Kanye West is positioned to have a huge summer. He’s already released his 8th solo studio album ye, and handled all the production for Pusha T’s Daytona. Now, we’re waiting for a summer release from him and Kid Cudi, in addition to albums from Nas and Teyana Taylor that Kanye claims to be producing as well. And as usual, his public antics will continue to keep him in the spotlight of the political and entertainment blogospheres and beyond. ye is nowhere near Kanye’s best album – musically, lyrically, or creatively. It wasn’t intended to be, either. But ye is a defining moment in Kanye’s career; he unapologetically confronts his own self-contradictions, and we sense that he might be entering a period in his life where music is a second priority.
ye is a mini-album. It’s only 7 songs and it runs just 23 minutes, which makes it the shortest in his catalog by far. This makes the listening experience entirely different from his other works. Kanye has a point that he wants to get across here – and he doesn’t want to waste any time. In order to be concise, he removed the usual grandeur and magnificence we expect from his albums. For example, in contrast to his previous album Life of Pablo, there’s only one song (Yikes, and okay maybe All Mine) on here that will be included on a summer party soundtrack or booming from your car’s subwoofers with the windows down on a nice day. The beats are far more minimalist, there’s a big focus on soulful and harmonious bridges and hooks, and the content is almost entirely introspective and anecdotal. The mini-album is a targeted and coherent confessional of his personal problems – or is it an excuse?
The writing on the album cover reads ‘I hate being bipolar it’s awesome.’ The theme of Kanye West being Bi-Polar or potentially having mental health issues is not a novel one – but his addressing it directly and openly is. His recent controversies, such as his shocking statements on slavery and to a lesser extent his support of Trump, (the former of which is indubitably appalling) have built a stage for which this album can perform brilliantly. Would his claim of being Bi-Polar make any more sense than it does at this time in his career? Would it ever be more credible than right now? Probably not. And listening to him confess to mental suffering without being apologetic about it is spectacularly interesting. On the song Wouldn’t Leave, he doesn’t apologize to Kim for taking financial risks and making grave mistakes, but he’s still able to show appreciation for her loyalty, which somehow comes off as a liberating achievement for both of them.
And what if this confession to suffering from Bi-Polar disorder is a hoax or a media stunt? What if it’s his artistic way to create a pretense that will serve as an excuse for his controversial and outlandish actions from the past? If these assumptions were to be true, and this is his attempt to exonerate himself, then what a disturbing and complex way to defend one’s self. Doesn’t everyone have some sort of alter ego? Or think corrupting thoughts? Most people likely do. And here, on ye, Kanye unapologetically confronts himself and discusses all of the ensuing complications (raising daughters, infidelity, marital problems, suicidal thoughts, etc.). Whether or not he’s making an excuse for himself or confessing to a mental health disorder doesn’t matter. As he screams confidently on Yikes, “That’s my bipolar shit… that’s my superpower, [it] ain’t no disability…I’m a superhero!” Clearly he’s embracing his character either way, weaving together a saga (over just 7 songs) that reveals exactly who he is – regardless of his motivations or intentions.
Kanye’s self-affirmation on this album comes at a defining moment in entertainment history. In an age in which hordes of people consider art consumption a social responsibility, separating an artist’s work from their personal life is an increasingly conflicting concept. ye blurs the lines between Kanye’s personal life and his music vision to the point that they’re almost invisible. By doing so, he challenges his audience by presenting an honest (although still often repellent) portrait of himself. Is his message a confession or an excuse? Will it evoke feelings of empathy or hostility? And more interestingly, is it possible for listeners to like ye, without liking Kanye West? One thing is for sure, this album makes it harder than ever for them to do so. Whatever your answer to the last question is, it should force you to think about what your personal relationship with art and entertainment is 🍑
*Wouldn’t Leave and Violent Crimes are the intimate and powerful forces behind the album.
*Chicago artist 070 Shake’s features on Ghost Town and Violent Crimes are highlights of the album
*I thought About Killing You is the most experimental song on the album – opening with an internal discussion of suicide and premeditated murder.