I Hate Ye, It’s Awesome
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Kanye West’s solo albums have lacked lyrically for me ever since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). The verses tend to be fraught with as many enjoyable one-liners as they do unfinished phrases and awkward moments. The unfortunate result is that they collectively fall flat.
Kanye’s 2018 release, ye, is no different. Whereas tweet-worthy lines are exciting on the first listen, Kanye’s verses are often rife with poorly-worded braggadocio that grates on the ear after more than a few listens. The monologue that begins the opening track “I Thought About Killing You,” is chill-inducing. The breakdown on “All Mine,” on the other hand, sounds rushed and unfinished.
Opening song “I Thought About Killing You,” while backed by a harmonized, throbbing bass line, is also noticeably accented by a screaming sample under such heavy distortion it sounds like a dying bird. The vocals are processed in such a way that typically over-confident rattlings sound unedited. In a good pair of headphones, Kanye appears to be present in the same room as the listener. Meanwhile, more morbid phrases such as “pre-meditated murder,” are edited to sound deep and demonic. I was so fascinated by the elements making up the backing tracks that I actually slowed down the following track “Yikes” and listened on repeat for almost an hour trying to isolate a fuzzy, mid-tone synth at the end of each measure. I’m convinced it is, in fact, a crescendoing car horn, adding a lingering sense of anxiety on the otherwise superficially hype track. “All Mine” acts as the album’s peak and ends the first half of the record. Drum-forward with a bare-bones, striking bassline, “All Mine” increases the energy with unexpected and prowling intensity.
The second half of the album has been described as the come down in the overall narrative. Kanye draws on distorted vocals that sound like a baby’s cry and heartbeat-like bass line on “Wouldn’t Leave”, generating an abrupt mood shift from volatile anger to family-oriented nostalgia. This transition’s effect is powerful, and provides the tiniest bit of insight as to what it feels like to quickly come to terms with previously impairing rage. “No Mistakes” and “Ghost Town” both use retro samples and live instrumentals a la the so-called old Kanye, adding an unexpected touch of sentimentality. Afterwards, the somber chord progression on “Violent Crimes” brings the whirlwind of emotions to rest. It’s an ending that requires a big, deep sigh.
Listening straight through all twenty-four minutes of this is an emotional rollercoaster. Shocked initially by Kanye’s emotional vulnerability, the listener is then thrown into a series of bangers drawing from a previously unimagined formula devoid of the clicking triplets that flood today’s top 100 charts. Then, as soon as you’ve settled into a dancing groove, it slaps you in the face with a different type of emotional transparency, full of parental worries and marital appreciation that nobody ever expected from rap’s most self-centered star. The album’s second half closes with a confusing voicemail from none other than Nicki Minaj as she spits a single, broken verse. ye is an album that catches the listener off guard at every turn.
Though nobody can accurately describe exactly what mental illness feels like for any one individual, the way Kanye has produced this album is not only interesting from a critical perspective, but also reaches beyond his singular experience to resonate internally with my own, and likely others, as well. Though I’m not diagnosed bipolar, I can empathize with the abrupt mood changes, the shortsighted selfishness, the wiser long-term perspectives, and the desperate apologies featured on ye. I’m sure many listeners feel the same. Though cringe-y political opinions and arrogant statements still find themselves embedded his verses, Kanye’s production begins to make up for it. Thus, West has managed to make a record that, if one focuses exclusively on the vocals, is mediocre, but – if one focuses on the production, creates a vibrant sonic soundscape of what it’s like to struggle with mental health.
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