Listening to a classic album for the first time is like watching a basketball player go hot in a big game. They drain shot after shot and all you can think is “holy shit, people are going to be talking about this for years.”
But Kanye West’s new album, ye, was less Michael Jordan’s championship three-peats with the Bulls and more MJ’s tenure with the Wizards — curt, tepid and overall not the excellence we’ve come to expect.
Kanye is simply too elite of a producer for ye not to be good music. (Yes, pun intended). And with the opening salvo, “I Thought About Killing You” gives the impression Kanye has delivered another great album. He bares his soul, telling us point-blank, “I love myself way more than I love you/ And I think about killing myself.” It’s uncomfortable yet real — a glimpse of the real Kanye beyond his social media persona. And with the seven-track album clocking in at a refreshing 24 minutes, there’s definite replay-ability value. But as bold as the opener is, we don’t get anything of its caliber on the remainder of the album.
ye has all the hallmarks of a Kanye project — some goofy bars (“Let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome/ Ayy, none of us’d be here without cum” on “All Mine” is a personal favorite), a potential star-making opportunity for an unheralded up and-comer (new G.O.O.D. Music signee 070 Shake kills her feature on “Ghost Town”) and Kanye’s signature bravado. But that’s it. It’s homogenized, listening like the product of a computer assigned to create the median Kanye album.
Ultimately, ye is a paint-by-numbers album from an artist who’s given us masterpiece after masterpiece. It’s like Dali following up The Persistence of Memory with a painting of a normal bowl of fruit.
As Kanye reminds us in the opener, “the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest.” He doesn’t acknowledge this darkness can blot out said beauty, and ye is a testament to that notion.
“Killing You” is the album’s strongest track, a candid depiction of Yeezy’s well-documented struggle with bipolar disorder. But it’s also the inner machinations of a man who, in the months leading up to the album’s release, revealed himself to hold some truly absurd beliefs — saying slavery was a choice and commending President Trump for sharing his “dragon energy.”
And while Kanye’s Twitter feed has been the outlet for the bulk of his diatribes, they aren’t absent from ye. At the album’s close on “Violent Crimes,” Kanye pleads his daughters, “Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates/ Just play piano and stick to karate.” It’s a request as bizarre — his daughters are 4 years and 4 months old — as it is patriarchal.
Kanye is no stranger to controversy, and it wouldn’t be a Kanye album lead-up without at least a dozen incomprehensible tweets. In the past, we’ve let his antics slide because, well, he’s just so talented. As hard as it is to admit, ye might just be the point where his controversies have finally eclipsed his immense talent.
It’s no longer time to hold out for the mythical Old Kanye to make his triumphant return. This is who Kanye West is, warts and all, and we must reckon with it. Much like Jordan’s tenure in D.C., ye is a stark reminder that even our greatest heroes will one day reveal themselves to be mere mortals.