Kanye West Ye GOOD Music / Def Jam
“I thought about killing you,” Kanye West says on a track of the same name and, for a moment, one feels tempted to say the same in return. Over the past year and a half, and certainly in recent weeks, the Chi-City native who became one of the biggest names in hip-hop has given his fans plenty of reasons to want to give him a good shake. Though he gained disingenuous favor with the online alt-right and others orbiting that loosely knit cabal of Breitbartian psycho-conservatives, mostly the Yeezy sneaker purveyor found himself at odds with his fans over his endorsement of Donald Trump.
Genius is neither perfect nor pretty, as West’s audience have come to know and grudgingly accept. Yet the disappointment of his alignment with someone perceived as hostile and toxic towards African-Americans, Latinx people, and women – to name but a few of the American president’s apparent targets – led many to actually dread to release of new music by one of their favorite rappers. May they find more than the cold comfort that comes with ye; Lord knows they deserve better.
Mercifully light on Trump commentary, the seven-song record reduces exposure to West’s still-nebulous Trumpism to a few superficial bars that barely even bait. On Wouldn’t Leave, he briefly revives his extremely troubling statement about slavery being a choice only to toss it aside dismissively. Rather than reckoning with that outrageousness head-on, something many listeners would have appreciated given the deep offense taken, he reframes it inwardly to address the personal fallout. At this stage in his career, nobody should be surprised that West’s megalomaniacal modus operandi is to invite controversy only to deflect it. But, on Wouldn’t Leave, it’s telling that he turns a potential teaching or learning moment into a boast about his wife’s decision to stay with him, despite the harm inflicted on both brand and finances with his inflammatory comments.
If that sounds familiar, so will most of ye. West and his cavalcade of cohorts, including familiars like Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson along with fresher faces 070 Shake and Valee, bring regression by committee. (Even the ye roll-out smacked of deja vu – the social media hyped Trump embrace was an escalation of the Bill Cosby defense preceding his last album.) Refracted through the picturesque luxury of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the ultralight beam that carried him through The Life of Pablo seems to have considerably dimmed. In its place lie sonic fossils of his past accomplishments, thematic and musical husks of material he’s already harvested. No Mistakes attempts a Bound 2 rebound but misses the net, while Yikes tries to titillate with psychedelic chatter before revealing itself as more of his bored hedonism. The less said about the lyrics to All Mine the better.
West’s lack of engagement with the statements and affiliations that followed the 2016 election and carried into the lead-up to ye contributes significantly to its status as a minor work in a major discography. He deserve some credit, perhaps, for using some space here to speak frankly if fleetingly about the mental health issues he struggles with. The discount store t-shirt slogan scrawled on the cover – I HATE BEING BI-POLAR IT’S AWESOME – threatens to diminish that seriousness, but in truth West does more damage on that front by mixing in irrational sexism with the confessionals. Violent Crimes fixates oddly on the wrong aspects of his daughter’s inevitable growing up, prattling on about her future body while stumbling through the tired realisation that women are, in fact, people.
If there are levels to this shit, some secret series of redemptive insider nods and brainy puzzles worth solving, West’s stans can keep them to themselves to nibble on like so much mousetrap cheese. For the rest of us, a millionaire’s stream-of-consciousness string of mental disorder admissions and rehashed rap lechery doesn’t suit West’s maturing genius. With a project this short, the distance between discovery of female humanity by way of his fatherhood and sophomoric references to sexual fantasies lack sufficient sunlight between them. This isn’t the brilliant artistic conflation of the carnal and the political we all experienced on Yeezus. Instead, ye suffers from a dearth of profundity, the artist spinning his wheels in the lap of Wyoming wealth, hoping nobody will notice he’s run of out ideas.