Album Review: Kanye West - ye | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Album Review: Kanye West – ye

More personal and uncut than we've ever seen before, Kieren Williams believes Kanye West's latest record to be yet another important addition to his legacy

Kanye is back with all the soul samples and bold claims he’s always had, though rawer lyrics than ever before. ye is his return, dropping, as promised, on the 1st of June (reminiscent of the good ol’ days of GOOD Fridays). It’s a continuation of West’s dynamic and restless evolution which has taken us from peerless work to peerless work. From The College Dropout all the way through eight albums right up to here, to ye. In this album you can hear styles reminiscent of all of these previous bodies of work, like soul samples that hark back to his days of The College Dropout and earlier producing on JAY-Z’s The Blueprint. There’s the grating maximalism that made My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy so breathtaking, the unpredictability in the beats as a million things happen at once and somehow sound so very good. There’s the arrogance from The Life Of Pablo, but also a new honesty that is a step further even for him; he lays his demons on the table for the world to see. You can even hear the auto-tuned emotion from 808s.

ye is straight out of Wyoming, where Kanye retreated to finish the album. The buzz that surrounded this body of work exploded with his return to social media and certain antagonizing comments about slavery, Donald Trump and more. Despite all of the furore and controversy, Kanye West has created a very, very good album that’s brutally honest, combining raw lyrics with the level of production we’ve come to expect from him. I felt that The Life Of Pablo was a bit of a let-down; in terms of the standards Kanye West has consistently hit throughout his career, it fell short across the board. ye feels like a return to form; though it’s not as good as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or The College Dropout, it’s still an incredibly good piece.

Kanye West has created an album that’s brutally honest, combining raw lyrics with the level of production we’ve come to expect from him
Starting with the artwork, ‘I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome’ is emblazoned in green writing across a shot of (what I confidently assume are) the Wyoming mountains behind. The raw honesty starts here and the first song only continues it. He admits to suicidal thoughts, which, in his position and with his family as the unwilling/willing darlings of the media who are constantly in the eye of popular culture for better or for worse, is an amazingly brave thing to do. On ‘Yikes’ he declares his bipolarism as his super power. ‘I Thought About Killing You’ and ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ have ‘Real Friends’ (from The Life Of Pablo) vibes – one of the highlights of that album. The soul samples on ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ mix well with 808s beats, but the soul really comes into its own on the fifth song, ‘No Mistakes’, as Charlie Wilson croons over the beat and Kanye’s lyrics feel like a triumphant celebration of his friends who have gone through the lows with him and have now ridden up into the sun. In this song, he also responds to Drake’s recent disses by admitting to still liking the artist but being above responding and being 'Too rich to fight you'.

The guitars on ‘Ghost Town’ pay homage to those from ‘Gorgeous’ and, when combined with Kid Cudi’s hook and PARTYNEXTDOOR and Trade Martin’s intro, continue the emotional arc of the album. Kanye admits to his addiction to fentanyl on this song and the lyrics: 'Years ahead but way behind / No half-truths, just naked minds / caught between space and time / This now, with good in mind / But maybe some day' seem to sum up Kanye in a few bars. He’s neither here nor there, instead caught between the two, both an idiot and a genius. He’s Kanye West. It’s this raw honesty which bleeds through in this album. 070 Shake’s outro over futuristic production tops the optimism which the latter half of this album produces.

His lyrics have often been misogynistic, but he now seems to be reconsidering his position. It's a start; far from good enough, but better than nothing

The album’s tone starts quite dark; Kanye admits in the first song he should say something brighter to balance the dark thoughts of wanting to kill ‘you’ and thoughts of suicide. But, in true Ye fashion, he refuses to make the song more relatable – he says he isn’t struggling with loving himself, instead that he loves himself more than the other person, and that, if he’s thought of killing himself, then he’s thought of killing them. From there it gets deceptively more optimistic and upbeat, even though it might not feel like it at first. The first song takes a Yeezus like turn in the final minute and a half as the production shifts suddenly and screams echo across the track. ‘All Mine’ feels like a lighter mix off Yeezus as he references his president’s affair with a porn star (and his own marriage to one). This song also hearkens back to ‘I’m in It’ and The Life Of Pablo's lyrics that were heavily sexualized. Instead, ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ sounds like a thank you letter to his wife, who stuck with him through it all, through thick and thin and thick again.

The last song, ‘Violent Crimes’, has 070 Shake singing the auto-tuned hook, a warning not to grow up too quickly (to West’s children) and a surprisingly triumphant sounding thank you to the 'heroes of the night'. Through the song he speaks of fatherhood, his fears of his daughter growing up and the trap of an abusive relationship, though also how having a daughter has changed his view of women. His lyrics have often been misogynistic (like most rappers), but he now seems to be reconsidering his position despite taking jabs at the #MeToo movement, saying Russel Simmons was ‘got’ by them. It’s a start; far from good enough, but better than nothing. The album ends with Nicki Minaj, the lines she sent through to West and the recorded phone call of them, his wish for his daughter to be strong, to be her own woman through it all, to be a monster.

It’s a love letter to his family and friends, it’s a contemplation on his world and his position within it, it’s an admittance of his demons

In this album, Kanye confronts his own issues of mental health and battles with his reality and his place within it, grappling to come to terms with it all with brutal honesty. Lyrically, he’s far better than The Life Of Pablo and his production never falters. Personally, I enjoyed the second half of the album much more, where West is more honest and raw. But, over 7 songs and 24 minutes, Kanye West makes a tear-jerking return after a tumultuous two years in his life where he claims to have nearly lost it all. It’s a love letter to his family and friends, it’s a contemplation on his world and his position within it, it’s an admittance of his demons and how large they got and how tough things got for him. It’s legitimately brilliant, sonically fantastic and all in all, an incredible album encapsulating the current space Kanye West stands, in both his world and in our world. When 070 Shake sang 'I feel kinda free', it feels like that’s where Kanye is right now, free of the drug addictions which almost ruined his life, looking his mental health right in the eyes and confronting and dealing with it and taking it all with unabashed honesty in a way that only Kanye can.

'ye' is available now via G.O.O.D Music / Def Jam Recordings.

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14th June 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

13th June 2018 at 6:49 pm

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G.O.O.D Music