMZ Live. Some believed West’s penchant for courting discord would cripple the album’s performance, and that it had finally alienated the core black fanbase who were his earliest supporters – it now appears those predictions couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Sonically, ye is far from Kanye’s most polished effort. The production is unsurprisingly immaculate, but West’s formerly (seemingly) innate ability to spin nuanced narratives filled with sharp social commentary feels greatly blunted. There is most certainly a story being told over the 20-something odd minutes of play time – it’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness, and perhaps intentionally not over-crafted (or over thought for that matter). It’s honestly a bit like going from watching an in-world HBO series to a CW Network teen drama. Yet oddly enough, that’s what makes ye feel so current and suited for the times – the surface level commentary hints at something deeper without actually making you do any of the work. When you listen to ye, you really don’t have to unpack much, which, in a time where complex issues often have to be made digestible in 140 characters or less, feels appropriate.
On “Violent Crimes” he offers a reductionist self-reflection on his own toxic masculinity, holding the birth of his daughter aloft as an example of his redemption. “N*ggas is pimps, n*ggas is players / ‘Till n*ggas have daughters, now they precautious / Father, forgive me, I’m scared of the karma / ‘Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture / Not somethin’ to conquer,” West raps, rolling enlightenment and karmic retribution into one neat little package that will likely end up the Instagram caption of a new father somewhere in the world.
Similarly, “I Thought About Killing You” scratches the surface on mental health while at the same time indulging in a kind of narcissism that is easily interchangeable as self-love or self-affirmation, depending on who is listening. “See, if I was tryin’ to relate it to more people / I’d probably say I’m struggling with loving myself / Because that seems like a common theme / But that’s not the case here / I love myself way more than I love you,” West intones. The song feels as though it’s meant to be deeply personal, like we are being offered a glance into West’s psyche, but at the same time, it also feels unfinished – like West hasn’t spent enough time with his own thoughts to offer us more than a cursory glance.
But then again, do we really want one? Arguably, no, and that is why ye seems to resonate. Over the course of seven tracks, West delivers on what is seemingly a cultural desire to be introspective without being truly self-critical, to be intellectual without having to think too hard, and ultimately to be narcissistic, right and empowered without having to consider what that means to the larger world. Does it hurt that a good majority of the bars make great Instagram captions and social media quotes? I think not.
Ultimately, ye represents a regression in the work of an individual who has previously proven himself capable of great complexity. This is not completely unexpected or surprising – when you reach West levels of success it’s inevitable that you start to drink your own Kool-Aid, particularly when one exists in a culture where the distinction between self-confidence and narcissism is blurry at best. West has also broken away from collaborators like Rhymefest and JAY-Z, who, over the course of his career often offered pushback and measured creative criticism.
He’s reached a point in which he’s uncompromisingly adopted his own convictions as a North Star. In doing so, what others might perceive as shortcomings become (in his mind) a superpower, as West himself says. Such indiscriminate self-congratulation – further distilled into bite-sized affirmations and quotables – might feel good, but it’s also lacking. For a lot of people, ye is like potato chips – delicious but completely devoid of nutritional value.
If you haven’t already, read our album review of Kanye West’s ‘ye’ right here.