Music Reviews

Kanye West ye

(G.O.O.D. Music) Rating - 3/10

When listening to a new record, it won’t be long before the question reaches the front of your mind: “Is this any good?” Whether we listen to music for enjoyment, to learn something, to gain insight, to make us dance or some combination of the above, we have our own ideas of what constitutes “good music.” On some rare occasions, however, the burning question is: “Why has this been made?” That’s not necessarily related to the quality of the work, but to a nagging sensation that you’re not quite sure of the motives of the artist in question. ye isn’t just an album that makes you question why it was made, it makes you question the entire concept of albums as an artform.

In interviews and promotional material, artists will often claim that they “needed” to make an album, as if some higher power is operating through them and it was a compulsion they couldn’t help but act upon. With ye, you get the impression that this is an album West needed to make, primarily because in no way does it sound like he wanted to make it. Albums can be made for fun, for the love of music, to explore ideas, to impart thoughts, as a genre study or to make a profound statement. ye is none of these things. It’s an extension of Brand Kanye, an acknowledgment that on top of the controversial statements, the celebrity family lifestyle, the forays into other industries and the erratic tweeting, music is the bedrock upon which everything else was built.

West’s rejection of the album as a static format started with his previous full-length record, the patchy The Life Of Pablo, which he proclaimed as unfinished almost as soon as it was released. In a sense, that’s understandable – who among us can honestly say they wouldn’t be nervous at the prospect of a piece of work remaining untouched and preserved in aspic for eternity? And he’s at it again with ye, recently telling an interviewer he’s not done with working on the album just yet.

Upon listening to ye, it quickly becomes clear that if West wants to revisit it, the best thing he could do would be to throw the whole record in the trash and start again. It’s the work of an artist with unfocused, scattergun thoughts and a man who’s desperate to exert control and power over all elements of his life.

Also, sadly, ye is an album that isn’t as profound and edgy as it wants to be. In fact, it’s the Ricky Gervais of albums, crashing into the room with the assertion that no topic is off limits and daring you to be offended under the banner of tackling taboos, saying the unsayable and dropping truth bombs you’re just too repressed to handle. However, like Gervais, it’s a schtick that quickly gets tiresome and, once you realize there’s no substance underneath the statements, no wider point to be made and no attempt to get us to examine our own prejudices, there’s nothing left but shock value. Take track one, I Thought About Killing You, which, from attention-seeking title downwards, is here purely to provoke a reaction. It opens with a spoken monologue featuring lines such as, “You’d only care enough to kill someone you love.” Perhaps it’s meant to be a window into the psyche, for us to see West’s dark thoughts, but it comes across as inflammatory, and the only question it raises is: As well as parental advisory stickers, should albums also come with trigger warnings?

With that outburst out of the way, West actually starts to deal with the business of making some songs. Musically, ye isn’t anything we haven’t heard from West before, which is a shame seeing as he’s given us some giant sonic leaps from album to album in the past. There are autotuned vocals in abundance, minimalist beats, nods to influential forebears and, on occasion, impeccable sample choices. The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ Children Get Together holds No Mistakes together and makes it the highlight of the record, and the snippet of Someday by Shirley Ann Lee adds a bluesy feeling to Ghost Town.

However, West can’t resist grabbing the attention. He’s currently rivaled only by Morrissey for ignorance and insensitivity, and ye is peppered with sentiments that will make you scrunch up your face in disgust. In fact, he even references his recent “slavery was a choice” comments on Wouldn’t Leave. There’s also Yikes, which features the lines, “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too / I’mma pray for him ‘cause he got #MeToo’d / Thinking what if that happened to me too / Then I’mma be news.” Leaving aside the fact that there’s a very easy way for West to make sure that doesn’t happen to him (i.e. don’t sexually harass or assault anyone), it displays an astonishing lack of sensitivity and empathy towards those who have come forward to share their experiences. Then again, we are talking about a man who consciously thought, wrote down, recorded and released the line, “I love your titties because they prove I can focus on two things at once” (All Mine), so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.

It would be nothing new or revelatory to say that hip-hop has long had a problem with misogyny, but it sinks to new lows on ye. As well as the aforementioned lines, the album closes with Violent Crimes, perhaps one of the most distasteful songs ever committed to record. It’s natural for people to become more protective and more worried about the state of the world once they have their own children, but West’s manifestation of this paternal instinct is a declaration to attempt to control all aspects of his daughters’ lives (there’s no mention of his son), including policing their bodies and vetoing future relationships.

It's often been said that homophobia can be defined as “the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women,” and there’s some parallel between that concept and the attitude West has towards his wife and daughters. It starts early on in the track, with the eye-opening revelation, “Now I see women as something to nurture / Not something to conquer,” which can hardly be comforting for any of the women who were present in West’s life before he became a father. From there, well, take your pick. West proudly states he’ll assault a man who picks up his daughter for a date (“This ain’t ‘Meet The Fockers’ / I’ll beat his ass, pray I beat the charges”), he has an unhealthy obsession with whether his daughters will be overly sexualised (“I pray that you don’t get it all at once / Curves under your dress, I know it’s all pervs on the net”) and tries to steer them away from activities that could potentially make them more desirable (“Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates / Just play your piano and stick to karate”). Quick reminder: Kanye West’s two daughters were born in 2013 and 2018.

The fact that West believes this is an admirable statement of fatherly love, coupled with the controlling aspects hinted at on other tracks (slow jam Wouldn’t Leave opens with, “I don’t feel like she’s mine enough”), mean that the overwhelming feeling that ye leaves you with is one of distaste. The beats are rarely more than satisfactory and West’s flow is just fine, but it’s just so lyrically reprehensible that it’s impossible to look past it.

ye doesn’t reward repeat listens. It gives its limited treasures upfront and it’s an album with precious little beneath the surface. Kanye West wouldn’t be the first artist to believe his own hype and have the quality of his work suffer as a result, but ye truly shows the dangers of becoming so famous and untouchable that no one can challenge what you’re doing. For most artists, the worst that comes of this is a self-indulgent and overlong concept album. But for West, it’s turned into something far more concerning.