The rollout for ye began like any other Kanye West album — clouded in mystique, with tales of recording sessions deep in the wilderness, controversial Twitter antics and half of the country hating him with a passion by the time it was all over.

What people need to remember is that adopting half-baked radical politics is no change of pace. He has, dating back to 2005 on “Heard ‘Em Say,” repeatedly gone on record with his belief that the government administered AIDS. He also tweeted out “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” during the chaotic 2016 rollout of The Life of Pablo and sold merch emblazoned with the Confederate flag as an attempt at reappropriation. If you ever believed Kanye to be politically savvy, you were mistaken. Kanye has always been incredibly perceptive of his immediate surroundings but unable to make sense of the wider world. Now that he’s out living in the isolated oasis of Calabasas, he seems to have fallen even further out of touch with the broader developments and nuances of the society in which most of us live.

Yet ye succeeds where The Life of Pablo failed; as an exploration of Kanye’s mental illness and opulent home life, as a member of the Kardashian family, partially due to its concise nature and partially due to its sonic cohesion, possessing a much more careful balance of dark and light themes than did its spiritual predecessor. Lyrically, the album succeeds on this front due to its stripped-down nature. However, while his unrelatable lifestyle is an important part of the overarching theme album, it does make the music feel ersatz at times in spite of the brutally open lyrics. 

The album is an uncharacteristically restrained affair, a seven-song project clocking in at twenty-three minutes — almost half as short as Yeezus (his next shortest project) and less than a third of the length of The College Dropout. In this age of bloated and unlistenable 25-track projects designed to manipulate streaming numbers (a Migos ad-lib blares in the distance), this is a refreshing change of pace.

The first song on the album, “I Thought About Killing You,” sets the tone for the rest of the project. A raw and unsettling discussion of Kanye’s bipolar disorder set over idiosyncratic waves of sound courtesy of Francis and the Lights, the song begins with a spoken-word exploration of the violent and intrusive thoughts associated with his bipolar disorder — a surprisingly lucid glance into his inscrutable mind. Almost immediately after the bass comes in and a melody begins to form, Kanye switches it up again, cutting abruptly to a dark and industrial beat. 

“All Mine” is a skeletal earworm featuring some of Kanye’s most memorable lines on the project. Like much of Kanye’s output, lines such as “let’s have a threesome with you and the blunt / I love your titties cause they prove / I can focus on two things at once” and “let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome / ayy, none of us’d be here without cum” walk the thin line between brilliant and idiotic. However questionable the lyrics, the track is redeemed by Jeremih’s bouncy hook and the industrial blasts of sound that punch through the minimalist beat about two-thirds of the way through. 

The second half of the album is the stronger of the two. “Wouldn’t Leave” and “No Mistakes” feature refreshing, soulful grooves that sound like an amalgamation of Late Registration-era Kanye and the Chicago-based SAVEMONEY collective sound circa 2015  — “No Mistakes” in particular sounds like how you would expect Kanye West to sound in 2018 after having listened to Late Registration when it came out. 

“Ghost Town” is the standout track on the album, with every single contributor bringing their A-game. There’s the uncharacteristically sensitive intro provided by PARTYNEXTDOOR (whose contributions across the album are subtle but notably excellent, particularly his hook on “Wouldn’t Leave”), Kid Cudi’s very characteristic, sensitive hook, a standout verse from Kanye replete with crafty melodies and contemplative lyrics (“sometimes I take all the shine / talk like I drank all the wine / years ahead but way behind / i’m on one, two, three, four, five”), Mike Dean’s restrained but inwardly raging guitar work and, of course, the show-stealing outro by 070 Shake that stands out as the climax of the album, both due to the soaring melody and the lyrics like “I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah / and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free” that seem to bring to surface the album’s thematic undercurrent of numbness.

I would certainly rank this album in the bottom half of his discography, though, but we’re talking about Kanye here — his worst output is still better than what most artists ever produce. Upon first listen (and second) I was sure that this was Kanye’s first real failure, but with each additional play, what was initially heard as rushed and underdeveloped sounds more like the product of concision and restraint. ye is a project that will only continue to reveal its true self.

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