Kanye West has, in many ways, been the most divisive artist of the last decade. The mere mention of the hip-hop mogul’s name is either met with sharp criticism or immense praise; reactions to West are rarely on the fence.
Unfortunately, his latest project, “Ye,” is not much more than a rehash of old tricks and attempts at sparking controversy. Throughout the album, West attempts to address his recent controversies involving his Twitter and TMZ interview. Unfortunately, he fails to utilize this tactic as effortlessly as he did on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which remains the artist’s magnum opus — an album that marked West as a musical risk-taker and hip-hop icon.
Though fans rely on West for his sonic innovation and reinvention, much of “Ye” adopts a similar style to that of “The Life of Pablo,” the rapper’s critically and commercially acclaimed 2016 album. Where “Pablo” is praised for its intentionally haphazard and elegant improvisational essence, “Ye” falters. What results is an occasionally great but ultimately disconnected array of messages, rather than a cohesive whole.
“Ye” touches on several themes throughout its 23-minute run. The seven songs deal with fame and celebrity, love, family and mental illness. For the first time, West publicly reveals his battle with bipolar disorder, citing it as a superpower rather than disability on the track “Yikes.” In a similar manner, the album’s opener, “I Thought About Killing You,” is representative of his tangential, unpredictable thoughts throughout the record.
From a musical standpoint, the album has several peaks, but the lyrics pale in comparison to the rapper’s past works. West attempts to regurgitate ideas presented far more eloquently in past albums. Consequently, “Ye” is a reflection of the artist’s failure to to evoke empathy among listeners.
On “Wouldn’t Leave,” West raps, “I say slavery a choice/ They say, ‘how, Ye?’” in a fruitless and simultaneously self-indulgent attempt to justify his thoughtless comment to listeners. Albeit well-intended, West fails to articulate his thoughts as well as he once did.
A stronger track, “Ghost Town,” is a vast improvement over most of the album’s remaining tracks. The track features 070 Shake, a New Jersey rapper whose raspy verses steal the limelight on the song. “I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed,” she croons artfully. Yet, the record finds West hiding behind the samples and production rather than using them as a springboard for lyrical profundity.
On the album’s closing track, however, West nails the biggest and most profound message on the entire project. On “Violent Crimes,” West addresses the shift in his views of women — from “something to nurture, not something to conquer.” Now West is embracing his role as a father as he pleads for his daughter to fully embrace her childhood and steer clear of what he warns to be dangerous men. He further cautions against the dangers associated with adolescence, from cutting class to standing at the altar, warning his daughter, most importantly, about predatory men.
Despite its minor successes, “Ye” is Kanye West’s first album to feel like a retread of old ideas. While it forges into new sonic territory with “Ghost Town” and “No Mistakes”, the majority of “Ye” fails to paint the troubled artist as the genius he is often revered as. Instead, “Ye” feels trite and unoriginal, marking a rare musical misstep in West’s career.