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6 Takeaways from Kanye West’s New Album, ye

Kanye West turned Jackson Hole, Wyoming, into a spectacle last night. Dozens of celebrities, musicians, journalists, industry executives, and at least one Kanye-approved right-wing personality descended upon a secluded mountain resort and gathered around a bonfire to experience his new album, ye. A live stream captured the festivities for all to see, and by the morning, the follow-up to The Life of Pablo had hit streaming services.

A field full of horses out in rural Wyoming might seem like an unlikely stage for the rap event of the year, but Kanye has been toying with signifiers of conservatism lately. Chris Rock, who introduced the event, seemed to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance of having hip-hop royalty congregate in an extremely uninhabited, incredibly white location. But he concluded his brief opening monologue with this declaration: “Hip-hop is the first art form created by free black men. And no black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West.” What followed was a lean seven-track offering with no shortage of things to discuss. Let’s delve in.


Soulful Samples and Pared-Down Production

Despite all the trolling on “Lift Yourself,” the “poopity-scoop” track at least suggested that Kanye had been tinkering around with soul samples. He delivers more here, along with a few gospel reworks. Though ye isn’t as sample-heavy as Pusha-T’s (Kanye-produced) Daytona, its signature chops prove that Kanye remains among rap’s most savvy samplers. While no samples have been officially confirmed (and in one case, supposedly even cleared), it’s obvious that Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” plays on loop in the background of “No Mistakes,” skipping into the downbeat as Rick bestows a blessing on Kanye: “Believe it or not, the Lord still shines on you.” On the same song, it sounds as if Kanye’s revisited the crashing drum break from Orange Krush’s “Action,” which he memorably used on Late Registration’s “We Major.” “Ghost Town,” a hazy rock track that dances around the topic of death, finds Kid Cudi interpolating a melody from “Take Me For a Little While,” a ’60s gem best known for its renditions by Dave Edmunds, Dusty Springfield, Jackie Ross, and Vanilla Fudge.

Overall, the beats are more understated than most of Kanye’s recent work, with lots of isolated drums and keyboard lines. Produced alongside frequent collaborators Mike Dean, Che Pope, and Francis & the Lights, Ye is his most naked production since 808s & Heartbreak.


Kanye Pairs His Guests Well

With credits finally trickling out via streaming services, it seems that the only official feature is the Nicki Minaj voicemail that closes the record (more on that later). However, other apparent collaborators have been identified through their voices or confirmed through their posts on social media. Once again, Kanye expertly puts together personalities that bring out the best in each other. On “All Mine,” he enlists a double dose of beckoning vocalists, Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign, for a shameless fuckboy anthem about lusting after “girls that’s basic.” For “Ghost Town,” Kanye pairs together longtime collaborator Kid Cudi and recent G.O.O.D. Music signee 070 Shake. Cudi sings a short hook about unrequited love in a disaffected, Eeyore-ish tone—a nice foil for Shake’s emo-tinged vocal swagger about feeling free, which steals the song’s spotlight. And on “No Mistakes,” the track with the Slick Rick sample, Kanye unites legends from different eras by having his R&B favorite Charlie Wilson sing his hook, once again.


A Handful of Provocative But Surface-Level Lyrics

Though Kanye is often searching for a larger truth within celebrity culture, his obsession with fame also manifests in the form of splashy name-drops, from Gandhi to Stormy Daniels. On “Yikes,” he runs through a slew of outrageous bars that mention Kim Jong-Un and Wiz Khalifa in the same breath, yet he never elaborates on why he wants to align himself with the North Korean leader. Later on in the same song, he raps about the recent slew of sexual assault allegations involving Def Jam’s co-founder: “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too/I’ma pray for him ‘cause he got #MeToo’d.” On first listen, it seems like Kanye sympathizes with Simmons for being exposed as an alleged rapist. But in light of the fact Simmons has continuously made condescending public posts in concern for Kanye’s health, the rapper may be more focused on taking a swipe at Simmons’ hypocritical righteous act.

On “Wouldn’t Leave,” Kanye repeats his claim that slavery was “a choice” and alludes to the fallout from this comment. But he never clarifies his line of thinking, essentially skirting complex discussions about politics altogether. Coming from the same artist who made such bold statements about race with “Blood on the Leaves” and “New Slaves” two albums ago, ye leaves something to be desired on this particular front.


The Personal Over the Political

Between Kanye’s adventures in MAGA hats and and Pusha-T’s assertion that the album would provide clarity on the topic, there was an expectation that the album would be political in some way. But as the title implies, ye is a bit more personal and occasionally emotional. The album is all about connections: to his wife, his daughter, the public, his own psyche. Many lyrics seem to play out an inner monologue about mental health, responsibility, infidelity, and craving fame while being terrorized by it. There is at least some semblance of self-awareness present.

“Wouldn’t Leave,” his apparent dedication to Kim Kardashian, celebrates her for sticking with him through his buffoonery, even sounding remorseful at times. The album closes with “Violent Crimes,” a song about how having a daughter suddenly humanized women for him (“Father forgive me, I’m scared of the karma/‘Cause now I see women as something to nurture/Not something to conquer”). Both songs have their cringeworthy and hypocritical moments, mired in Kanye’s toxic masculinity, but eventually they flower into more thoughtful soul searching. “How you the devil rebukin’ the sin?” Kanye asks himself on the latter. Moments like these, scattered across ye, try to find the beauty in darkness that Kanye refers to in the spoken-word intro opening the album.


Better Rapping and a Peek Inside the Writer’s Room

As a whole, ye features sharper raps than those on The Life of Pablo, perhaps benefitting from the album’s brevity. Not only do the verses have more intricate constructions, they are often performed with more verve. The album isn’t exactly bar-heavy—some songs only really have one verse—but they are effective and punchy when necessary, and direct and plainspoken when not. His talking points are largely the same, but they sound more like traditional Kanye egoism than edge-lord provocation when articulated coherently and executed efficiently. “You want me working on my messaging/When I’m thinkin’ like George Jetson but sounding like George Jefferson,” he raps in the middle of a lengthy “free thinker” polemic on “Wouldn’t Leave.”

At the end of the closing track, “Violent Crimes,” there’s a voicemail of Nicki rapping lines that Kanye uses earlier on, followed by an encouragement to essentially use it how he likes but to “let ‘em hear this.” The moment not only adds another dimension to one of Kanye’s more tender songs, it also lets listeners peek behind the curtain of his collaborative process. In a week where Drake and Pusha-T have been exchanging sneers over ghostwriting (and pulling Kanye into their fray), this feels somewhat momentous. Though West is the only credited songwriting on the track, the voicemail suggests that authorship seems less important to Kanye than teamwork.


Notable Kanye-isms

  • “And I love myself way more than I love you/See, if I was trying 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 Thought About Killing You”)
  • “All you gotta do is speak on Ye/Don’t get your tooth chipped like Frito-Lay” (“I Thought About Killing You”)
  • “You know how many girls I took to the titty shop?/If she get the ass with it that’s a 50 pop” (“Yikes”)
  • “Niggas been tryna test my Gandhi/Just because I’m dressed like Abercrombie” (“Yikes”)
  • “If I pull up with a Kerry Washington/That’s gon’ be an enormous scandal/I could have Naomi Campbell/And still might want me a Stormy Daniels” (“All Mine”)
  • “All these thots on Christian Mingle/Almost what got Tristan single/If you don’t ball like him or Kobe/Guarantee that bitch gonna leave you” (“All Mine”)
  • “Now I’m on 50 blogs gettin’ 50 calls/My wife callin’, screamin’, say, ‘We ‘bout to lose it all!’” (“Wouldn’t Leave”)
  • “Truth told, I like you/Too bold to type you/Too rich to fight you/Calm down, you light skin!” (“No Mistakes”)
  • “Talk like I drank all the wine/Years ahead but way behind/I’m on one, two, three, four, five/No half-truths, just naked minds” (“Ghost Town”)
  • “Niggas is pimps, niggas is players/Til niggas have daughters” (“Violent Crimes”)
  • “Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates/Just play piano and stick to karate/I pray your body’s draped more like mine and not like your mommy’s” (“Violent Crimes”)

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